RR Donnelley

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Pioneers & Early Adaptors

Richard Robert Donnelley
Founder Richard Robert Donnelley was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, but settled in Chicago, where he founded the company that continues to bear his name. It has become the largest company of its kind in the world. Five generations of Donnelleys have been represented at the company he founded more than 150 years ago.
Picture of Richard Robert Donnelley
Founder Richard Robert Donnelley was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, but settled in Chicago, where he founded the company that continues to bear his name. It has become the largest company of its kind in the world. Five generations of Donnelleys have been represented at the company he founded more than 150 years ago.

Every time you collect your mail, you are almost certain to find something that RR Donnelley had a hand in putting there. It might be a favorite magazine, a catalog you’ll curl up with, a book you’ve ordered, a billing statement, an intriguing offer of some kind, a coupon, information about your health care benefits, or more. RR Donnelley is recognized as one of the largest providers of mail to the United States Postal Service.

Helping organizations communicate with you through the USPS is just part of what RR Donnelley does. The company is a global provider of services that help companies communicate more effectively. RR Donnelley’s more than 65,000 employees serve customers on four continents, with services that include printing, digital photography, translations, logistics, creative and internet design, and more.

How did this, the largest company of its type in the world, begin?

In 1854 a young Canadian named Richard Robert Donnelley settled in Chicago, where he had been invited to manage a publishing company’s printing operations. Already an experienced printer, the reputation for quality and integrity that he earned in Chicago soon allowed him to establish his own business. In 1871, the company was about to open a new printing plant in Chicago’s central business district when disaster struck. It was the Great Chicago Fire, and by the time it had burned itself out, R. R. Donnelley’s printing operations had been completely destroyed. The company’s reputation was so strong though, that Donnelley was able to borrow the money to start over, and the business was quickly thriving again.


RR Donnelley Chicago Fire

Montgomery Ward Catalog
Chicago’s central location and superior rail transportation made it a hub for the mail order industry that transformed America’s shopping habits. Early mail order houses included Sears and Montgomery Ward. RR Donnelley produced catalogs for both. These catalogs, delivered by the Post Office, brought a world of products into the homes and farms that dotted the country.
Oldest Montgomery Ward or Carsons Catalog In The Library
Chicago’s central location and superior rail transportation made it a hub for the mail order industry that transformed America’s shopping habits. Early mail order houses included Sears and Montgomery Ward. RR Donnelley produced catalogs for both. These catalogs, delivered by the Post Office, brought a world of products into the homes and farms that dotted the country.

1928 Issue of Time Magazine
In addition to products made available through mail order catalogs, the Post Office also helped Americans stay informed through the magazines that carriers delivered each week. RR Donnelley was a pioneer in producing mass circulation publications, such as this 1928 issue of Time Magazine, which featured the Japanese emperor on its cover.
1928 Issue of Time Magazine
In addition to products made available through mail order catalogs, the Post Office also helped Americans stay informed through the magazines that carriers delivered each week. RR Donnelley was a pioneer in producing mass circulation publications, such as this 1928 issue of Time Magazine, which featured the Japanese emperor on its cover.

The organization, now known simply as RR Donnelley, is credited with a number of important “firsts”. Just a few of these include…

  • Establishing one of the first formal printing apprentice programs in the U.S., which helped train generations of craftspeople.
  • Pioneering heat-set printing, which enabled the production of affordable but high quality photo-magazines. Generations of Americans rushed to their mailboxes each week for Life magazine, the landmark publication that featured crisp photographs reproduced by RR Donnelley’s innovative printing.
  • Developing a unique computer-enabled binding method that allowed publishers to deliver readers content matched to their interests.
  • Inventing fully digital high-speed printing presses that create true 1 to 1 communications in color.

Since its founding, more than 150 years ago, RR Donnelley has enjoyed a rich collaboration with the USPS, to help bring a world of entertainment, information, commerce, and other content into America’s mailboxes.


