John W. Seybold

March 8, 1916-March 14, 2004

In Memoriam To our loving husband and Father

A Brief Biography

March 8, 1916:
     John is born in Newburgh, Indiana, a small town on the Ohio river, near Evansville. He is the second of two sons. His brother, Mack, is two years older. His parents are both school teachers. His farther, Arthur soon moves into school administration, his mother, Rhea, a talented musician, will be a music teacher for much of her life, and a performer for all of her life.

     Arthur Seybold (probably 32 years old at the time), volunteers to serve with the YMCA as a motorcycle rider delivering messages to soldiers in the trenches in France. He stays in Paris for six months after the end of the war, giving tours of the Louvre to American soldiers. He brings home a life-long love of Paris, and gives lectures on the art of the Louvre for a number of years later.
     John has an ear infection which ruptures an ear drum and leaves him deaf in his right ear. For the rest of his life, he cannot place sounds or sort out one sound from another.
     After the war, the family moves to Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where they live through all of the boys’ school years. John’s father eventually becomes Superintendent of schools, a well-known educator, and one of the founders of the National Honor Society for high school students.

     John enters kindergarten, and is almost immediately moved to the first grade at age 5 1/2. He had learned to read and write at an early age, and is already writing poetry before he enters school.
     He begins a life-long love affair with the Cello, and with Classical music. Later, the Seybold family will give family recitals, which include chamber music, vocal solos (Arthur) and poetry set to music: Mack on violin, John on Cello, and their mother on the piano.
     Arthur is an avid outdoorsman. Camping and fishing trips are an integral part of family life.

February, 1932:
     John graduates from high school. Due to his early start and completing his high school courses in 2 1/2 years, he graduates just before his sixteenth birthday. He enrolls in Swarthmore College that fall, largely because the College offers him a working scholarship.
     His Swarthmore years are probably the most important of his life. Here he forms many life-long friendships, deepens his love of literature (he will quote Shakespeare all of his life), becomes a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), deepens his commitment to Peace and Social Justice, and, in his senior year, meets the love of his life, a beautiful freshman named Trudie Blood.
     Influenced by the realities of the Depression, John majors in Economics, with an emphasis on labor economics.

     After graduation from Swarthmore College, John takes a job as an economist at the WPA for a year, then teaches Economics at Olivet College (MI) for a year and a half.

March 12, 1938:
     John and Trudie are wed. They move into a little house in Olivet.

January, 1938:
     John leaves Olivet to teach Economics at Swarthmore College and to continue his graduate education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He carries both a full teaching load at Swarthmore and a full course load at Penn. Trudie resumes her undergraduate course work at Swarthmore, majoring in fine arts.
     John completes his course work for his Phd., and is in the process of expanding his Master’s thesis into a Phd. dissertation when the war intervenes.

War Labor Board: 1942 -1945:
     John joins the National War Labor Board, eventually becoming Regional Wage Stabilization Director for the eastern region.
     First son, Jonathan is born. Andrew follows in 1946, and Patricia in 1949.

Printing Industries of Philadelphia: 1946 – 1960:
     As the War Labor Board winds up its work, John becomes Industrial Relations Director for the newly-formed Printing Industries of Philadelphia (PIP). His principal responsibility is the relationship between the unionized employers and the various labor unions.
     Up until this time, the unions had negotiated separately with each employer individually. Virtually nothing had been done on an industry-wide basis. John creates a situation in which employers as a group negotiate with the unions, and employers and unions work together on training, apprenticeship programs and the like.
     John had originally thought that his depression-born sympathy with unions and union members would be apparent to both the employers and the unions. He soon learns, however, that unions — especially ones like those in the printing industry which had great power over the employers — can be just as greedy and destructive as employers.
     He quickly develops relationships of trust and friendship with both the unions and the employers. This enables him to serve as an “honest broker” in helping the two sides to resolve their differences and deal with the technological change which is already starting to sweep the industry.
     Passage of the Taft-Hartley Act prompts a multi-city strike by the Typographers union (ITU) in 1948. The Union sought to preserve “closed,” union-only shops in the printing industry in contravention to the new law. Employers want to re-write contracts to allow them to hire employees who were not union members. Even though the courts rule against the ITU, the union essentially wins the strike. John will always be convinced that the experience of this strike, makes the next generation of printers and publishers more willing to embrace new publishing technology which will ultimately break the hold the ITU has on the industry.
     Through the 1950s John is closely involved with profound changes in printing and publishing technologies. The first of these is a migration from traditional letterpress printing to photo offset lithography. The second is the closely-related birth of phototypesetting.
     Since lithographic printing plates are exposed from photographic film, once you have converted to offset printing, there is no longer any need for hand typesetting with raised metal type for display advertising, or for hot metal “linecasters” which produce raised metal type cast from molten metal. Instead, it makes sense to develop machines which will “set” type by exposing photographic images.
     John’s intimate involvement with the introduction of these technologies, and his relationships with publishers and printers around the country would soon form the foundation for the revolution pioneered by ROCAPPI.
     In the end, ROCAPPI and the industry later fostered by the Seybold Report will succeed in building the “craft” of typesetting and publishing into computer programs which anyone can use.

