Joseph O’Lone was born in New York to a family of tradesmen. By the time he was seven years old, several of his brothers were already working at a local printing house, so it was almost destiny from that point that he too would enter the world of typography, ink, and printing presses. He began as a compositor — a person who arranges the type for printing. This was a position at a printing press which required careful instruction, so much so that handbooks were developed in order to increase the chances that the apprentice would become an expert.
“The youth intended for a compositor is placed against a “Frame,” on which are placed “Cases” containing the types or letters which he will have to compose, that is, to pick up singly and arrange side by side in a composing-stick, which he will be required to hold in a particular position in his left hand. These letters, when properly arranged, will form words by having lines, sentences, paragraphs, and pages.” (The Compositor’s Handbook, Thomas Ford)
Joseph P. O’Lone continued in this position through the early 1900s. In 1902, he was finally able to afford his own home and moved out of the Hoboken, New Jersey residence, where he, his wife, and three children had been living along with two of his brothers, a sister, and his mother. In June of 1902 he purchased 809 Bloomfield Street from Francis Newman for $4,650.00. Though this was a large sum at the time, he was able to offset his mortgage by renting out the garden-level apartment of his new townhouse to another family. As O’Lone climbed the ladder in the printing press, it was clear he had ambitions. Moving into 809 Bloomfield was another step up and soon his aspirations led him into a line of political offices which changed his life.
In 1906 he ran for Congress in the Tenth Congressional District in Hoboken. Though he was unsuccessful, he involved himself in the lives of the community through unions such as the Typographical Union No. 323, the Central Labor Union, and the New Jersey State Federation of Labor in various board positions, but most often as secretary of each organization. By 1910 he was a type operator in a local Hoboken printing business.
In March of 1913, President Woodrow Wilson took office. A former governor of New Jersey, Wilson had interacted with O’Lone on more than one occasion during his union dealings. O’Lone was also a friend of Cornelius Ford who had been a member of the New Jersey legislature during Wilson’s governorship. In June of 1913, President Wilson appointed Ford as the new head of the United States Government Printing Office in Washington — the Public Printer. Within a month, Ford was looking for an experienced private secretary and made a visit to Hoboken to see his friend O’Lone. It was quite an event since Ford arrived in a “horseless carriage” of which he was very fond and preferred over the more modest horse-drawn covered landau which government officials were supposed to ride in.
Joseph P. O’Lone, his friend of 20 years, was Ford’s unquestionable choice for secretary. But what was questionable was the salary Ford decided on. President Wilson had signed an executive order allowing Ford to appoint O’Lone with a salary of $2,500; this decision got Congress’ breeches all in a bunch. Congressional Representative, John J. Fitzgerald of New York, questioned the legal ability of the President to make such a decision for an executive order regarding the appointment and other members of Congress joined in the cries of foul play.
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