RR Donnelley's printing apprentice programs

1936 Life Magazine Exploding Ink Ad
Production employees had looked on in wonder as RR Donnelley engineers attached complex dryers that they’d collaborated in designing to a press. They were witnessing an innovation called heat set printing, which would enable faster printing with even better quality. The paper travels at incredible speeds through units that look something like pizza ovens, where the heated air dries the ink and bonds it to the paper, allowing more ink to be put onto the page for denser, richer images. One of the first customers to embrace this new technology was famed publisher Henry Luce, who employed it for the production of LIFE magazine. Each week, as LIFE arrived in mailboxes, it brought stories and pictures that helped to educate, inform, and entertain Americans everywhere.
1936 Life Magazine Exploding Ink Ad
Production employees had looked on in wonder as RR Donnelley engineers attached complex dryers that they’d collaborated in designing to a press. They were witnessing an innovation called heat set printing, which would enable faster printing with even better quality. The paper travels at incredible speeds through units that look something like pizza ovens, where the heated air dries the ink and bonds it to the paper, allowing more ink to be put onto the page for denser, richer images. One of the first customers to embrace this new technology was famed publisher Henry Luce, who employed it for the production of LIFE magazine. Each week, as LIFE arrived in mailboxes, it brought stories and pictures that helped to educate, inform, and entertain Americans everywhere.

Catalogs on a Massive Scale
The year is 1940, and for a single catalog publisher RR Donnelley produces, wraps and addresses 13 million “big book” catalogs in its flagship Chicago printing plant. Cost-effectively and quickly moving these catalogs into the postal stream was a challenge. RR Donnelley had a post office on-site to handle catalogs that were to be delivered to addresses in and around Chicago. The balance of the catalogs were loaded onto rail cars for delivery to multiple distribution points around the country, where they were inserted into the mail stream. How large was the project? Even with the efficiencies that RR Donnelley provided, the postage for this catalog alone was calculated to comprise about 1 ½% of the Post Offices’s annual revenue at the time!
Catalogs on a Massive Scale
The year is 1940, and for a single catalog publisher RR Donnelley produces, wraps and addresses 13 million “big book” catalogs in its flagship Chicago printing plant. Cost-effectively and quickly moving these catalogs into the postal stream was a challenge. RR Donnelley had a post office on-site to handle catalogs that were to be delivered to addresses in and around Chicago. The balance of the catalogs were loaded onto rail cars for delivery to multiple distribution points around the country, where they were inserted into the mail stream. How large was the project? Even with the efficiencies that RR Donnelley provided, the postage for this catalog alone was calculated to comprise about 1 ½% of the Post Offices’s annual revenue at the time!

Production Photo Circa 1970
In 1969 RR Donnelley became the first printer in Chicago to operate a solvent recovery system. This special system captured ink components in order to reduce emissions decades before the term “carbon footprint” became commonly used.
Production Photo Circa 1970
In 1969 RR Donnelley became the first printer in Chicago to operate a solvent recovery system. This special system captured ink components in order to reduce emissions decades before the term “carbon footprint” became commonly used.

Binding Line
The year was 1984, and RR Donnelley helped a magazine targeted to America’s farmers make history by publishing an issue that features 8,896 different versions. The publication was produced using an RR Donnelley innovation called Selectronic® binding, which enables content to be customized to the magazine’s different audiences. Ads and articles are specifically targeted to readers based upon the publisher’s understanding of their interests, demographics, and other variables. So one subscriber in Indiana might reach into the mailbox to discover a magazine featuring ads and stories about raising soybeans, while another farmer in Nebraska finds that the same issue is much more about raising corn.
Binding Line
The year was 1984, and RR Donnelley helped a magazine targeted to America’s farmers make history by publishing an issue that features 8,896 different versions. The publication was produced using an RR Donnelley innovation called Selectronic® binding, which enables content to be customized to the magazine’s different audiences. Ads and articles are specifically targeted to readers based upon the publisher’s understanding of their interests, demographics, and other variables. So one subscriber in Indiana might reach into the mailbox to discover a magazine featuring ads and stories about raising soybeans, while another farmer in Nebraska finds that the same issue is much more about raising corn.

ProteusJet
Maybe you’ve received a utility bill with colorful graphs that show you how your energy usage is trending, or even how it compares to your neighbor’s use. How is all of that personalized information printed? One way is via a special high speed digital press that RR Donnelley engineers and imaging scientists developed. Introduced in 2008, it was the industry’s first 1200 dots per inch (DPI) four color inkjet web press and it was just the first in a continuing series of digital printing innovations that the company calls ProteusJetSM solutions.
ProteusJet
Maybe you’ve received a utility bill with colorful graphs that show you how your energy usage is trending, or even how it compares to your neighbor’s use. How is all of that personalized information printed? One way is via a special high speed digital press that RR Donnelley engineers and imaging scientists developed. Introduced in 2008, it was the industry’s first 1200 dots per inch (DPI) four color inkjet web press and it was just the first in a continuing series of digital printing innovations that the company calls ProteusJetSM solutions.