Art Maier: New Bible delivered with newspapers

Art Maier

One very long wire-transmitted telegram and two Chicago newspapers brought a new Bible translation to a clamoring public. It must be one of the most remarkable chain of events in Bible publishing history, or any other publishing history.

The chain of events began about l865. At that time, the Bible for many English-speaking Christians, worldwide, was the so-called Authorized or King James Version. The KJV had been in use since 1611 its first issuing in England.

But, during more than 250 passing years, the English language had undergone many changes. Christian scholars began to feel that a fresh English Bible translation was desirable.

The “Biblical Introduction” book by H.S. Miller tells the development of what came to be the English Revised Version.

By l872, organized committees of Bible scholars were working in England and America. The New Testament was planned for completion first. The Old Testament would be finished later. In 1881, The New Testament of the English Revised Version was ready for issue.

News about a coming modern New Testament spread, catching interest of Christians and even non-Christians, in the general public. British orders for sales in advance of issue reportedly totaled nearly two million.

American sales of the English Revised Version officially began May 20, l881. Massive orders were shipped from New York and Philadelphia. Boys reportedly had little stands on Wall Street in New York City, selling the New Testaments to passing business people.

The translation fanned a unique Chicago fire of enthusiasm. A Windy City clamor arose to have the “new Bible” at the same time as the people of New York. But freight trains couldn’t make Chicago deliveries on time.

Two Chicago newspapers, The Tribune and The Times, saw a capital opportunity. By arrangement, an express train left from near the east coast, for Chicago, carrying a few English Revised Version-New Testament copies.

At about the same time, an operator in New York began sending by telegraph signal to Chicago the word text of the New Testament. As the telegraphed text was received, word-by-word, in Chicago, it was copied to be set up in type for paper printing.

The express train, carrying the few New Testaments, arrived in Chicago the evening of May 21. By that time, the New Testament’s four gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), plus the book of Acts and the Romans Epistle, all had been received by telegraph and copied.

This partial New Testament telegram may be the longest electrical wire-sent telegraph message of record.

From the books delivered by train, the rest of the New Testament was copied and set up in trays of type and put in the printing press machinery. For 12 hours, 92 hand-compositors, along with five helpers who corrected errors, hectically labored.

On May 22, 1881, the entire English Revised Version-New Testament was published in The Chicago Tribune and The Times.

But the enthusiasm did not last. Many Christians later decided they preferred the familiar King James Version. Still, there was proof a modern Bible translation could get a lot of public interest. More Bible translations would appear.

Through many languages, now, the Bible message announces the ever-great news that anyone who believes in Christ will have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven.

In spite of social obstacles, and even outright persecution, Christians have taken this multi-language Bible message to practically all the needy world. Souls are saved, and lives are changed.

No doubt about it, the Bible, with its message of Christ and eternal life, is here to stay.

Art Maier is a semi-retired teacher, environmental science specialist and calligrapher. He is a contributing editor to Pen World Magazine and has appeared regularly on the “Pepper & Friends” television show, demonstrating for hand disabled persons and others how to use pens. He is a regular columnist for the Boonville Daily News in Boonville, Mo. He can be contacted at