Carillon Historical Park adds exhibits

Industrial complex includes expanded print shop, soap factory, foundry.

If the idea of time travel sounds appealing, consider stepping onto the beautiful grounds of Carillon Historical Park. Filled with authentic exhibits, the 65 acres provide a ticket to the past, a rare opportunity to visit a long-ago time filled with long-ago people and places. It’s a perfect family outing or excursion for out-of-town visitors.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous local couple, a new industrial block is now part of the historic mix. Dedicated on April 28 at a festive ribbon-cutting attended by 500 enthusiastic supporters, the complex, set in the 1920s and 1930s, features an expanded print shop, a demonstration foundry, a soap factory and a landscaped plaza for programming.

“The kids are gonna love it!” predicted president and CEO of Dayton History, Brady Kress at the opening. He said visitors will be wooed by the smell of ink, the smell of coal and the smell of soap. “This is an opportunity for people to get their hands dirty.”

The original print shop, dedicated in 1988, was the park’s first jump into a hands-on experience for visitors involving a real trade. Now the Gem City Letterpress Company will be joined by two brand new exhibits –the Rubicon Foundry and Air City Soap Company.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

According to Carillon Park curator Steve Lucht, who’s done extensive research on the subject,, on average each year in the 20s and 30s there were approximately 25 foundries, 65 printers and six soap manufacturers in Dayton.

In the beginning

If you’ve visited Carillon Park over the past 30 years, you know that visitors have always been captivated by printing equipment that dates as far back as the 1880s. Youngsters leave the shop proudly carrying a card printed on an 1890s proof press that bears their own name.

“We have people from all over the USA and from around the world visit us, and they all are very appreciative,” says Dennis Behm, an 10-year print shop volunteer who’s had a love affair with printing since his Patterson Co-Op High School days. After apprenticing at NCR, the Centerville resident spent 40 years at the Dayton Daily News — first in the composing room as a printer and then in the IT department.

ExplorePHOTOS: Carillon Historical Park's new 1920s-1930s industrial block

The reason he and a dozen others volunteer in the print shop, Behm says, is the enjoyment of telling the history of printing and what it meant to Dayton. Did you know for much of the 20th century, Dayton was one of the nation’s largest printing centers?

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

“The Miami Valley’s abundant water supply made it the location of 25 of Ohio’s 36 paper mills,” explains Alex Heckman, vice president of Dayton History. “It was more efficient to print the paper near the mills and ship printed products than it was to handle the paper twice.”

In the 1930s, Dayton had 77 printing companies ranging in size from small, basement shops employing one or two people, to the McCall’s 38-acre factory building, the largest printing plant under one roof anywhere in the world with over 6,000 on the payroll. By 1960, McCall’s was producing four million magazines and 100,000 dress patterns every working day.

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Behm says the Linotype is an amazing mechanical marvel full of moving gears and cams and reeds. “Once we start explaining the Linotype and showing visitors how and why it works they become intrigued about the whole printing process,” he says. “There are always more questions when they see the presses running.”

“Letterpress printing is as simple as making a fingerprint,” explains Heckman. “You press your finger against an inked surface and the raised parts of your finger are coated with ink while the lower parts are not. In a like manner, the raised surfaces of individual pieces of type are inked and pressed against paper.”

The process was refined by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 using movable type and a wooden press adapted from those used to press grapes, Heckman explains. Gutenberg’s contribution was one of the most important technological advances in human history since it fostered widespread literacy and education. Letterpress remained the primary method of printing for literally centuries, until the development of offset printing in the 1950s.

New print shop additions

With the recent expansion of Carillon’s print shop seven more historic operational printing presses have been added, as well as related equipment. Be sure to see the Heidelberg Windmill printing press; it uses arms that spin like windmill blades to automatically feed blank paper into the press and pull out the printed paper. Another new addition is the Seybold Automatic Paper Cutter, made in Dayton and built before 1946.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

In addition to educational demonstrations, the print shop regularly creates items sold in the gift shop — cards, games, notepads and more. Some of the most popular items include the greeting cards and the cards that feature The Dayton Triangles, Deeds Carillon and the 1905 Wright Flyer III. Recipe cards, chore lists and bridge-scoring sheets are among the unique items printed onsite along with a wide range of notepads. Special requests are honored when possible and the plan calls for producing more special orders.

The print shop is a key component of every Carillon field trip. In addition to visiting the shop as part of a larger museum tour, there’s an hour-long Printing 101 workshop in which students hand-set the type and learn about the various pieces of equipment while seeing it in action.

“The print shop immerses our guests in the sights, sounds, smells and touches of both the art and science of letterpress printing,” concludes Heckman. “Many people are fascinated by how the machines operate because it is so far removed from their own life experiences.”

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He says during school field trips, it’s a routine occurrence for a student to ask, ‘”Where is the screen?” when watching the printers operate the presses. “For children who have literally grown up with iPads, PlayStations and all manner of other digital gadgets in their hands, it amazes them to learn that printing didn’t always consist of wirelessly sending a file to a full-color printer in a home office.”

Volunteers needed!!

Although they won’t be fully operational until mid-summer, the soap shop and demonstration foundry can already be visited and if you’re lucky, you may even arrive when the furnace is glowing. You’ll learn about foundry connections to Dayton history, tools and processes that are used.

“We will be casting small items like pewter spoons and bells and thimbles that will be sold in the Museum Store,” says Lucht, who explains that a foundry is a place where metals are cast into shapes by melting them in a liquid, pouring them into a mold and removing the mold material after the metal is solidified as it cools. ”The plan is to allow visitors to help in the casting process by packing the sand around the molds,” he says.

Soap manufacturing was a significant industry in Dayton and by 1920 three manufacturers dominated Dayton’s soap industry and sold their products nationally. Air City Soap will be a fully operational soapery using the cold process of making soap which will be sold in the industrial sales area and the Museum Store.

“The soap will be poured into large molds to dry and will then need to be cut into bars using a wire cutter,” explains Lucht. “The soap will then be stamped with a design or logo and wrapped in paper. Once we are up and running, guests will be allowed to help cut, stamp and wrap the soap.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

What’s needed now are men and women interested in learning more about these three trades. You’ll learn to make soap or to cast items or become involved in the printing process. “No previous experience is necessary; we’ll do the training,” explains Lucht, who researched all of these processes and says folks can volunteer for as little as one 4-hour shift per week.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, contact volunteer coordinator Kay Locher at 937-293-2841, ext. 102.

Collaborations are also being planned within the new complex. One example? The print shop will produce the labels for the soaps.

So what’s next? Says Kress: “Carillon Park will never be finished as long as there is innovation in this community.”


What: Carillon Historical Park, a 65 acre open-air history museum

Where: 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

When: 9:30-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: $12 per adult (ages 18–59), $10 per senior, $8 per child (3–17), children under 3 and Dayton History members free. Dayton History memberships are $50 for an individual; $75 for family/grandparent membership and $100 for Carousel and Brewery benefits.

Parking: Free

For more info: 937-293-2841 or

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