In an effort to provide relief for union members suffering from work-related lung disease, the International Typographical Union constructed a special health institution in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The working conditions of the nineteenth century were famously bleak. This was especially true of the printing industry. Workers inhaled the carbon-based ink and often developed chronic lung disease. The most prevalent disease was Black Lung, now known as coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. The printers became frustrated with their work environments, poor health, and low wages, so they established the International Typographical Union (ITU) in 1852. One of their main goals was to help union members already suffering from medical conditions brought on by their profession.
Union members suggested creating the Union Printers Home at the first ITU convention meeting in New Orleans in 1852, but the leadership committee rejected the proposal. This institution would have been a medical facility specifically for printers, in which they would live together and receive care. In 1890, union members finally approved the plan after Philadelphia newspaper publisher George W. Childs and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel made a donation to fund the idea. Because the only treatment for respiratory illness at the time was fresh air, the ITU chose Colorado Springs as the site of this ambitious project. The Childs-Drexel Home for Union Printers opened May 12, 1892. Because the union was composed of newspaper publishers, the event was well publicized. The New York Times described the home as the only one of its kind, and the Los Angeles Herald claimed the opening day was the greatest event the West had ever seen.
The building overlooks the Garden of the Gods, as well as a view of Pikes Peak. Four stories high, workers constructed it using white lava stone and red sandstone; it ultimately cost $80,000 to complete. The building is impressive, and the design was meant to instill a sense of pride in the printing profession. The printers could enjoy the expansive grounds and appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. The ITU initially admitted fifty union men and the staff set up twenty tuberculosis tents on the grounds. The Union Printers Home housed 25,000 printers while under the direction of the ITU.
After the Communication Workers of America absorbed the International Typographical Union in 1986, the union sold the building. The Union Printers Home is now a retirement facility, well-liked thanks to its beautiful views and architecture. The location and weather are still ideal for residents. Its unique history as a health institution is echoed in its current use.