Biographical Sketch of Zadok Cramer
We copy the following notice of this successful pioneer in the art of printing in the
western country from the "Gleaner," a literary and scientific journal, published in
Pittsburgh about twenty years ago (1820). The name of Zadok Cramer is familiar to
most of our citizens: and his "Franklin Head Bookstore," as he styled his establishment,
its ancient appearance, and local situation, in Market street, is agreeably associated in the memory of many amongst us with our happiest moments, when the careless airy hours of youth were passing thoughtlessly and cheerfully away. We publish this short biography, as well to waken up the memory of olden days, when Primers were our dread, and school- masters our only conception of tyrants, as to pay our tribute of respect to the memory of one who, in these Western Wilds, contributed more, perhaps, than any other to give an impulse to thought, and an activity and enterprise to the arts and business of life.
"The subject of this imperfect sketch was worthy to be remembered, as well
on account of his usefulness as a citizen, as for his private worth. Amongst the infinite variety in human character, how small is the number of those who may be emphatically called useful! Some are seized with a passion for renown, and they care not how the end be attained; some are absorbed in selfish speculations; and others devoted to pursuits which, at best, only minister to the vanity, luxury, or vice
of their fellow-creatures In the long catalogue, how rarely do we meet with those individuals who content themselves with ameliorating the situation of society, by a thousand little improvements on the economy of life, by examples of sobriety and industry, by opening new roads to enterprise, by the inculcation of maxims which tend to the well=being of society, and in a thousand minute details, which draw no loud applause, but whose beneficial effects continue to be felt long after they cease to exist. Such was Franklin, independent of his fine philosophical mind; of Rumford; and such, to the extent of the theatre upon which he acted, and the opportunities of education which he possessed, was Zadok Cramer. He will long be remembered
in this town, for his activity in business, his enterprising spirit, and his usefulness
as a citizen.
"Mr. Cramer was born in New Jersey, but came to the western country at a very
early age. He served an apprenticeship to the printing and book-binding business at Washington, Pa., and was remarked, while a lad, for the correctness and propriety of his deportment. After the expiration of his term he came to Pittsburgh, and for some time carried on the book-binding business. A bookstore about this time had been set up by Mr. John Gilkison, the first attempt of the kind in the western country. Gilkison shortly after dying, the establishment, which then devolved upon Judge Brackenridge, was, in the year 1800, sold by him to Cramer, on the most advantageous terms. The establishment, which had become somewhat disordered, was soon placed by Cramer on the best footing, and in a short time was considerably enlarged. By degrees, as he became disencumbered, he set up a press, and attempted the printing of books, on a sure though small scale; for he acts unwisely who thinks to open at once a new channel of industry, broad and deep; it must be by gradual attrition, as the solid rock is worn through. School books of every kind, from the Primer and Catechism up, were before this time brought over the mountains. In a few years this was no more the case. Spelling books, Grammars, English Readers, Arithmetics, and a variety of others, adapted to schools, issued from his press, and, by his indefatigable perseverance, were circulated through the country. Cramer having observed the want of some portable volume of directions for those who navigate the western waters, he set himself to work, and, with incredible labor and pains, compiled the "Navigator,"of which many editions have been published, and which is said by Dr. Mitchell, of New York, to be one of the most useful things of the kind with which he is acquainted. This work is too well known to need any thing particularly said respecting it; it will long continue to render his memory dear to the western navigator. About the same time, with the assistance of the Rev. John Taylor, he commenced the Pittsburgh Almanac, which through his endeavors to render it useful, has become the most popular in the western country. Instead of vapid tales and insipid anecdotes, it contains interesting and useful notices of the improvements in agriculture, manufactures, and trade, moral maxims, and a variety of useful knowledge. From his success in these experiments, he was induced, about the year 1805, to attempt something greater, and undertook to publish Brown's Dictionary of the Bible, a bold attempt, when we consider the state of the typographic art in this part of the world at that period. The work was successfully completed, and afforded him a handsome profit: this may be considered the era of book printing in the western country. Under the direction of this industrious man almost any establishment would flourish; and his soon became the most considerable of the kind on this side of the mountain. About this time he became connected in trade with a printer, and in exercising his judgment in making choice of a partner he was
as judicious as in any other event of his life, for his partner will also be long remembered, as an open, generous, honest man; and a a man of business, economy, and industry, will stand unrivalled. Such is John Spear, and such a one was only worthy of his situation. After this connection a surprising number of useful works issued from their press, and their book establishment supplied the retailers in many of the principal western towns. The period of Mr. Cramer's usefulness was unfortunately not long. A frame rather delicate, and too close attention to business, gradually impaired his health; a pulmonary complaint was the consequence, and
for the last four or five years his time was chiefly spent in travelling. In 1811 he descended the Mississippi, to Natchez and New Orleans, and found much relief; but from anxiety to see his family, and to enter business again, he took passage at New Orleans, and came round to one of the northern ports before his health had been properly established. But he soon found it necessary, after being but a short time with his family and friends, once more to seek a milder climate, and he re-descended the river in three months after his return home. At first he was benefited by the change, but his system had received to severe a shock to be restored, although his life might be prolonged. Last summer (1813) he passed over from Orleans to Pensacola, where on the 1st of August, his lamp of life ceased to burn. He had for a long time been conscious of his approaching dissolution, but preserved his cheerfulness to the last: even his severe disease could not sour a temper so mild and pleasant; nothing fretful, peevish, or ill-natured. The author of this often saw him an agreeable sprightly companion, amiable, charitable, good-humoured, and to the last revolving in his mind some useful project, which he could not expect to see executed. His manners were plain as his dress, which was that of the 'Friends,' in which society he had been educated, and whose habits of life he yet admired, though not conforming in all particulars to their religious discipline. He had not reached his fortieth year when he died, but he has paid a debt of usefulness to the society of which he was a member which might be due from a much longer life.
— Cramer will be long remembered by his friends, and his works will procure
his memory the esteem of many who had not the satisfaction of knowing him personally."
Reprinted from Loomis's Magazine Almanac for 1835