Early usage examples of the term “dead line”


[Possible first usage of the term in American Civil War prison camps, the one at Andersonville, Virginia, commanded by Henry Wirz, being the most notorious.]

“… and he, the said Wirz, still wickedly pursuing his evil purpose, did establish and cause to be designated within the prison enclosure containing said prisoners, a ‘dead line,’ being a line around the inner face of the stockade or wall enclosing said prison, and about twenty feet distant from and within said stockade; and having so established said dead line, which was in many places an imaginary line, and in many other places marked by insecure and shifting strips of boards nailed upon the tops of small and insecure stakes or posts, he, the said Wirz, instructed the prison-guard stationed around the top of said stockade to fire upon and kill any of the prisoners aforesaid who might touch, fall upon, pass over, or under, or across the said ‘dead line;’ …” (p 4)

Reference: Wirz, H., & United States. (1868). Trial of Henry Wirz: Letter from the Secretary of War Ad Interim, in answer to a resolution of the House of April 16, 1866, transmitting a summary of the trial of Henry Wirz. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://catalog2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?PID=HypR5Xjq6mER3NtVGuOspIEPBFn


[In a work of fiction, used as a delineation of social propriety.]

“She had unfailing kindliness [page break] and good nature; and not even a white-lead drummer or a fur importer had ever dared to cross the dead line of good behaviour in her presence.” (p 58-59)

Reference: Henry, O. (1909). The Enchanted Profile. In Roads of Destiny (pp. 57–67). Doubleday, Page & Company.


See The Story of the “Dead Line” (1912) for an historical account describing deadlines as geo-social boundaries for urban law enforcement. The term and its application as such is dated from 1880 until at least 1895.

Reference: The Story of the “Dead Line.” (1912, March 10). The Sunday Morning Star, p. 19. Wilmington, Delaware.


[Used in journalism and pertaining to time.]

“That Horrid Deadline. …

“The paper is ready to go to press and your story is not in.” (p 4)

Reference: It’s a gay life, this reporting. (1913, March 7). Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 4. Chicago.

[Title of film, a crime drama. May be related to the idea of the dead line as described in the above 1912 entry for The Story of the “Dead Line.”]

Reference: Below the Deadline. (1913). [B&W, Silent]. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0415660/


[Technical jargon used in the printing trade.]

“If the chase is one that just fits the bed of the press, make certain that the type does not come outside of the dead-line on the press. There is a line marked on the bed of every cylinder press, known as the deadline or gripper-line. If the form is placed too dose to the edge of the chase and comes beyond the dead-line, the grippers will strike the type and batter it, and perhaps mash the grippers.” (p 138)

Dead-line. A line marked on the bed of a cylinder press as a guide for placing the form. If the type extends beyond the dead-line it will strike the grippers on the cylinder.” (p 288)

Reference: Henry, F. S. (1917). Printing for School and Shop: A Textbook for Printers’ Apprentices, Continuation Classes, and for General Use in Schools. Wiley.


[Novel set in newspaper office activities. Lacks explanation of connection to the term ‘deadlines.’]

Reference: Smith, H. J. (1922). Deadlines. Covici-McGee.


[Discussion of ageism in the teaching profession, with ‘deadline’ being some unspecified age at which teachers were expected to retire.]

Reference: Anderson, E. W. (1930). Deadlines in teaching. Journal of Chemical Education, 7(1), 182. http://doi.org/10.1021/ed007p182


[See “Meeting the Dead Line (1935)” for example of the term ‘dead line’ specific to time in an industrial enterprise. Acknowledges also use of the term in journalism.]

Reference: Meeting the Dead Line. (1935, February 7). The Lodi News, p. 3. Lodi, California.


[Mention of deadlines as societal time limits in the The Journal of Higher Education. See notes here.]

“Now deadlines are particularly uncongenial to educators, not only because they are accustomed to the long view, but because in times of great cultural stress and crisis the ways of reason are notoriously difficult.” (p 9)

Reference: Burkhardt, F. (1948). Education with a Deadline. The Journal of Higher Education, 19(1), 9–54. http://doi.org/10.2307/1975042
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