August 15

A Presbyterian dominie who made solid contributions to the history of American invention was born this day in 1838 near Rochester, New York. Merritt Gally losthis father, also a minister of the Presbyterian persuasion, and found it necessary at the age of eleven to earn his own living. He apprenticed himself to a printer and quickly learned the trade, editing and printing a newspaper before he was out of his teens. When he became twenty-one years of age he decided that he needed a liberal education and thereupon enrolled in the University of Rochester, from which he graduated in 1863.

Deciding to follow his father’s profession, Gaily next attended the Theological Seminary at Auburn, New York. He was ordained as a minister and received a call to a small church in upstate Lyons. Here he served for three years. Then he succumbed to the blandishments of a career as an inventor, to which his facile mind was inexorably drawing him. Naturally enough his earlier interest in printing was responsible for his first important development, that of a platen press, which he called the Universal Printing Press.

Gally received a patent for this machine in 1869, and his new career was off to a most auspicious beginning, as the principle of the new machine endeared it to several generations of printers. Prior to the Universal, platen presses operated at a disadvantage when compared to hand presses in which the platen was at all times parallel to the bed of the press. In the platen press either the bed or the platen was lunged, so that the meeting of bed and platen was somewhat out of parallel, a difficulty which could be partially surmounted by the adjustment of the platen.

Gally’s press had a solid fixed vertical bed. The platen was not hinged, and it rolled up from its feeding position, becoming parallel to the bed about owe inch from the form, then being pulled directly toward the bed, allowing an even impression all over the form at maximum pressure. Unlike other platen presses, the Universal had no ink disc, but a fountain immediately above the form for the supply of ink.The combination of parallel impression and even inking contributed to the ability of the press to produce superior printing.

The Universal was at first manufactured in Rochester by Hamilton & McNeil, who produced five hundred presses in a year and a half. Gaily transferred the manufacturing rights to a firm in New York City, who subleased it to the plant of the Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacuring Company. After building some 2,400 machines, Gally’s basic patents expired, and the Colt Company made a number of modifications in the design and manufactured the press under a name which became quite famous—the Colt’s Armory. This model has endeared itself to countless printers and now represents the most desirable item in the equipment of a serious private press operator.

Some five hundred patents were granted to Gaily during his lifetime, the most widely known one probably being that of the player piano and the mechanical organ. He also patented in 1872 a device for the assembling of matrices, automatically spaced with wedges, which in 1884 was sold to the interests which were backing Ottmar Mergenthaler.

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