The Steam-Powered Press

For years, the Harper brothers relied on a white draft horse named Dobbin, who plodded a circular path in the basement of their offices, turning a wooden shaft that powered the Treadwell hand press two floors above, until new technology sent him out to pasture. Their new steam-powered Adams Power Press helped the brothers print new works in record time.

Dobbin retired to the Harper family farm on Long Island in 1833, but, as a creature of habit, continued to walk in circles each day around a large oak tree, prompted by a nearby work whistle. Meanwhile, the new steam-powered press helped the company publish Anne Marsh-Caldwell’s Tales of the Woods and Fields (1836) in only 36 hours. In an era of stiff competition and piracy, the fastest to market had the best chance of reaching an audience.