The Typographer Who Set History

Baxley of UC Printing Recalls a Four-Day Marathon That Led to the Birth of the United Nations

by Fernando Quintero

Gone are the bulky linotype machines and cylinder presses that occupied the first floor of UC Printing Building on Oxford and Center streets. Modern press technology has replaced them with computers.

But for 81-year-old Joe Baxley, being back in the same room where he helped print the United Nations Charter 50 years ago took him right back to the old days.

On June 22, 1945, following a nine-week conference in San Francisco attended by 282 delegates from 50 countries, the shop was chosen by the U.S. Government Printing Office to coordinate the rush job of setting the charter's type, and then printing and binding the final product. Baxley was working the graveyard shift as a linotype operator at the time.

U.N.egotiators didn't hammer out the proposed charter's final wording until four days before the treaty was to be signed at the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The charter had to be printed in five languages. Its pages, type and cover had to be designed. What would normally take three months had to be done in four days. The obstacles were formidable. Baxley still vividly recalls that hectic, historic time.

"The printing department was overrun with government expediters, editors, linguists and translators," said Baxley, who was 32 at the time and studying psychology at Berkeley during the day while he worked nights.

"They kept us busy setting the text, sending out proofs and getting an endless series of revised proofs in each of the five languages--English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Russian. When one set of editors made changes, all the others would have to reconcile their translations. There were arguments over nuances of words. Different people would ask for proofs and we'd get different corrections. At one point, nobody knew what the hell was going on."

For Baxley and the other pressmen who worked back-to-back shifts, the Red Cross set up cots and Navy aides served sandwiches and coffee.

Amadeo R. Tommasini, who was the composing room foreman at the time, reportedly averaged one and one half hours of sleep, all the while pushing the production of the charter to completion.

Baxley credits the charter's look to Tommasini, a master typographer whose reputation for excellent work was one of the main reasons UC Press was selected for the task. Tommasini chose Bodini Book, a classic typeface, and determined that each of the English version's 145 pages would have the same number of lines as the Gutenberg Bible.

The English, French and Spanish sections were all set at UC Press. The only Russian fonts in the area were in San Francisco. Chinese characters were composed by a newspaper in Chinatown and, as a concession to the formats of the other four languages, were set left to right and top to bottom instead of the traditional bottom to top and right to left.

Baxley said the most stressful moment came during the early morning hours of the final printing day.

"I discovered that a four-page section was missing. It had been checked off and OK'd on a press proof, but somehow it did not get printed. I thought, 'It has to be here somewhere,' and I searched the pressroom," Baxley remembered. "After a few frantic minutes, I found the missing form, it was put on the press and run off."

The charter was due at the War Memorial for signing by the assembled representatives at 10 that morning. Tommasini was to deliver the copies and a Navy aide was standing by to drive him to San Francisco. "But after 90 hours of little sleep and continual stress, he needed a little freshening up," said Baxley.

Baxley's apartment was located only a few blocks away at Oxford and Spruce streets, so he gave Tommasini the keys to his place.

"He showered, shaved, borrowed some clean underwear and socks and went off to deliver the historic document only 10 minutes late," Baxley said.

The next day, UC Press was besieged by reporters and photographers.

"Unfortunately, the printers and staff who had actually been involved in the production of the charter were at home asleep, recuperating from the exhausting experience," said Baxley. "We never got any credit."


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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