Imaging the Craft: Photography in the R.R. Donnelley Archive

One of the most comprehensive collections in the RR Donnelley Archive is the remarkable sequence of photographs that chronicle the history of the company and the changes in its printing technology over nearly 140 years. Images depict many of RR Donnelley's processes of putting ink on paper, as well as techniques of binding, engraving, typesetting, and photography.

In addition, the photographic collection documents the company's facilities, some of its research into scientific management, the construction of its former manufacturing complex at 22nd Street and what is now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, historic homes on Prairie Avenue, the Century of Progress exposition, and many company and employee events.

The manufacturing photographs depict typesetting (letterpress, Ludlow, monotype, and electronic), studio photography, prepress (from plate making with acid to computer-to-plate and everything in between), and binding lines.

Images from FortuneLifeLookNational GeographicNewsweekThe New Yorker, and Timemagazines can all be found in the collection, as well as manufacturing images of telephone books for Illinois Bell; encyclopedias for Compton's, Funk & Wagnall's, Britannica, and World Book; catalogs for JC Penney and Sears; and books for Doubleday, McGraw-Hill, and other commercial publishers.

From the late 1940s to 1962, Chicago documentary photographer Torkel Korling was given unprecedented access to RR Donnelley's Chicago and Crawfordsville, Indiana, facilities. At the time, the company was very guarded about its technology; thus while some of Korling's images were used in company literature, many were not. While he preferred to turn his lenses on wild flowers (a longtime passion) and had regular assignments from Fortune and Life magazines, as well as corporations such as Container Corporation of America, Dow Chemical, and Standard Oil of California, Korling took more than 300 images for RR Donnelley. He was a master at staging and capturing the essence of a particular manufacturing function. Korling's images are as much about composition, surface, and light as they are about the printing processes they document.

Torkel Korling

Pressman and assistant registering plates
[ca. 1949].
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive.

Etcher Ray Schmid, with pitchers of solutions for acid etching.

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive.