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article number 244
article date 06-20-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
We Demand News … The Inventions that Brought Us Newspapers & Magazines
by James Collins

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention. Original chapter title, “THE STORY OF THE PRINTED WORD.”

JOHANN GUTENBERG set up a printing-press at Mainz, Germany, in the year 1450, and his “movable types” were the wonder of his day. Until his time, books had been printed from wooden blocks, each engraved with the reading matter of a page. The modern amateur’s movable types are better than his.

Gutenberg, who had to ink his type with a leather ball, would have been delighted with a modern printer’s hand-roller. Far from thinking the amateur’s cheap hand-press a toy, he would have regarded it as a marvelous machine, with its ink-roller passing over the type automatically, its ink-table, its handle and leverage giving such strong, even pressure with so little effort.

Gutenberg really printed his books on a wooden cheese-press His type was laid on a moving table, and inked with the “printer’s ball.” A sheet of paper was laid on the type, and the whole covered with a blanket. Then the type form was pushed under a wooden plate, or “platen”—the part that presses the paper against the type—and the platen was screwed down tight. After a sheet had been printed, the platen was screwed up, the type-table or “bed” drawn out, the type inked again, and the operation repeated. Printing was hard work, requiring strong muscles. The platen “wabbled,” the press squeaked, and a printer could make perhaps fifty or sixty imprints or impressions an hour.

Yet it is generally conceded that all modern printing began with Gutenberg. If Gutenberg could see one of our big newspaper or publishing plants he would marvel at the fast typesetting-machines and the great perfecting presses. All the work of inventors since his day has been centred on printing faster and faster, and cheaper and cheaper, and more and more. The old gentleman would probably remark that the demand for his printed books, in the year 1450, was more than he could meet. It has been so ever since; and for this reason the improvement of printing machinery has always fascinated the inventor.

THE OLDEST EXAMPLE OF PRINTING FROM TYPE. Obverse and reverse of a page printed by Gutenberg in 1445 or 1446. The specimen of Gutenberg’s work here presented is a German consideration of the end of the world and of the Last Judgment.

A job of printing begins with the setting of the type by the compositor. Sometimes the page is printed directly from the type, but electrotype plates are usually made from it. Then comes the actual printing by what are still called “presses,” although they do not press paper upon the inked type itself, as did Gutenberg and printers for several generations after him.

Presses now are machines for rolling paper against printing plates. Composing-room, plate-making room, and press-room are the three great departments in a modern printing-establishment, and the story of the printed word can be followed by taking up each in its turn, just as a job of printing passes through a publishing-plant.

Gutenberg did not really originate printing, although he is often given credit for it. He made it easier, quicker, and cheaper by inventing “movable types.” This invention is so important that it marks the beginning of a great period in human history—the period of modern education.

The first printer lived so many centuries ago that all trace of him has been lost His printing had to do, not with books, but with patterns on cloth. He drew his pattern on a block of wood, and then cut it out to leave a raised design. He dipped his cut block in dye, and pressed it on the cloth.

As far back as the sixth century, the Chinese learned to cut the letters for the page of a book on wood and print from the wood by hand. The Japanese were printing books from wood-blocks, too, in the eighth century; Europe began in the twelfth century. Pictures were printed from wood in two or more colors, such as the famous Japanese “prints” which are so highly prized by collectors. Such printing did not demand machinery. Any skilful man could print, once the blocks were made.

WOOD BLOCK USED BEFORE THE INVENTION OF MOVABLE TYPE. (From a wood-cut dated 1423, the earliest European dated wood-cut known.)


But it took much time and money to make several hundred printing-blocks for a book. Publishers could not profitably issue many books in so costly a way, and few readers could afford to buy them: The world’s early books were written on parchment, by hand, and only a few rich noblemen owned books, much less libraries.

“Why not cut separate letters on small blocks of wood, and arrange them to print the words on a page?” was some inventor’s thought. “Then separate the letters after printing and form the words for the next page ?”

It was a great idea! But it is hard to say who thought of it first, for the question has been discussed more than 400 years. Johann Gutenberg, the German (born 1397—died 1468), has been given most of the credit, but the Dutchman Laurens Janszoon Coster, of the city of Haarlem (he lived between 1370 and 1440) may have been the true inventor. Some historians think Gutenberg merely improved movable types invented by Coster between the years 1440 and 1446, and that some of Coster’s types were stolen and taken to Gutenberg, who copied them. There is enough evidence in favor of Coster to make out a very good case for him.

It is certain that the first books were printed from movable types about 1450. Printed books soon became more common, and even cheap, for those days. Hence, more people learned to read, and more authors wrote books, until “news books” were in demand, and then “news papers,” of which the first are believed to have appeared in Germany and Italy before the end of the sixteenth century. The oldest newspape1 known by name is the German Frankfurter Zeitung, founded in 1615. The first newspaper in the United States was Publick Occurrences, started in Boston in 1690.

The first movable types were large, because the early printers copied the large letters of hand-written manuscript. Hence, the page of an early printed book appears as though it had been lettered by hand. Moreover, large letters were doubtless easier to cut than small ones. But hand-cut letters soon gave way to metal type cast in a mould. A mixture of lead and tin was used—type-metal, as it is still called.

These metal types wore better than wooden ones, and thousands of them could be cast from one mould. Printers made their own types at first, but before printing was a hundred years old, the making of types became a business in itself. The first “type-founders” set up shops in France about the middle of the sixteenth century.

COPPER ENGRAVER AND COPPER-PLATE PRINTING-PRESS OF THE 16TH CENTURY. This is the old “cheese-roller” type of press. From an engraving by Stradanus, circa 1585.

The first successful type-foundry in America seems to have been established by Christopher Sauer, in Germantown, near Philadelphia, in 1772. Several others had tried their hand at casting types and failed. Among them was Benjamin Franklin, who was a printer, and wanted “sorts” or extra types of a certain letter or kind which had run out.

There was no type-founder in America. Types had to come from London. Franklin had seen types cast in London, but had not paid much attention to the way in which it was done. He made metal moulds of the letters he wanted, although he does not tell very clearly how, and with these he seems to have pressed satisfactory letters out of cold lead. Later, he tried type-founding, but unsuccessfully.

Until 1836, all types were cast by hand. Then an American, David Bruce, Jr., of New York, patented the first typecasting machine, which did the work much faster. This machine had a small melting-pot filled with molten type-metal, and a pump forced enough of the metal into a type-mould to make a letter. This letter was quickly cooled, whereupon the mould opened, dropping it, and another letter was cast.

Bruce’s machine cast ragged types, which later had to be trimmed smooth by hand. It had been in use for fifty years when Henry Barth, of Cincinnati, in 1888, invented a machine that cast nicely finished types at the rate of 200 a minute. Just at the end of the nineteenth century an Englishman named Frederick Wicks invented a rotary type-casting machine which would turn out 60,000 types an hour, all perfectly finished and ready for the compositor. This great speed was made possible by using a hundred moulds instead of a single one, the moulds being rapidly filled with the hot type-metal, one after the other.

The moulds in which types are cast are themselves interesting. At first, they were simply plaster impressions of the letter to be made, but as type became smaller, and more of it was needed, the metal mould appeared. To make a type mould, a die-cutter first engraved the letter upon the end of a rod of steel. This was hardened, and called a “punch.” The steel punch was then pressed into a block of copper, and that was the matrix in which the type was cast.

Punches were made as far back as 1582, and probably earlier, in England and Europe. Cutting them was done secretly for many years, and one famous English type-founder, Joseph Jackson, in the eighteenth century, learned the art by watching his master through a hole bored in the wall of the workroom.

For printing small Bibles, die-cutters worked with a microscope on letters so small that, with type of the tiny “brilliant” size, twenty lines could be printed in an inch. A wonderful die-cutting machine invented by an American, L. B. Benton, in 1890, has cut the Lord’s Prayer, sixty-five words, on a piece of metal one-sixth of an inch square—too small to print! It works upon the principle of the pantagraph, copying the actual-size letter wanted from a larger model.

When dies were cut by hand, it took a year and a half to make all the letters for a new font of type, but with this machine the work can now be done, much more accurately, in five or six weeks. This machine appeared just at the time it was needed to cut the thousands and thousands of new punches made necessary by typesetting- machines.

TYPECASTING IN ENGLAND IN 1750. A method which remained in vogue practically until the invention of the linotype and monotype in the 19th century.


Until 1886, when Mergenthaler’s linotype was first ready to use, all type was set by hand. Apparently no machine could do the work of the human compositor, picking out of the 150 compartments of his “case” the different letters to make words, and lines, and “justifying” each line so that it would lock tightly in the form from which printing was done on the press. For that reason, the setting of type was the most expensive step in printing.

The inventors’ first idea was to make a machine that would set printer’s type—a good beginning, but a mechanical mistake. The first patent taken out for a mechanical typesetter was that of Doctor William Church, an American, who went to England in 1821 with a new printing-press, and in 1822 patented a machine that cast type and then set the letters one by one. It was not used very long.

Other inventors tried to make machines that would set type, but not successfully. A machine called the “pianotype” was actually used in England in 1840, but the first typesetting-machine used to print a newspaper was that of Charles Kastenbein, a German, in England, whose machine, after several improvements, set the London Times about 1874—though it was not until 1879 that it fulfilled all promises. It was used as late as 1908.

Although these machines would really set type, all had the same shortcoming: they could not set it in lines as evenly justified as those of the hand compositor. Two machines were needed and three men. One man sat and played upon the keys of the typesetting-machine, and an endless line of type words, with spaces between, came out. A skilful compositor then set these words in a printer’s “stick” by hand, and spaced the lines out evenly so that they would lock up.

After printing, the type had to be distributed, ready to be set again. Distribution is also one of the handicaps of hand typesetting. It is a pretty sight to see the compositor’s hand flying over his case, dropping or “distributing” letters in their proper boxes, so fast that the eye can scarcely see them. But, even so, it takes time to do this work. Hence the early inventors devised machines to set types, and other machines to distribute it after it had served its purpose.

Of this kind, the most wonderful typesetting-machine ever invented was the Paige compositor, devised by James W. Paige, of Hartford, Connecticut, who spent more than twenty years in perfecting it from 1873 on. Paige lost more than $1,300,000 in trying to make it practical, and in 1921 entered a poorhouse near Chicago.

Page compositor. Mark Twain was a big supporter of Paige’s project.

Mark Twain, a printer by trade, believed so thoroughly in Paige’s machine, that he also lost a fortune in aiding him. The machine was beautiful in operation, but too complex to work long without breaking down. It had 18,000 parts, and the patent specification in which it is described is a large book.

Paige’s machine set type in one endless line at first. Eventually, he succeeded in making it set justified lines, but never well enough for every-day work. All his machines set specially cast types, each type having a special combination of nicks in its edge so that it could drop into a groove with projections that fitted only its nicks. While type could be set with a Paige machine two or three times faster than by hand, it took three men to set, justify, and distribute it.

Presently, one or two inventors hit upon the principle found in the successful machines of to-day—the principle of making the machine cast its own new type, and so cheaply that when it has been printed from, it can be turned into the melting-pot, doing entirely away with the bother of distribution.

What new type means is revealed by Benjamin Franklin’s experience when he returned to Philadelphia. He had worked as a printer in London and, using new type, he started a printing-office of his own. Somebody advised him to get married, and even selected for him a girl, whom Franklin thought “very deserving.” Her parents objected to him, saying printing was not a very profitable trade, that Franklin’s type would soon be worn out, and that he would probably fail.

Benjamin Franklin turning out the news . . . . or pressing out the news.

Not only did printer’s type wear out, but when it did, certain letters became scarce, and printers wasted time in looking for “sorts.” Also, when a form containing new, partly worn, and badly worn type with broken letters was put on a printing-press, the pressman had to spend time “making ready,” so that the type would print evenly. Often he brought the form back to have broken letters taken out. Since typesetting-machines, which are really type-casting machines, have been introduced, nine-tenths of all printing is done from new types.


Best known of these inventors was Ottmar Mergenthaler, born in Wurttemberg, Germany, 1854. When eighteen years old he came to the United States. He had learned the machinist’s trade in his native land and had been a diligent student in night and Sunday schools. Landing in Baltimore in 1872, he went to work for his cousin, August Hahl, who had a machine-shop in Washington, D. C.

HahI made instruments for the government departments. The United States Signal Service was then making weather observations, and young Ottmar became interested in building instruments for its scientists, work that involved invention. He soon became known for his quickness in grasping inventors’ ideas, and from the scientific men for whom he worked he learned their way of approaching problems.

In the chapter on the typewriter in this volume, mention is made of James 0. Clephane, a Washington court reporter, to whom Sholes and Densmore sent their writing-machines to be tested. Clephane found them all defective, and his criticisms were severe. He was an official reporter for the United States Senate. His interest in the typewriter was practical, since he wished to find some better way of putting the voluminous Senate records in printed form.

Several years after young Mergenthaler reached Washington, Clephane and a group of friends became interested in a writing-machine invented by a Virginian, Charles G. Moore. They put money into Moore’s experiments. In 1876, when they were discouraged, they told him that unless he proved that his machine would actually write, they could not help him further. This led Moore to bring his writing-machine to August Hahl’s machine-shop, which had been moved to Baltimore.

Young Mergenthaler examined the apparatus. Moore thought it faulty in workmanship, but Mergenthaler said: “No—the fault is in the design.” He was so sure the machine could be improved that he advised his cousin to undertake its perfection at his own risk. If Hahl could make it work, he was to get $1,600, and if not, he was to receive nothing.

It was not really a printing-machine, for Moore wanted to write the Senate records on a keyboard like that of a typewriter, and print letters in lithographic ink on a paper ribbon. This ribbon was then to be cut into lines, made even by separating the words, as a printer justifies his line of type, and the lines transferred to a lithographic stone, to be printed.

ROTARY MATRIX LINOTYPE OF 1883. This Mergenthaler machine, of 1883, was built in a dozen different types and proved moderately successful. Finger-keys controlled a rotary type-wheel with projecting characters. The characters were selected successively by the operation of the keyboard and indented in a papier-mâché strip. The matrix-strip thus formed was cut up into lengths and secured to a flat backing sheet in such a way as to form a page or column matrix. Type-metal was then cast into it and the plate obtained.

Lithographic printing is different from type printing. The letters to be lithographed are drawn or stamped upon a flat stone with lithographic ink, which is oily. After having been treated with chemicals, the stone is put in a lithographic press, and dampened by water with the result that ink clings to the design, but not to other parts of the stone, so that it can be transferred to paper as in type printing.

To harness the typewriter and lithographic press together and print Senate reports was a brilliant idea, but not practical. The lithographing was hard and caused endless trouble. The idea had been Clephane’s, and when he saw that it would not work, he proposed another. Why not a machine that would press letters into a strip of papier- mâché, to make a mould into which type-metal could be poured? Why not use these cast letters for printing?

Mergenthaler built such a machine, but even after a dozen changes it failed to work. The papier- mâché strips clung to the cast metal, and there were other drawbacks. But the idea was sound—that of a machine which would cast type in a matrix, or mould.

Mergenthaler next built two machines in which whole alphabets of steel types were carried on bars or bands, so that papier- mâché matrix for a whole word, and later, a whole line, could be cast at once. It was a little nearer, but not quite the right thing. Out of these machines, however, came the “big idea,” namely separate metal matrices, each bearing the mould for a single letter, to be set in a line, like type, and metal poured in to make a solid printing line.

Mergenthaler’s first machine looked like a little church-organ, because it had a series of vertical tubes, each containing the matrices for a letter of the alphabet. By means of a keyboard the different letters were released. Because the matrices were blown into line by a blast of air, this machine was called the “blower.” The principle proved correct, and 200 machines were made and sold.

THE FIRST MERGENTHALER BAND MACHINE. This machine, of 1884, indented papier-mâché matrices of lines which were then assembled to form a stereotype matrix. It was equipped with a series of vertical bars, tapered end-wise, each carrying a full alphabet of type and spaces. By means of finger-keys, the bars were caused to descend successively, side by side, each being arrested to bring its selected character to a certain level. After the line of type was assembled and justified the papier-mâché matrix-strip was forced against it, thus producing the matrix for one line. These lines were then assembled side by side to form a stereotype matrix. A good impression was obtained, but the action was slow.

The first machine was set up in the composing-room of the New York Tribune, July, 1886, and the editor of that paper, Whitelaw Reid, gave it the name “lin-o-type.” From that point on, the story of the linotype was one of improvement. Mergenthaler worked so hard that by 1894, when his linotype was setting type for hundreds of newspapers, his health broke down. A high-strung, sensitive man, never very strong, he became consumptive, and his last years, like those of Sholes, were spent in search of health. He died October 28, 1899, in Baltimore.

The other great invention in composing-machines was begun in 1885, just when Mergenthaler had built a successful linotype. Tolbert Lanston was the inventor. Born in 1844, at Troy, Ohio, he lived in that State and in Iowa until the Civil War, in which he served as a volunteer. In 1865 he became a clerk in the Pension Office, at Washington, D. C., and there he worked for twenty-two years, meanwhile studying law and being admitted to the bar.

He had always been interested in mechanics, and at various times had invented an adding-machine, a mail lock, a hydraulic dumb-waiter, an adjustable horseshoe, and other things. When he turned his attention to a composing-machine, the idea of casting instead of setting type had been proved correct.

Lanston adopted it, and made two interesting modifications. First, a machine which would cast single types instead of a solid line of types, and second, separate machine for casting the type, operated by a perforated paper ribbon, so that if the compositor at the keyboard were delayed, the composing-machine could run right along—a most interesting basic principle which has been utilized by many inventors.

Lanston’s first idea was to stamp types in cold metal. After five years’ work along this line, he found it best to cast type from melted metal. His first patents were taken out in 1887, and ten years later, in 1897, the first machine was completed and given the name “monotype,” meaning that it casts letters one by one instead of on the “lin-o-type” principle. Lanston died in Washington, February 18, 1913, after being stricken with paralysis, which made him an invalid in his last years.

THE LANSTON MONOTYPE. The Lanston monotype comprises two machines. On the one (that shown at the left) a keyboard is operated to perforate a paper ribbon. On the other (that shown on the right) the type is cast, the previously perforated ribbon being passed through it, after the manner made familiar by player-pianos.

The monotype is really two machines. There is a keyboard that looks much like a large typewriter. The operator writes his “copy,” and when each key is struck, two perforations are made in a paper ribbon. This perforated strip of paper is known as the “controller ribbon.” The other part of the monotype is the casting-machine to which the controller ribbon is fed.

As the ribbon runs through the casting-machine, air passes through its perforations; in an automatic piano this same process causes the right note to be struck; in the monotype it casts the right letters, one by one, at the rate of 150 a minute. As each type is cast it is pushed in a line, and each finished line is added to the last. It is therefore a typesetting-machine and also a type-foundry, making display types up to 36-point, or one-half inch, as well as body type, and so cheaply that, after printing, the type is not distributed but simply thrown back into the melting-pot.

Probably nine-tenths of all typesetting in this country to-day is done on either linotype or monotype machines, and these great American inventions are found in every country in the world. They are alike in casting brand-new type for each job of printing and in doing their work so cheaply that distribution is not necessary.

MERGENTHALER’S SECOND BAND MACHINE (1885). This was the first machine to produce lines of type or printing-slugs automatically through the action of finger-keys. It was provided with a series of vertical tapered bars, each containing an alphabet of characters or matrices and blank spaces of different widths. Finger-keys caused these bars to descend one at a time, so that the selected characters, one on each bar, were brought to a common alignment. A sliding mould for the slug or line of type was presented against the line of matrices, and this mould was filled with molten metal from a metal pot at the rear, the matrices forming raised type on the front edge of the slug in the mould. The slug was ejected from the mould between trimming-knives into a galley. The matrix-bars were lifted to their original positions for a new arrangement of type. This was a practical machine but slow.
GROUP OF LINOTYPE SLUGS. Large and small slugs composed on the same machine. Many different sizes and faces can be composed by the operator without the necessity of his leaving his seat at the keyboard.
THE FIRST LINOTYPE TO SET TYPE FOR A NEWSPAPER. Mergenthaler “blower” linotype first used by the New York Tribune in July, 1886. The machine was called a “blower” because the matrix was blown by a blast of air. About a hundred of these machines were built and installed in various newspaper-offices in the years 1887 and 1888.


The type is set and locked up, ready for printing the page of a newspaper or a book. Gutenberg would simply have put the “form” on his press, printing from it directly. The world has progressed since his day. We have fast newspaper printing- machines, but none fast enough to print from one setting of type, in two or three hours, the hundreds of thousands of copies needed for one edition of a present-day newspaper. Even if there were a machine to do it, the type would be worn out before the job could be finished.

If a book is to be printed, later editions may be needed from time to time, and to store away the type for hundreds of books would take too much space and metal. More than one hundred years ago, printers felt the need of multiplying set type, and also to store away printing plates for books in the most compact and economical form. Inventors have been busy meeting those needs for more than a century, and their inventions will be found in the stereotype and electrotype departments of the modern printing-plant.

The early printers found that, with a little plaster of Paris, they could make a mould to cast as many types as were wanted. Some unknown genius conceived the idea of making a plaster mould of a whole page of type after it had been set up, and casting a plate to print from.

This was the beginning of stereotyping. Solid printing-plates have been found dating back to the beginning of the sixteenth century, made, perhaps, by Van der Mey, a Dutch printer. But instead of casting plates in a plaster mould, he soldered types together after they were set, so that no letters would be lost.

In 1725, a Scotch goldsmith, William Ged, began lending money to printers, and learned that much of their capital was invested in type. Also, type had to come from London, and they often ran out of certain kinds. He was advised to start a type-foundry in Edinburgh. Instead, he got a form of type and began experimenting to discover if printing-plates could be made from it. After two years, during which he spent all his money, he succeeded in pouring liquid plaster over the type to make a mould, into which melted type-metal was then poured.

Compositors feared that Ged’s stereotype plates would rob them of work, and secretly battered them. This ruined the inventor, and he died poor. The idea lived, however. Two other Scotchmen, Alexander Tulloch and Andrew Fonlis, took out patents in 1784 for a better process. They cast their stereotype plates thin, as they are cast to-day, and fastened them to blocks of wood.

Later still, the Earl of Stanhope improved the process, and stereotype plates became common. But because they were flat, they could be used only for the comparatively slow printing of books. Newspapers had to be printed faster than books.

STANHOPE PRESS (1800). About 1798 the Earl of Stanhope improved the old hand-press by giving it a cast-iron frame, the necessity for greater power having arisen, a necessity which could not be met by the old wooden-frame presses. Courtesy R Hoe & Co.

In 1813 David Bruce introduced stereotyping into the United States, the first work cast in America being the New Testament, in bourgeois type, in 1814.

Inventors had found that newspaper type pages could be locked rounded on the cylinder of a press, and as many as ten printing cylinders used. These ingenious “type-revolving” presses will be described later. But even then it was hard to print from one set of type, in a few hours, as many newspapers as people wanted. Some way of printing on more than one press had to be found.

Only 3,000 or 4,000 copies of the famous London Times could be printed on one press in the second John Walter’s day—he died in 1847.

When there was important news, people wanted twice as many copies, but could not get them. Walter tried setting the Times twice, and even three times, to print more copies, but at a great cost. Suppose curved stereotype plates could be cast from one setting of the newspaper pages—as many presses as were needed could then be utilized. But how to cast such curved stereotype plates was a problem.

In 1856, the third John Walter began experiments, aided by an ingenious Italian named Dellagana. The Times was being printed on a curious Applegath press with separate columns of type locked up on a polygonal, or many-angled cylinder, as will be described later. Walter and Dellagana found that papier-mâché (several layers of damp paper, with a facing of tissue-paper) could be pounded into type with a stiff brush, and dried in an oven. Thus a paper mould could be made in which printing plates could be cast.

Flat plates of each column were first cast for the Applegath press, but that press was displaced by one of American origin, one which printed from type locked around a cylinder. Walter and Dellagana found a way to cast a stereotype plate by making a papier-mâché mould of a whole page, bending it in a rounded casting-box and pouring in melted type-metal.

Almost any number of plates could be made, and any number of presses supplied. In 1861, Charles Kraske, a New York engraver, working with the Hoes, the American press-builders, developed a method of casting curved stereotyped plates, and the New York Tribune first used them in this country.

Thus for nearly fifty years, stereotype plates for newspapers were all made by hand, although more and more of them were constantly needed. It was hot, heavy, slow work. In 1900, an American, Henry A. Wise Wood, invented a machine to make the plates automatically—the autoplate.

FIRST AUTOPLATE MACHINE OF HENRY A. WISE WOOD (1901). By hand it took a crew of men two hours to make the many stereotype plates needed by an early newspaper. To-day, with the autoplate, they can be cast in ten or fifteen minutes.

By hand it took a large crew of men two hours to make the many stereotype plates needed for a daily newspaper. To-day, with the autoplate, they can be cast in ten or fifteen minutes, with no hand-work beyond the pulling of control levers. The autoplate is really two machines, a mechanism that casts seven or eight plates a minute, and another machine that trims off rough edges so that the plates fit and print perfectly.

Newspaper columns can now be held longer for final news reports, and big, complex, costly presses begin to turn sooner than would otherwise be possible.

When Wood’s first stereotyping-machine was finished, the newspaper publisher who had ordered it feared the opposition of his stereotypers. To sell his machine, the inventor undertook to deal with the stereotypers. He showed them the machine doing their work automatically, and told them that, while it might displace some of them at first, in the end it would make more work. He also reminded them that workers had never successfully opposed machines. They offered to work with him, even to guard the machine against accidental or deliberate damage.

Their labor organization really adopted the machine, the first time, it is said, anything like this was ever done. The autoplate is now used all over the world. There has been only one strike against it, in Europe, which the inventor quickly settled. And it has increased work, as he said it would, for there are two or three times as many stereotypers employed in newspaper plants to-day, because the machine has made it possible for newspapers to grow in size and circulation.

THE LATEST MODEL LINOTYPE. It sets type six times as fast as it can be set by hand. It has a range from five point to a full thirty-six point. Equipped with six magazines this machine has a capacity of six different body sizes, ten different faces, 850 different characters—all instantly available from the keyboard, and any combination of which can be assembled in the same line.
THE MONOTYPE MATRIX-CASE. One hundred and fifty matrices constitute a complete change of type on the casting-machine. This case weighs only thirty ounces.


Electricity also makes many printing-plates from one set of type. Books and pictures have always gone together. Picture-writing came before alphabetic letters. Hand-written books (manuscripts) were often ornamented with pictures. When movable types made books more plentiful, printers soon found a way of illustrating them with pictures.

The picture was drawn on a block of wood, and the “high lights” were cut out, leaving the shadows and lines raised for printing. This was “wood-engraving,” and most of the pictures in books, magazines, and newspapers were illustrated with such engravings until photo-engravings began to be used.

At first, these “woodcuts” were small and crude, but they steadily improved. Great artists often drew the pictures and even did the engraving themselves. Finer tools were made for cutting. Better wood was found. Machines were invented to save the engraver work by automatically cutting ornamental patterns and shading.

But some way was needed to multiply wood-cuts. It was too expensive to cut more than one block. If used for printing, the block soon wore out; besides it was often damaged. Stereotyping could not copy the most delicate lines in a fine wood-engraving; moreover, the stereotype mould was made with wet material, and that spoiled a wood-engraving by warping it.

Suddenly this problem was solved in an unexpected way. Several men hit upon the same idea about the same time—something that seems to happen frequently in invention. Probably the foremost was a Russian professor, named Jacobi; but there were several Englishmen, among them Bessemer, who afterward invented the steel converter. Then J. C. Jordan, a Londoner, announced his invention within a few days of Jacobi, in 1839. They all discovered that the electric battery could be employed to make “electrotype” copies of wood-engravings.

Engravings could be laborious. The electrotype process could copy them for multiple presses.

The electrotype is a first cousin of the silver-plated spoon. These early inventors found that a coin or metal could be impressed in wax, and the impression dusted with graphite powder to make it conduct electricity; this was then used to gather a film of electrically deposited copper, which faithfully copied every detail. The process was soon widely used for making duplicates of wood-engravings, as well as pages of type for the finer printing needed in books.

The thin copper shell was too frail for a printing-plate, but when backed with molten type-metal and mounted on a wooden block, it could be used to make thousands, and often millions, of impressions, whereas a wood-engraving would be worn down to a stump. The electrotype process is used to reproduce each type page of a book on a thin plate and to store the plate so that it can be used again and again.


Although a job of printing reaches the press-room last, it was the press that first interested inventors—probably because printing on the early hand-presses was so slow and hard.

Gutenberg, and Coster, and printers who came after them for 170 years, had crude wood-screw presses of the kind that had long been used for pressing cheese and wine grapes. The type was placed on a flat table or “bed,” and inked, and then a sheet of paper laid upon it. Type and paper were pushed under a “platen,” or flat surface, and this platen was screwed down from above to squeeze the paper upon the type.

Nobody made any better press until about the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Willem Janszoon Blaeu, of Amsterdam, Holland (born 1571, died 1638), built a better wooden press. He steadied the wabbly platen by passing the screw through a small block which was guided in the wooden frame and by suspending the platen from this block. Hence, the screw worked more smoothly.

Blaeu also lightened the labor of running the type pages in and out of the press. His press, copied by others, soon became known as the “new-fashion” press. Benjamin Franklin worked with a press like Blaeu’s in London more than a century later, and it is now in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.

The Earl of Stanhope made a hand-press of iron in 1798. This was more powerful, and it printed larger pages. Even Blaeu’s “new-fashion” press required the strength of a plough-man, but Stanhope lightened this work by a combination of levers that helped the pressman considerably. Heavy and cumbersome as it was, this was the first iron printing-press ever made. Printers tried to use Stanhope’s powerful lever on their old wooden presses, but it was so strong that it broke them to pieces.

Then an American, George Clymer, of Philadelphia, in 1816, invented an iron hand-press without a screw, using a combination of three levers instead. This was the first real American invention in printing. He put a cast-iron American eagle on top of his press and called it the “Columbian.”

THE “COLUMBIAN” HAND-PRESS. The inventor was an American, George Clymer (1754-1834). This specimen, made in 1824, is preserved in the Museum of Brunswick, Germany.

It was a very powerful machine for those days. The iron eagle was more than an ornament, for it helped to lift the platen, after printing, by serving as a counterweight. Clymer’s press enabled printers to work still faster; and it marked the beginning of a hundred years’ printing progress in which Americans were to lead.

Inventors kept on improving Gutenberg’s cheese-squeezer up to 1827, when an American, Samuel Rust, of New York, perfected the Washington hand-press, still used to strike off fine proofs, and still known by that name. With the press that Franklin and printers long after him used, 250 impressions an hour was fast work.

Inventors made little progress until they rid themselves of the old “press” idea. The great newspaper printing-machine of to-day is still called a “press,” but it is no more a press than a locomotive is an “iron horse.”

In the hand- press the type was always rolled out for inking, and then rolled back for printing. Why not ink it with rollers? Why not roll the paper too? Inventors began to ask themselves these questions. Even the idea of unwinding a great roll of paper and printing on that, as we print newspapers, magazines, and books to-day, was suggested early in the nineteenth century by Sir Rowland Hill, although he did not build a machine to carry out the idea. He was the Englishman who later made possible the sending of a letter for two cents anywhere in the British Isles.

PETER SMITH’S PRESS (1822). In place of the screw with levers, Smith substituted a toggle-joint, at once very simple and effective.


The first printing-machine that rolled the type, ink, and paper was invented by a German, Friedrich Koenig (born 1774, died 1833), the “Father of Steam Printing.” He built a press in which the type was laid on a flat bed, inked by rollers, and passed underneath a cylinder that rolled the paper upon it, to receive an impression. He built several such cylinder presses to be turned by hand.

n 1814 he constructed two, turned by a steam-engine, which were used for printing the famous London Times, a newspaper whose publishers, the Walter family, seemed always ready to encourage inventors who came to them with good ideas. As we have seen, this newspaper was the first to use typesetting-machines.

Koenig had gone from town to town in Germany, trying to get help in building a press on his new lines, but nobody would listen to him. So he went to England, owning nothing but his idea, and worked at the printing trade for a living. Three years passed before he could afford to build a model of his invention, and several models were built before he undertook to make a full-sized newspaper press.

There was great excitement among the Times pressmen when they heard that a machine was being made to do their work! The parts were taken to the newspaper-office and assembled secretly. The men threatened violence both to Koenig and to his machine.

On the first night when the press was ready for work (November 28, 1814) the pressmen were told to wait, because important news was expected from abroad. They waited until six o’clock in the morning. Then John Walter suddenly appeared with copies of the paper, saying: “The Times is already printed by steam !” He added that wages would be paid to every one of them until they had found other places. There was no further trouble.

In a sense, Napoleon did as much as Gutenberg to develop printing, because he was a news-maker. During the twenty years, from 1795 to 1815, when he was fighting all Europe, people wanted to know where the world stood each morning, and newspapers could not be printed fast enough. Koenig was working to keep pace with the demand, and when he came forth with his steam cylinder press, the proprietor of the London Times encouraged him.

FRIEDRICH KOENIG’S FIRST RAPID STEAM PRINTING-PRESS OF 1811. Koenig presses of this type were first used to print the London Times. They were introduced only after great opposition on the part of the paper’s pressmen. Courtesy Deutsches Museum, Munich.

Koenig’s press could print on only one side of the sheet at a time. Hence it had to be run through twice to be printed on both sides. But it was a great step forward, and inventors busied themselves with his cylinder principle. Because news-hunger was greatest in Europe, English inventors led the world in printing-presses for thirty years.

As early as 1790, an Englishman named William Nicholson had taken out a patent for cylinder presses in which the type was placed either on a flat bed, like Koenig’s, or on the cylinder itself, the type being inked by a roller built up of cloth and covered with leather. He was far ahead of his time and other inventors had to carry out his principle years later.

Inventors did not give up the principle of the “platen” press that squeezed the paper upon the type like the old hand-press. Bed-and-platen presses were invented, too, and an American, Daniel Treadwell, of Boston, built a press of that kind in 1822. The first was turned by a man; the rest by steam. Instead of squeezing the platen down on the type, as in the hand-press, the type was rolled under a fixed platen, and squeezed up against it.

Isaac Adams and Otis Tufts, both Bostonians, invented an improved platen-and-bed press between 1830 and 1836, and such machines were in common use up to the middle of the nineteenth century. They were somewhat cheaper than cylinder presses, and small printers could afford them. At that time, many printers thought they could print only fine book-work and engravings with flat presses.

TREADWELL PRESS OF 1822. The bed-and-platen system of printing was, up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the favorite method of printing fine books and cuts. The first “power” or steam-press upon this principle was made by Daniel Treadwell of Boston, in 1822. Courtesy R Hoe & Co.


Leadership in printing-press invention swung to the United States between 1830 and 1840, and has been held here ever since, although the man who did most to make American printing presses known in every country on the globe was English by birth. He landed in New York in September, 1803, looking for work. His name was Robert Hoe, the first press builder in a famous printing-press family, and he came from Leicestershire, England, where he was born, October 29, 1784.

A country lad, he had learned the carpenter’s trade. When he landed, the dreaded yellow fever raged in New York, then a city of only 25,000 people, deserted by everybody who could fly from the epidemic. After walking penniless through the plague-stricken city, keeping in the middle of the street to avoid catching the fever, he applied for work to a seedsman, Grant Thorburn, in lower Broadway. Thorburn liked his honest English face, and took him in to board.

Within a week Hoe had the fever, and would have died had not the seedsman and his wife nursed him, When Hoe was well again he obtained a position as a bridge-builder in Westchester County, and later met and married a sister of Matthew Smith, Jr., a carpenter and “printer’s joiner,” who built type-cases and hand-presses. Matthew’s brother Peter, in 1822, became the inventor of a better hand-press than had been made up to that time. Robert Hoe went into partnership with the Smiths.

Cast iron as a substitute for wood was just coming into use for hand-presses. Hoe not only learned to work in iron, but invented the first machine for planing iron ever built in this country, and also imported iron-working machinery from England. Until 1823, when Matthew Smith, Jr., died, the firm built printing-presses and printers’ supplies. Then Hoe took charge of the business. About 1819 he began building power-presses, but at first he was not very successful. When Treadwell’s platen-and-bed press appeared in 1822, he saw its merits and adopted it. For three or four years it stood without a rival in this country.

HOE PRESS OF 1846. The first press was placed in the Ledger office in Philadelphia, in 1846. The basis of Hoe’s invention consisted in an apparatus for securely fastening the forms of type on central cylinder, placed in a horizontal position. Around this central cylinder from four to ten impression-cylinders, according to the output required, were grouped. The first of these presses had only four impression-cylinders, and required four boys to feed the sheets. The running speed was about 2,000 sheets to each feeder per hour, thus giving what was called a “four-feeder” or “four-cylinder” machine; a running capacity of 8,000 papers per hour, printed on one side. (See ten-grouped-cylinder-press development, below.)

Then two New York newspapers, the ‘Daily Advertiser’ and ‘American’, imported from England the first cylinder press ever used in the United States, an ingenious invention, patented by Napier, an Englishman, who first introduced the “grippers” or fingers that grasp the edge of a sheet of paper to carry it around for printing on a cylinder press.

Up to that time the paper had been drawn in by tapes, working like belts, which was not as satisfactory. Several years later, in 1829 or 1830, the National Intelligencer, a Washington newspaper, imported another Napier cylinder press from England, but its publisher, having lost money, was unable to take it out of the customs house. Major Noah, the surveyor of the port, called in Robert Hoe to assemble it, and let him make models of its parts. This press had to be shipped back to Europe, because nobody would pay the duty on it.

Hoe saw that it was far better than anything then known in the United States, and he began building presses like it. His shop grew into a factory, with four big English draft-horses to furnish the power, although eventually he was one of the first American manufacturers to install an engine. In 1832, English cylinder presses had become so famous that he sent his foreman, Sereno Newton, to England to study them.

Newton was a very fine machinist, as well as a scholar and mathematician. He came back with new ideas, and invented a cylinder press so much better than any of the English machines then used in this country that they were soon displaced. Robert Hoe was so energetic that he would go without lunch, and sometimes without breakfast, to have more time for work.

On January 4, 1833, he died, in his forty-ninth year, broken down by overwork, and left the business to his three sons, Richard March Hoe, the second Robert Hoe, and Peter Smith Hoe.

Richard and Robert became the leaders, and the former, the Hoe family’s greatest inventor. The three would dispute with vigor about matters of management, and then always act together. They did everything together, even to buying and using one carriage.

Richard made improvements in his cylinder presses, yet the demand for news grew and grew, and no matter how fast presses ran they could not keep up with it. When the type from which a newspaper was printed had been set up, there was in those days no way of making duplicate plates by the stereotype process. With stereotype plates as many presses can be utilized as are needed, but with type all the printing had to be done on one press.


One evening in the year 1846, Richard Hoe was thinking about this handicap when an idea flashed in his mind. The type for a newspaper page was locked up in a “chase,” or iron frame, and laid flat on the bed of the press, where it rolled back and forth, and a cylinder rolled the paper over it sheet by sheet. Suppose the type were fastened around the cylinder instead, and the paper rolled against it—would not that mean twice as many copies an hour?

He sat up all night working out his idea, and a few days later told an editor about his scheme for a “lightning” press. He was given an order for such a press, obtained a patent in July, 1847, and built a printing-machine in which the type was locked up in curved chases, fastened on a large cylinder; two smaller cylinders, carrying sheets of paper, rolled against it for printing.

To lock the type in a curve, he had hit upon the principle of the wedge-shaped keystone by which square stones can be built into an arch. That is, he used the brass rules between the columns of a newspaper for keystones, making them wider at the top than they were at the bottom. This was the “type-revolving” press, a new principle that later led to the rotary press.

Where 1,000 newspapers an hour had been fast work for the best cylinder presses, this machine printed 2,000. It was quickly followed by another having four printing cylinders, turning out 4,000 papers an hour. Then came one with six cylinders in 1852, one with eight, and finally a ten-cylinder press in which printed 10,000 complete newspapers hourly, and for nearly twenty years was the champion press of the world.

Almost at the same time, in 1848, Augustus Applegath, an Englishman, perfected a “type-revolving” press for the London Times, after much experiment. This was a novel machine. It had a large vertical cylinder upon which the type was placed, not in a true circle, as in Hoe’s press—which had a horizontal cylinder—but with each column of the newspaper in a flat upright bed. Hence the printing surface was not a cylinder but a polygon.

THE APPLEGATH PRESS OF THE LONDON TIMES (1848). Applegath and a machinist named Cowper simplified the Koenig press. In 1848 they constructed for the London Times an elaborate machine entirely on the cylinder principle. All the cylinders were vertical. The type was placed on a large upright central cylinder, but the circumference presented, instead of a complete circle, as many flat surfaces as there were columns in the newspaper, the form being therefore polygonal. Around this central cylinder were grouped eight smaller vertical cylinders, which took the impression. The sheets were fed down by hand from eight flat horizontal feed boards through tapes; then grasped by another set of tapes and passed sidewise between the impression-cylinder and the type-cylinder. Thus the sheets were printed upon one side. The speed was 8,000 impressions per hour on one side.

Eight “cylinders,” carrying sheets of paper, printed against this many-sided arrangement of type. They had to be covered with special blankets to make up for the irregularity of the printing surface. The sheets of paper were fed in horizontally by hand, and a system of tapes turned them upright for printing.

It was an ingenious, but very complex press, printing only 8,000 sheets an hour, on one side. Just one Applegath press was ever built, it is said, as Richard Hoe’s rotary press soon displaced it. Some think Applegath the first inventor of a type-revolving press, but Hoe’s was certainly better.

HOE TEN-CYLINDER ROTARY PRESS OF 1846-1848. Capacity, 20,000 pages per hour, printed on one side. Journals which had been limited in their circulation by their inability to furnish papers rapidly increased their issues. About 1856 the London Times decided to discard its famous Applegath machines and ordered from Hoe, two ten-cylinder machines.

Ten thousand newspapers an hour were not enough! People wanted more newspapers than could be printed on a single press, no matter how many cylinders were used. To use more presses, each newspaper would have to be duplicated in type for each press, and that was too costly. Our Civil War had just started. Think of the desire for news it brought !

The problem was solved with two new inventions. One was the curved stereotype plate, already described, and the other the use of a continuous roll of paper instead of single sheets fed by hand.


Sir Rowland Hill had suggested this forty years before, but had made no machine to do it, nor had anybody else. An American, William Bullock, of Philadelphia, in 1865, built the first machine to print from a continuous roll or “web” of paper. This was set up to print the ‘New York Sun’; it is said to have been the first American press especially built for curved stereotype plates, although by that time the Hoe brothers were also working toward the same end.

The third generation of the Hoe family was now active in the business. Richard March Hoe died in 1886. His brother, the second Robert Hoe, outlived him. The third Robert Hoe, born in 1839, lived until 1909, and was among the inventors who built perfecting presses for magazine and color work, as well as being a famous collector of books on the art of printing. The business is now managed by the fourth generation.

Bullock did not live long enough to perfect his press, for he was caught in a belt and accidentally killed. His machine was a long step forward, but he made a mistake that would surely have been corrected had he lived.

His press cut the web of paper into separate sheets before printing, instead of afterward. Therefore it had to have metal grippers and tapes which often got out of order in the rush of printing newspapers. In 1871, the Hoes undertook to correct this and other shortcomings in their first “rotary” presses, as they were called. For one thing, the paper was printed by Bullock’s press so rapidly on one side and then the other that it smudged. That was remedied by the Hoes partly by improving the press and partly by the use of rapid-drying inks.

BULLOCK’S PRESS—THE FIRST TO PRINT FROM A WEB. In 1865 William Bullock, of Philadelphia, constructed the first press which printed from a continuous web or roll. His press had two pairs of cylinders—two form or plate cylinders, and two impression-cylinders. The sheets were cut off by knives in cylinders. The sheets were then carried through the press by tapes and fingers, and delivered by automatic nippers placed on endless leather belts at such distances apart as to grasp each successively as it came from the last printing cylinders.

It was hard to obtain the cheap paper received by newspapers in rolls of even strength and quality. Paper-makers were led to study and improve their product. Cutting the papers off the roll after printing was the right way, but there were difficulties. Chopping off separate papers was like chopping the belt that runs a machine, since the paper was drawn through the press like a belt. This the Hoes overcame by perforating instead of cutting the paper, and pulling the finished newspapers apart after they had passed out of the press. These perforations can be seen on the edge of almost any newspaper to-day.

After movable types, the next greatest single invention was rotary printing, according to some of the newspaper press builders. And after that, folding mechanism was the invention that did most to increase the output of newspapers.

At first, the printed sheets were taken from the press one by one and folded by hand. In 1877, Richard March Hoe and Stephen D. Tucker patented the “collecting cylinder,” by which a number of printed sheets of paper were collected and delivered together, thereby greatly increasing the output of the press.

Then an odd genius named Luther C. Crowell appeared. He was a sea captain, with no mechanical training, who, after he retired, invented a machine to fold paper bags. Being told that folding the newspapers from fast rotary presses was a problem, he looked into it and found methods of folding and taking them away as fast as they were printed.

Newspapers began to increase in size from four pages to eight, twelve, sixteen, and more. Moreover, an eight or twelve page paper might be large enough one day in the week, while the next day sixteen or twenty-four pages might be needed to print all the news and advertisements. Consequently, rotary presses were not only made larger, but in “multiple” combinations.


The curved stereotype plate of a newspaper page is a half circle. Two such pages are locked on a rotary-press cylinder. Each cylinder is made wide enough to hold two pairs of plates, or four pages, and two such cylinders, to print eight pages, are known as a “couple.” A press with four such couples was built to take two separate rolls of paper. Called a “quadruple” or “quad” for short, it could be used to print newspapers of four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, or sixteen pages, as desired, cut and folded for delivery, and even counted, as each fiftieth paper was slightly raised above the others to serve as a marker.

This led to sextuple presses, also printing eighteen, twenty, and twenty-four page papers; then came octuple presses, with eight printing couples using four webs of paper, turning out sixteen-page newspapers at a greater rate, and printing twenty-six, twenty-eight, thirty, and thirty-two page newspapers. Even larger than these are the double-sextuple and double-octuple machines.

Newspaper presses had grown so big and fast that just about 1914, when the Great War made the world more eager than ever for news, they had reached the limit of the strength of paper; that is, they could print paper faster than it could be pulled through without breaking; for the paper was used as a belt.

Henry A. Wise Wood undertook to overcome this difficulty by building a press in which the paper would be carried through instead of pulled through, making it possible to run it faster without breaking. His first press was set up in the office of the ‘Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’ in 1917, printing 120,000 sixteen-page papers an hour, or more than twenty-five times as many daily newspapers as were read in all the United States a hundred years ago, remembering that newspapers then usually had only four pages.

At such speeds ordinary printers’ rollers proved unsuitable. Printers’ rollers were made of glue-and-molasses composition, and were a wonderful invention in their day, but rollers of a rubber composition were needed for such speeds. It may be that newspapers cannot be printed much faster, but it has been predicted that within the next few years sixty-four-page newspapers will be turned out at the rate of 100,000 hourly.

HENRY A. WISE WOOD’S PRESS FOR NEWSPAPERS. This press prints 240,000 eight-page papers an hour. In the fast presses previously used, the paper was pulled through. Hence the speed attainable was limited by the tensile strength of the paper. In this new press the paper is carried through, so that the speed is no longer limited by the resistance of the paper to breaking.

There are other kinds of printing that need their own variety of presses. Magazines, for instance, cannot be printed on newspaper presses. The newspaper is printed on absorbent “print” paper, so that the ink does not smear. Magazines that are printed on smooth “coated” paper with better ink that does not dry as quickly, and those using fine illustrations, need their own special presses.

Also, the cover of a magazine in four or five colors is printed from as many separate plates as there are colors; that is, one plate for each color. As these colors are printed, one after the other, the fine details of the picture must “register” exactly, otherwise the whole cover is just a colored blur.

At first, magazines were printed sheet by sheet on cylinder presses, and cost twenty-five to fifty cents apiece. If they could be reduced in price, many more readers could afford to buy them, and circulations would grow. Also, newspaper publishers were beginning to print magazine sections and colored supplements for their Sunday issues, and wanted presses for such work.

This demand interested the third Robert Hoe, and several other American inventors. The Hoes built several rotary presses to do fine, fast work for ‘The Century Magazine’ between 1886 and 1890. Walter Scott is credited with building the first press to print a colored newspaper supplement. The ‘New York World’ used the first in the early nineties to print its famous “yellow kid” humorous section, the first “Sunday comic.”


One of the most important inventions in this field was evolved by C. B. Cottrell, who did much to make five and ten cent magazines possible. To overcome smudging in printing both sides of a web of coated paper, he made his press print one side, and brought it against a surface of clean white muslin while the other side was being printed. This sheet of muslin was constantly renewed—the “shifting tympan”as it is called.

After several failures, in 1892 he set up one of his presses to print ‘The Youth’s Companion’ in Boston. The publishers doubted the possibility of printing a fine magazine so rapidly. Cottrell and his helpers ran off the week’s edition. Still doubtful, they would not accept and pay for the press until he and all his men had been shut out and the regular pressmen had printed the next week’s issue themselves.

Cottrell was a business man when the Civil War ended, and with Nathan Babcock, a skilled mechanic, took over a bankrupt foundry in Westerly, Rhode Island. One day, Charles Potter, Jr., who sold old presses, came in to see their plant, and suggested that they build presses. Together, they built a Cottrell-Babcock-Potter press, with improvements suggested by Cottrell, who had real inventive genius.

After a while, Babcock and Potter each set up a press-building plant for himself. Out of these three separate establishments much of our modern magazine-making machinery has come. Besides his shifting tympan, Cottrell made other improvements. He died in 1893, seventy-two years old.

Magazine presses are now as wonderful as newspaper presses in their speed. In one great Philadelphia magazine plant, 120 giant presses run day and night, printing more than 12,000,000 magazines a month, each with 100 to 200 pages, with fine colored covers and illustrations, all bound and trimmed—twenty mail-cars full of magazines daily. It is such speed and quality of work that has made it possible to print magazines by the million and sell them at astonishingly low prices.


There are also high-speed book presses which print, fold, and deliver all the sheets for a book of several hundred pages, ready for the bookbinder. The latest additions to the press family are the automatic machines for printing letter-heads, pamphlets, and circulars. It is predicted that soon, when these automatics are in wider use, the last printing-machine that can rightfully be called a “press” will disappear.

In hand-press days, “job”-work was printed on the same machine as newspapers and books. There was probably very little “job-work,” because such printing costs are relatively expensive. When cylinder and rotary presses cheapened newspaper printing, inventors turned their attention to job-presses.

Dozens of practical machines were invented for the job-printer, machines operated at first by hand-lever or foot-treadle, and later by power. These were truly presses, because they had a platen that pressed the paper against the type. To make it work faster than the hand-press, the platen was hinged to open and close like a jaw, and the type was automatically inked by rollers, running down as the jaw opened, and up over an ink table as it closed.

Until about 1900, such presses were fed a sheet at a time by boys or girls paid a few dollars a week. But wages began to rise. Job-printers wanted presses that would feed themselves and also turn out the work faster. Inventors soon met the demand. At first, they devised machines that would automatically feed a regular job-press, but it soon became clear that new principles were needed.

A California printer named Hoag has been given credit for making the first truly automatic job printing-machine, the autopress, a distinctly new printing-machine, with which speeds of 5,000 impressions an hour are possible. The sheets are fed in and taken out automatically.


Another automatic job-press, the Standard, is the development of Henry A. Wise Wood. It has a platen, but is built so heavily that it has a speed of 3,500 impressions an hour. It is fed automatically by a suction device which takes the sheets from the under part of a pile, passes them through the press rapidly one by one, and drops them out at the bottom.

Still another automatic, the Kelly press, is interesting as a machine and also because it shows how wide a knowledge an inventor may need. Its inventor, W. M. Kelly, had been a compositor, pressman, type salesman, and an expert repairer of typesetting-machines, and had sold printers’ machinery and supplies in India, Australia, South Africa, and other parts of the world.

In 1912, he invented a device for setting and distributing the typewriter type used in business offices to print circulars. A press was needed to go with it. He drew plans for such a press and was advised to make it for job-printers instead of office use.

A small model was built, and a larger one with an automatic feed was finished in 1914. Since that time it has been changed in many ways. It is a small cylinder press with an automatic feed air being used to separate and feed the sheets of paper. It has a speed of 3,600 impressions an hour. The hand-feeder often missed an impression or spoiled a sheet. The Kelly press stops if a defective sheet turns up or two sheets stick together.

Our automatic job-presses were carried right up to the front in France during the war, on American motor-trucks, and used to print propaganda circulars which were dropped from airplanes behind the German lines almost as fast as the printers turned them out.

The last word in printing came from America, and was addressed to the countrymen of great-great-grandfather Gutenberg, who has come down in history as the first word !

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