In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. This invention revolutionized the western world and opened large opportunities to mass distribution of books. However, in the early stages of the printing press, distribution was still somewhat limited. While novelists had the opportunity for their books to be read across the country if not world, the use of printing presses for high volume such as newspaper circulation did not become truly active until the early 17th century.
In 1802, an invention was created that would soon change the way documents would be printed forever. Fredrich Koenig, a German investor, and Andreas Fredrich Bauer, a German watchmaker, together built the first steam powered printing press. Koenig wanted to create a printing press that required less man power in order to print pages. His first efforts in 1803 and 1804 were spent building a wooden hand press that Germans deemed too costly and too complicated.
Discouraged, Koenig set off for London to try out his invention there. The idea of Koenig’s invention was to apply the printer ink to the type by rollers, which would then ultimately save manpower. It wasn’t until 1811 when Koenig’s printing press was first used, and printed 3,000 copies of the Annual Register for 1810. The press worked at the rate of 800 sheets per hour, which was more than double the speed possible from the original printing press. In addition, and quite possibly more remarkable, it was the first printing machine that did not require the constant labor of a man.
In 1843, the first American made a major contribution to the development of the printing press. Based off Koenig’s steam powered press, Richard Hoe, created the lithographic rotary printing press. The rotary press put the type on a revolving cylinder. The printing sheets then, whether they be paper, cardboard, or plastic are passed through the cylinder at fast speeds to receive their graphics. With this, the speed of printing was determined by how fast the cylinder would turn.
Just 20 years later in 1863, another American inventor, William Bullock, invented the web rotary printing press. Unlike Hoe’s invention, Bullock’s new press continuously fed large rolls of paper through the rollers, completely eliminating the need for men or women to feed the paper to the machine. In addition to significantly less labor, these machines also worked at great speeds and high efficiency. The machine could print on both sides of the paper, fold the paper, and cut the paper all in quick time. Just 50 years after the first steam powered press invention, printing presses were now able to process up to 12,000 sheets of paper per hour. After several adjustments later in his life, Bullock’s press was able to produce an extremely impressive 30,000 sheets per hour.
Through Koenig’s revolutionary adjustments to the printing press, other brilliant minds were able to modify his cylindrical press to both improve overall speed and reduce overall labor hours. While these inventions were created toward the end of the industrial revolution, they were just another piece of equipment that could replace the efforts of man by a more efficiently run machine. With the creation of this type of printing, newspapers were able to rapidly expand across the country. Two highly notable newspapers that began during this time period are The New York Times in 1851, and The Sun in 1833. With the increasing availability of literature both in books and newspapers, literacy across America also drastically improved. Moving forward into the future, both print publications and literacy would continue to increase as printing inventions continue to develop.
Find out the next revolutionary inventions in printing machines by subscribing to our blog!
Additional History of Printing Articles:
History of Printing: The invention of the Printing Press