72 Years: Modern Screenprint – From photo engraving to screenprinting, this business has changed with the times
This story is part of the Maine’s Progressive Business 2013 series. To read more historical retrospectives, click here.
It was around 1926 when Jeremiah M. McLeod came to Bangor from New Brunswick, first working as an operator for the Western Union Telegraph Co. on Hammond Street. By 1935, he was working as an advertising salesman for the J.P. Bass Co.’s Bangor Daily Commercial newspaper. When that paper folded, McLeod, by then married to Gertrude, moved to the Bangor Publishing Co. as an advertising salesman for the Bangor Daily News.
At the time, making engraved plates for the presses was how custom advertisements were made, so it’s likely that was where McLeod got his exposure to the field of photo engraving. By 1942, he was in business as Modern Photo Engravers on Broad Street. He did photo engraving, half tones, line cuts, and artwork for newspapers, catalogs, and direct mail, as well producing labels, letterheads, posters, and other printed materials. “Specialists in school annual engravings,” read his first ad in the local city directory. Three years later, his ad highlighted that MPE were “Makers of printing plates, illustrators… Satisfactorily serving Eastern and Northern Maine Printers, Publishers and users of illustrated printed advertising.”
At the time, and for some time after, the Bangor Daily News was a key customer. “I know he had very close ties to the Bangor Daily News,” said Jeremiah’s grandson, Tim McLeod, who currently runs the business. “They were one of the biggest customers that he had — if not the only customer. Photo engraving was something that he did exclusively.”
Jeremiah did begin doing signs in the 1950s. In 1956, the company relocated to 175 Exchange Street, where Jeremiah McLeod now advertised “commercial art and printing plates” and “silkscreen printing.” The business was on the third floor of a building at the corner of York, above another printer and the street-level Atlantic Restaurant. There was no elevator, so that meant hauling material and products up and down two flights of stairs.
Jeremiah’s son, Daniel, returned from the Navy about 1956. he had served on a destroyer in the U.S. Navy, working in the office. “He was the only one, I guess, that could type,” recalled his wife, Marion, who married him that same year.
Growth and Change
Daniel went to work for his father, who died around 1962. Within a few years, voters approved urban renewal and that entire section of Exchange Street was to be razed. A building was available at 172 Garland Street, not far from Daniel and Marion’s home, one that would mean no more trips up and down lots of stairs. Daniel bought it, first adding a big addition to the back before he moved the shop there. With the move came a name change: Modern Engraving & Printing, as Daniel pulled away from photo engraving, which was declining, to expand the company’s printing services.
From the time it moved to Garland Street, the business grew and changed. Over 10 years, Daniel made many other changes to the business, expanding the second floor and bringing his new wife, Marion, on board. When the business adopted a yellow, red, and white stylized “M” logo in the 1970s and adorned the business (even the windows’ shutters) with it, people often joked that it was reminiscent of the McDonald’s golden arches.
Screenprinting came along during the late 1950s, thanks to famous Maine artist Francis Hamabe. Hamabe. who was influential during the 1950s through the 1970s, was the man who first taught Daniel how to screenprint. Hamabe was a nationally known artist whose work appeared in such magazines as Down East, Maine Life and the New Yorker, and whose murals can be seen at Eastern Maine Medical Center and the University of Maine at Machias. He was well-known for his work in silkscreen, among many other forms.
Silkscreen printing had taken hold as the dominant form of printing the company did in the early 1960s, and that trend continued. In 1975, Daniel changed the name to Modern Screen Print; by 1980 it was styled as Modern Screenprint.
By this time, Daniel’s son Tim, grandson of the founder, was working at the business, and he recalls the changes over the years — particularly the rocky road to automation, which began with the first automatic press in 1970.
“The first automatic press we got didn’t work very well,” Tim recalled. “I can’t even remember seeing it work, to tell you the truth. Several years later, my father got another press, which is very similar to the one that’s being used [today], and that worked a lot better.”
The new press was in 1974, and the following year Tim came to work there part time. After he graduated from the University of Maine in 1982, he came aboard full time.
Bigger and Better
Even as Tim came onboard, the workload was rapidly increasing. In 1984, it was clear the businesses to expand once again.
“It was getting busier, and then he was printing shirts along with everything else, so he needed the space,” Marion said. “And we outgrew that and we bought this building.”
So in December 1984 Daniel moved the business to 69 Hillside Drive, between Bangor High School and the Broadway Shopping Center, in a former warehouse. The new location was essentially one big room, but even after Daniel added offices, you could probably still fit the entire Garland Street building inside the production area of the new location.
Marion worked at the business until 1996, when Tim’s wife Kathy joined the operation. Sadly, Daniel passed away suddenly in February 1997.
Although much has changed over the years, the basics of screenprinting has remained the same. “Basically it’s pushing ink through mesh,” Tim said. “That’s never going to change.”
Unlike a desktop printer, screenprinting can be done on up to half-inch-thick material — paper, card-board, plastic, wood, metal, polyester, fabric, vinyl, you name it. And colorfast inks that are used stand up well to the elements; they don’t run or fade. And Modern Screenprint can print on everything from a single mailing label to six feet long and three feet wide.
It’s also a lot cheaper to screenprint. A few pages off an inkjet printer is one thing; printing larger sizes in full color becomes cheaper for bulk orders with screenprinting.
“The advantage that we have is quantity; digital usually is a smaller quantity, one or two,” he said. “If you want 300 or 400… the price per unit doesn’t go down with digital.”
Today, Tim and his wife, Kathy, work with their brother-in-law, Dave Farrar, and Leonard “Pat” Partridge to continue producing quality work. In an era of Internet competition, getting the business is a challenge, but Tim says his focus isn’t cheap productions but quality jobs. “There’s always somebody that’s cheaper than you,” Tim said. “We just don’t try to compete with that. We just try to do the best that we can. A lot of people still like to deal with a local company when it comes to this type of work, which is good for us.”