Will Bradley: Typographer and illustrator

The Ishpeming Iron Ore masthead designed by Will Bradley. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Traveling around the Upper Peninsula will lead you to a wide range of art galleries and local art displays. Many talented people live and work in the U.P.

A little research opens the door to the fact that talented artists have lived and worked in the U.P. from its early days. One such artist is Will Bradley, who was born in 1868 in Boston.

He is said to have been fascinated by type, print and illustrations at an early age. It was reported that his father was a cartoonist who died in 1876 of injuries from the Civil War. Will and his mother then moved to Ishpeming where her mother’s sister lived.

Will showed interest and talent in type setting and art from a young age. When he was 6, he earned money by delivering shoe uppers to a local woman and then picking them up to return them to the manufacturer. He used the money earned to purchase his first printing press. In 1882, Will began working at the Iron Agitator in Ishpeming, first as a print setter and then learning to operate and feed paper into a Gordon press.

He later moved on to the Peninsula Record for a 25% increase in wages. His first employer, Mr. Newett, made Will an offer of $10 a week so Will returned to The Iron Agitator. By age 15, Will was earning $15/week, the wages of an adult, and was foreman. During this time Will was developing his artistic skills and his work on want ads began showing up in businesses in Ishpeming.

In 1885, with approval from his mother, Will set off to Chicago to begin his career as an artist. Unable to find a good job in Chicago, Will accepted an unpaid position with J. Manz & Co., 107 Madison Street, Chicago, an engraving firm. Will then took a six-week unpaid internship in wood engraving at Rand McNally, Chicago.

Out of money, Will returned home. In 1886, Rand McNally offered him a job and he returned to Chicago. In 1888, Will returned to Ishpeming to marry Alice Gray whom he had noticed on his first day in Ishpeming and who he asked to wait for him when they were at a Sunday school picnic in 1878.

From 1886 until 1895, Will Bradley worked in Chicago or its surroundings. While working at Rand McNally he saw the beginnings of line photo engravings and phot half-tones. A phot (ph) is a photometric unit of illuminance, or luminous flux through an area. He also designed new typefaces and mastheads. The mastheads that were used for Ishpeming’s Iron Ore when it changed names from Iron Agitator were designed by Will.

In 1895, Will founded the Wayside Press in Springfield, Massachusetts. He published a monthly arts periodical, “Bradley: His Book.” Will was a working artist until he retired formally in 1930.

Throughout his long career he designed a new layout for The Bookman and Harper’s Weekly plus creating home interiors and house designs for Ladies Home Journal. He coordinated the makeup, art and typography for Collier’s Magazine.

By 1910, Bradley was the art editor for five magazines: Good Housekeeping, Metropolitan, Success, Pearsons and National Post. In 1915, Hearst asked him to assume art supervision for motion picture serials produced by Hearst interests.

In 1918, Will moved on to write and direct movies independently under the firm name Dramafilms Productions in New York. One film, “Moongold” was photographed against black velvet with no sets and actors performing in pantomime and was a critical success.

In 1948, Will Bradley moved to California. His wife Alice Gray Bradley died in 1950. Will died in 1962 in La Mesa, California, at age 93. For more information about Will Bradley, visit the John M. Longyear Research Library at the Marquette Regional History Center.