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Isaiah Thomas Biography


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Isaiah Thomas was one of America's great patriotic printers; he was born in Boston in 1749 into a family so poor that he was taken from his mother by the Overseers of the Poor and apprenticed to a local printer at the tender age of six. It was immediately apparent that he was no ordinary apprentice, as young Isaiah learned his alphabet and his type case at the same time. He made many improvements in the quality of his master's printing and at the age of 14 began traveling along the eastern seaboard. 

Thomas returned to Boston in the spring of 1770 and began publication of his newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy. He became involved with radicals such as John Hancock, Thomas Young, and Joseph Greenleaf, and the Spy became the mouthpiece for the Sons of Liberty. On the eve of the Revolution, Thomas smuggled his printing press out of Boston and set it up in Worcester where, on May 3, 1775, he published the first printed accounts of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

He continued in Worcester after the Revolutionary War, establishing himself as the country's most prominent printer, editor, and publisher. He certainly was the most innovative, enjoying great commercial success. Thomas had always used the best types and papers available, importing great quantities of types from the foundries of Caslon, Fry, and Wilson. Thomas’s Type Specimen Book of 1775, the folio Bible of 1791 and his History of Printing in America of 1810 are but three of his great achievements in printing.

Thomas retired in 1802 and devoted the rest of his productive and long life to collecting, scholarship, and philanthropy.

In 1812, he founded the American Antiquarian Society to house his remarkable library of 8,000 volumes, with a mission to collect, preserve and make available the printed record of the United States for future generations.

Isaiah Thomas died in Worcester, Massachusetts on April 4, 1831. He served as president of AAS until his death.