Labor Arbitration: 1946 –1975:
     Almost immediately after he joined Printing Industries of Philadelphia, John is approached by the American Arbitration Association and asked to serve as an impartial Arbitrator of union/management contract disputes. For the next 29 years, he hears 20 to 30 cases per year — never, of course, any involving the printing or publishing industries.

Paris: 1960 – 1961:
     John takes a 20-month leave of absence to take an assignment with the American Friends Service Committee office in Paris. He is responsible for organizing seminars which bring together future leaders of countries around the world: Communist/non-communist, Arab/Israeli, Indian/Pakistani, African, Asian, Latin American, European and American. This period includes several trips to the USSR, Poland and other east block countries.
     Most of all, the experience gives John, Trudie and their three children the experience of living in the city that Arthur had so loved in 1918.

1962 - 1963:
     John returns to the U.S. and becomes Executive Director of PIP. But the time in Paris has changed him. He looks at everything in a new light.
     In early 1963, he visits the West Palm Beach (Florida) Post and Times to see one of the first implementations of computer hyphenation. Punched paper tape containing raw text is fed into an RCA 301 computer. The computer program decides how to break the lines and hyphenate words. The same text with line endings is output via a paper tape punch driven by the computer. The output tape drove hot metal line casters and an early phototypesetter, the Photon 513.
     John cannot get what he as seen out of his head. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that computers could be used not just for hyphenation of words, but for the entire process of preparation, correction, manipulation and formatting of written text for books, magazines, newspapers, journals, directories and any other sort of printed publication.

Rocappi: 1963 – 1970:
     At first, John tries to convince his friends in the printing and publishing industry of the potential of this new technology. But, when none of them are willing to commit, he decides to form his own company and do it himself.
     At that time, a few newspapers had installed systems which performed relatively crude hyphenation of text, but nothing more. Rocappi (Research on Computer Applications in the Printing and Publishing Industries) is the first company in the world to tackle the entire process of editing, manipulating and formatting text – and to do so to produce “commercial quality” published materials. In the process, John and his team at Rocappi essentially invent computer typesetting. (See for more information and technical details.)
     Largely spurned by the publishing industry it was seeking to transform, Rocappi was launched on a shoestring budget with funds mostly invested by friends and neighbors. In 1967 some major New York publishers arrange for a financial infusion to give Rocappi the financial base it requires. They arrange for the company to be acquired by the Lehigh Press of Pennsauken, NJ. John and his son Jonathan sign three year employment contracts to continue to run the company.

     Jonathan leaves Rocappi at the end of his employment contract and moves to California. John leaves soon after. They both begin consulting.
     John continues his consulting through the 1970s. His assignments include extensive work for U.S. News & World Report overseeing selection, development and implementation of their Atex system — the world’s first magazine editorial and production system.
     In the transition between Rocappi and the Seybold Report, John writes a text book to be used to train the people he expects to be coming into the new “computer typesetting” field. The Primer for Computer Composition is published by the Graphic Computer Communications Association division of Printing Industries of America in 1971.

The Seybold Report: 1971-1984:
     In September, 1971 John and Jonathan launch the Seybold Report, the “bible” for everyone involved in the collision of computers and publishing. “Despite the name of the publication, we never saw ourselves as ‘reporters’, chronicling a technological revolution,” Jonathan later said, “we saw ourselves as ‘activists’, trying to push technology to serve publishers better — and trying to help publishers to make the best possible use of new technology. It was an significant advantage that we had done all of this stuff ourselves.” (See for more complete information on the Seybold Report and related publications.)
     It is a time of immense ferment. Other industries had installed computer systems to automate various support functions. But publishing is probably the first industry to completely re-organize itself around new computer technology. The published “product” will be conceived, created, produced (and, later, distributed) on computer systems — all of which have to work together from beginning to end.
     Through the pages of the Seybold Report, his consulting and his lectures, John becomes the “father” of what is essentially a new industry.

Golden years: 1984 – 2004:
     John begins winding down his activities at Seybold Publications in the early 1980’s. He continues consulting and returns to writing books. The first book is a complete re-write of his earlier Primer: The World of Digital Typesetting, published by Seybold Publications in 1984. This is followed by two books co-authored with Fritz Dressler: The Entrepreneurial Age (Seybold Publications, 1985), and Publishing from the Desktop (Bantam Press, 1987).
     In 1983 John and Trudie start to spend part of each year in Santa Barbara, CA – a practice which they will continue until XXXX.
     In XXXX they decide to move into a new retirement community, the Quadrangle, in Haverford, PA. As some of the first residents in this new community, they relish the opportunity to help to create a new community from scratch. Everything has to be organized -- from the relationship between Marriot (the owner of the community) and the residents, to resident committees to run the place. John launches a new, free newsletter, Musings. He also has more time for his music, for his daily swim, and for painting and sculpture.

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