In 1802, young Ambrose Henkel, just 16 years old, walked to Hagerstown, Maryland, to the home of John Gruber, printer of Gruber's Almanac, to learn the printer's trade. Just before finishing his apprenticeship, Mr. Gruber became ill and the finishing of the almanac was left to the apprentices.

When Ambrose Henkel was asked what the weather would be for a day in july, he jokingly said "Snow." So the almanac forecast snow for that day. Mr. Gruber was so angered by this, that he promised Henkel that if it did not snow on that date in July, he would lose his job. As luck would have it, there was a flurry of snow on that date, and Ambrose Henkel received his apprenticeship.

In 1806, Ambrose Henkel returned to New Market. He carried with him from Hagerstown, in a horse-drawn cart, the parts to build his printing press. These were a bed of Irons and a Rammage press and some old type. The frame was hand-hewn of mahogany and cottonwood logs by Henkel himself. In thsi frame sat a bed of granite 21 by 26 inches. On this bed of granite the type was set and locked. In the late 1930's Ambrose Henkel's press was housed at Duke University in Durham, NC.

Henkel's Printings and a Brief Biography

The first German newspaper to be printed below the Mason Dixon line was put into circulation on 7 Oct 1807. This paper was called "The Virginia and New Market Popular Instructor and Weekly News." It was only ten by fifteen inches in size.

In 1810, Henkel printed the following booklets: "Mennonite Confession of Faith," and "Das Neueingerichtete Gesangbuch." In 1811, he printed a child's primer which was illustrated with wood cuts made by the printer himself.

In 1816, the printer produced a volume of 546 pages, well-printed and well-bound, containing compilations and original compositions by the young printer's father, Reb. Paul Henkel, who settled in New Market in 1790. This volume was a Lutheran Hymnal. He also published another volume containing the constitution and canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church. According to Wayland's "History of Shenandoah County", Henkel also published a hymn book in 1838.

On the sixth day of January, 1870, Ambrose Henkel, the Valley's printing pioneer, died in New Market. He is buried in Emmanuel Lutheran Cemetery in New Market.

During his life, Ambrose Henkel was also certified as an ensign in the 13th Regiment, 7th Brigade, 3rd Division Virginia Militia on 8 Sep 1812. On 14 Jun 1814, he was replaced by Martin Harry and made postmaster, a position he held until his death. In 1824, he was ordained and preached, mostly in German, at the Reformed Lutheran Church. He served with his assistant, Socrates Henkel at Emmanuel Church from 1854 until 1859.


Ambrose Henkel founded Henkel Printers in 1806. He sold it to Solomon Henkel in 1816 or 1817, to become a minister, which he did in 1823.

Around 1875, Elon Henkel took over the ownership of the Print Shop and ran it until 1925, when he sold it to relatives, John Godfrey Miller, Dr. Casper Miller and Benton Baker.

Ownership from 1816 to 1875 was as follows:
Rev. Socrates Henkel and Judge John Calvert
Rev. Dr. Socrates, Elon and Ambrose Henkel

It is believed that Dr. Solomon Henkel, brother of Ambrose, was a partner of Ambrose at one time. Ambrose Henkel also was in partnership with four of his nephews, Dr. Godfrey Henkel, Solomon D. Henkel, Siram Henkel and Dr. Solon Henkel.

Source: The Virginia Conservation Commission and Virginia Works Progress Administration Historical Inventory Project of 1936-37.

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Created March 15 2001
Updated April 14 2006
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