Skip to content

The Story of a Wayward Printing Press

February 22, 2012

 In March, the History Center will open its new exhibit honoring 75 year old businesses in Jefferson County.  One of these companies is the A. H. Cather Publishing Company.  The following fascinating story was written by Patrick Cather, a descendant of the company’s founder.

A. H. Cather Publishing Company has made its home in Birmingham since 1913 but the firm traces its actual roots to late 1860 Ashville, Alabama when George R. Cather came to that small St. Clair County town to set up a newspaper office. By the time he had found and bought an original 1820 Peter Smith Acorn Printing Press and established himself in a downtown Ashville building, he had the call to return to Maryland to join his brother as a member of the First Maryland Confederate Regiment. Ultimately, however, he spent most of the Civil War as a prisoner-of-war at Elmira.

Union General Lovell Rousseau led a raid into Alabama in July of 1864. While in Ashville, Alabama he captured a printing press belonging to George Cather.

Meanwhile, General Rousseau – during his raid on North Central Alabama – had confiscated George Cather’s biggest investment: the printing press. Further, the south’s economy was devastated and, after the war, there was little left in Ashville for Cather to return to. He remained with his family in Maryland until 1872 when he had saved just enough money to travel back to Alabama and reopen his newspaper office. But with his press, type and other equipment gone missing for 8 years, he went to Centre, Alabama instead of Ashville. While there, he became temporary principal of the Centre Academy and also took a salaried job as editor of the Cherokee County newspaper.

The next year, he found his original equipment in Jacksonville Alabama, repossessed all of it and then returned to Ashville to continue publishing his own newspaper, THE SOUTHERN AEGIS. In addition to this weekly newspaper, George Cather published two monthly magazines, THE WEATHER and THE SCIENTIFIC EDUCATOR – originals of which might still be found at the Alabama State Department of Archives. To supplement his newspaper income, he also did job printing work for local businesses.
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, as George Cather was getting up in years, two of his sons had basically taken over the newspaper and print shop: Alonzo Heath Cather and Belton C. Cather. It seems they had occasional differences over how to run the business jointly so upon George Cather’s death, they decided to split into two separate businesses: the newspaper and a commercial printing shop. The newspaper – now owned by Belton Cather – retained the original name (SOUTHERN AEGIS) and moved to the nearby town of Pell City (where the paper – under different ownership – is still being published as THE SAINT CLAIR COUNTY NEWS-AEGIS). Belton also kept the original printing press but newspaper technology had gone far beyond the old Peter Smith Acorn Press so, during the move to Pell City, he junked it as scrap iron.
Meanwhile, Heath Cather had taken the commercial printing portion of the business and moved to Birmingham where he re-established his inheritance as A. H. Cather Publishing Company in 1913. It has continued to thrive in Birmingham – now under the leadership of grandson William Heath Cather Jr. – to this day.

Alonzo H. Cather making an impression using the old Smith Acorn Printing Press (c 1956)

And, to conclude the Peter Smith Acorn Press saga, after Heath Cather found out that his brother Belton had junked the press that their father had gone to so much trouble to find again after the Civil War, Heath began his own “quest” to again relocate the original press.

In 1937 – at the height of the great depression – he found it in a Birmingham Alabama junkyard! That original Smith Acorn Printing Press – which printed so many Alabama newspapers over the years (as well as Federal military orders in the field for General Rousseau) is now on display on the 5th Floor of the Gorgas Library, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa Alabama.
And next year, A. H. Cather Publishing Company will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of its move to Birmingham and the 153rd Anniversary of its actual “birth” in Ashville, Alabama.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2013 4:16 am

    Thanks Dez for giving me information about Wayward Printing Press .


  2. August 13, 2013 1:09 am

    To supplement his newspaper income, he also did job printing work for local businesses.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: