Author’s Note: As we started this project–this little history blog–I thought I’d enjoy writing about topics I know and I’d love learning about new topics. This has been the case for sure. However, as I was preparing to write about this topic, a new realization hit me. I love inventions!! I love technology inventions!! I had never realized that this was something I love. I’m so excited to explore more on this topic. Good luck readers…you’ll be learning about an awful lot of inventions if I have anything to say about it.
Arguably, Johannes Gutenberg was one of the most influential inventors ever when it comes to enabling words to spread all over, to all people. As I think we’ve established, I love words. I love their power. When Gutenberg invented the first printing press and began the “printing revolution” in England. It’s a fascinating topic. I encourage my readers to look up more on this invention and the ripple effects–namely people being able to read their OWN books, including THE book (the Bible, if you didn’t know), which then led to interpretation differences and the eventual splitting of religions…..
Note: I am off on a tangent. Back to today’s post.
On November 28, 1814, the first steam-powered, automatic printing press was put into action for the first time. This was going to spark another revolution.
Early Printing Presses
What did printing presses look like long ago? Well, even before the printing press, how were books made? As I am sure many of us have heard of, long ago there were scribes that would copy and write out each and every single word and illustration by hand. This was their profession. Only scribes could create written words for others. There weren’t many that even had their own copies of anything, because the scribes could only make so many….
“During the 1300s to 1400s, people had developed a very basic form of printing. It involved letters or images cut on blocks of wood. The block would be dipped in ink and then stamped onto paper.
Gutenberg already had previous experience working at a mint, and he realized that if he could use cut blocks within a machine, he could make the printing process a lot faster. Even better, he would be able to reproduce texts in great numbers. However, instead of using wood blocks, he used metal instead.”–link to psprint.com
So, how did they work?
“With the original printing press, a frame is used to set groups of type blocks. Together, these blocks make words and sentences; however, they are all in reverse. The blocks are all inked and then a sheet of paper is laid on the blocks. All of this passes through a roller to ensure that the ink is transferred to the paper. Finally when the paper is lifted, the reader can see the inked letters that now appear normally as a result of the reversed blocks. These printing presses were operated by hand.”-psprint.com
Invention of Steam Presses
German Inventors Fredrich Koenig and Andreas Fredrich Bauer were the ones to create steam-powered printing presses.
Fredrich Koenig was an apprentice printer who studied under several master printers, as was the custom of the times during the late 1700s.
I told someone the other day that one of my favorite quotes is something to the effect of “if you want something done the fastest way possible, give it to a lazy person.” The gist is that lazy people will cut corners and eventually find a much faster way to accomplish the same thing. I’d say Koenig qualifies as this. According to an aricle on psprint.com, in 1802 Koenig “first began to devise ways and means for improving the art of printing by eliminating some of the” manual labor involved with printing.
“His first effort, produced in 1803-04, known as the Suhl(er) press, was basically a powered, wooden hand press with moveable carriage, reciprocating platen, self-opening frisket and self-inking ‘cylinders’ (wooden rollers wrapped with layers of felt and covered with leather).” –lettepressprinting.com
Even though Koenig came up with this machine, he was from Germany. It cost too much there and there was an imminent war with France, so Koenig packed up and took his venture to England.
“Koenig’s original plan was confined to his ‘improved’ powered hand press, where the operation of applying the ink to the type was performed by rollers connected to the motions of the bed, thereby saving the labour of one person, known as the dabber or beater. With the continuing refinement, versatility and availability of the steam engine – particularly in England, it was decided this rotary motion could be best used to power the machine. Whilst Koenig was thus engaged, he was joined by fellow countryman and good friend, Andreas F. Bauer (1783-1860), a clever mechanician (some sources say watchmaker) and eventual partner. Together, these two proceeded to pool their ideas, and to construct the first actual printing machine powered by steam.” –link to letterpressprinting.com
After initial successful prototypes, Koenig and Bauer created a “single cylinder machine” printing press in 1811.
Times of London is Printed Using Automatic Steam Presses
“Mr. J. Walter, proprietor of the ‘London Times,’ was very impressed on viewing the single cylinder machine at its first viewing, with its unusual speed and great regularity; but he wanted a faster newspaper machine. Koenig however, briefly explained the more rapid action of a double machine [double-ender or twin feeder] which he had recently patented. Walter, then ordered two larger format double machines, at a cost of £1400 each, for his newspaper. “–link to letterpressprinting.com
On November 28, 1814, the Times of London was printed using automatic, steam-powered printing presses.
Although the Times of London owner had bought into the idea of a double-cylinder machine, “nearly two years elapsed before the ‘double’ was completed. Knowing that ‘The Times’ pressmen had heard rumours about this ‘steam press’ and had vowed‘destruction to him and his traps’, Walter warned them against using any violence and offered to assist those whose jobs would be lost. The first newspaper ever printed on a steam-powered cylindrical machine was produced in the early hours of the 29th November, 1814. 1100 sheets per hour printed one side were claimed for this machine (pictured). The owners were overjoyed.”–link to letterpressprinting.com
“Our Journal of this day presents to the Public the practical result of the greatest improvement connected with printing since the discovery of the art itself. The reader of this paragraph now holds in his hand one of the many thousand impressions of The Times newspaper which were taken off last night by a mechanical apparatus. A system of machinery almost organic has been devised and arranged, which, while it relieves the human frame of its most laborious’ efforts in printing, far exceeds all human powers in rapidity and dispatch. That the magnitude of the invention may be justly appreciated by its effects, we shall inform the public, that after the letters are placed by the compositors, and enclosed in what is called the forme, little more remains for man to do than to attend upon and to watch this unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper: itself places the forme, inks it, adjusts the paper to the forme newly inked, stamps the sheet, and gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time withdrawing the form for a fresh coat of ink, which itself again distributes, to meet the ensuing sheet now advancing for impression; and the whole of these complicated acts is performed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement, that no less than 1100 sheets are impressed in one hour.
“That the completion of an invention of this kind, not the effect of chance, but the result of mechanical combinations methodically arranged in the mind of the artist, should be attended with many obstructions and much delay, may be readily imagined. Our share in this event has, indeed, only been the application of the discovery, under an arrangement with the patentees, to our own particular business; yet few can conceive – even with this limited interest – the various disappointments and deep anxiety for which we have for a long course of time been subjected.”
–the first words printed with the new steam-powered press in the Times of London
What Did This Mean?
This post isn’t just about the Times of London being printed using new printing presses. No…it’s much bigger than that. The fact that there were new, automatic, steam-powered presses signaled the beginning of something much bigger than just a newspaper. In fact, this was a glimmer of what would come rushing in–words available to everyone, everywhere! Words could now be mass generated! It would be so much easier to create and publish words and send them out.
Words have so much power. This opened up the floodgates to send powerful words all over…..