March 31

The first steam cylinder press invented by Frederick Koenig, and used in printing "The Times"

An agreement “for an entirely new Method of Printing by Machine” was signed in London on this day in 1807 between an immigrant German printer named Frederick Koenig and the noted English printer, Thomas Bensley. The latter arranged to either purchase the “new Method” which happened to be a power printing press or to conclude a contract with the inventor. He further agreed to pay Koenig a penalty of £6,000 if he disclosed the secret in the event he did not wish to support the invention. During the next year and a half Koenig made some headway with his machine. On the strength of what had been completed, Bensley attempted to interest John Walter, publisher of The Times, in the project. When Walter was unimpressed, the partners added two other printers, George Woodfall and Richard Taylor, to the group. The partners drew up another agreement in which Bensley was to receive three-eighths of the investment, Woodford and Taylor, threeeighths, and Koenig the remainder. As Koenig wished to be compensated for the preliminary work he had done on the press in Germany, he wanted the sum of £1060. The printers stipulated that if the new press, operated by one pressman to feed and another to remove the printed sheets, failed to reach an output of 300 sheets per hour, Koenig would receive no part of this sum. If the press could produce between 300 and 350 sheets per hour, he would get one-third of the money. Should it turn out between 350 and 400 sheets, he would get two-thirds, and in the event that its speed reached 400 sheets per hour, the whole sum would be paid.

The inventor evidently had great faith in his machine, as it easily achieved the maximum as stipulated. The press, patented in 1810, was basically a mechanized hand press, constructed of metal. An important feature was the inking mechanism. Prior to this time the type was inked by devices called ink balls, which had a leather surface. Pressmen believed that the softer the leather, the more receptive the balls would be to the ink. It was therefore the custom to soak the balls each day in various solutions, including urine, an activity which contributed to an overpowering stench in the pressroom. Koenig realized that in order to achieve rapid production he would have to devise a more suitable method of inking the type. He therefore constructed a roller, made of sheepskin and mounted upon a spindle which contained serrations through which steam was forced in order to keep the roller pliable during the period of operation.

Although the press was a success, Koenig of course realized that he had but adapted the principles of the hand press and that he would have to use his new machine merely as the starting point of a completely new technique. The principle of his inking rollers no doubt started him thinking about a really new departure in press design. That was to use a cylinder for the impression rather than a flat surface. Some twenty years previously, an English inventor, William Nicholson, had patented a cylinder press, but being primarily a theorist, he had allowed the patent to lapse. Undoubtedly Koenig had sufficient knowledge of Nicholson’s ideas to be able to put them to practical use, which he proceeded to do, and thus must receive credit as the inventor of the first power press.

This second press built in England by Koenig was the first successful cylinder press, in which the type was positioned upon a flat bed and passed under an impression cylinder. In the actual press, which was patented in 1812, the driving mechanism, powered by steam, was larger than the press itself. Koenig was now a successful inventor. With the aid of another German engineer he built several other presses in England, returning to Germany in 1817 to set up one of the great press manufacturing concerns, under the name of Koenig and Bauer, which has continued to supply printing presses to printers all over the world.

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