Invention & Industry III.
Home Up James Brindley The Stephensons Boulton and Watt Smeaton and Rennie Metcalfe & Telford Brief Biographies Self Help Miscellanea Site Search Main Index


[Previous Page]


Picture: Wikipedia



"The honest projector is he who, having by fair and plain principles of sense, honesty, and ingenuity, brought any contrivance to a suitable perfection, makes out what he pretends to, picks nobody's pocket, puts his project in execution, and contents himself with the real produce as the profit of his invention."—DE FOE.

I PUBLISHED an article in 'Macmillan's Magazine' for December, 1869, under the above title.  The materials were principally obtained from William and Frederick Koenig, sons of the inventor.  Since then an elaborate life has been published at Stuttgart, under the title of 'Friederich Koenig and die Erfindung Der Schnellpresse, Ein Biographisches Denkmal.  Von Theodor Goebel.'  The author, in sending me a copy of the volume, refers to the article published in 'Macmillan,' and says, "I hope you will please to accept it as a small acknowledgment of the thanks, which every German, and especially the sons of Koenig, in whose name I send the book as well as in mine, owe to you for having bravely taken up the cause of the much wronged inventor, their father—an action all the more praiseworthy, as you had to write against the prejudices and the interests of your own countrymen."

    I believe it is now generally admitted that Koenig was entitled to the merit of being the first person practically to apply the power of steam to indefinitely multiplying the productions of the printing-press; and that no one now attempts to deny him this honour.  It is true others, who followed him, greatly improved upon his first idea; but this was the case with Watt, Symington, Crompton, Maudslay, and many more.  The true inventor is not merely the man who registers an idea and takes a patent for it, or who compiles an invention by borrowing the idea of another, improving upon or adding to his arrangements, but the man who constructs a machine such as has never before been made, which executes satisfactorily all the functions it was intended to perform.  And this is what Koenig's invention did, as will be observed from the following brief summary of his life and labours.

    Frederick Koenig was born on the 17th of April, 1774, at Eisleben, in Saxony, the birthplace also of a still more famous person, Martin Luther.  His father was a respectable peasant proprietor, described by Herr Goebel as Anspänner.  But this word has now gone out of use.  In feudal times it described the farmer who was obliged to keep draught cattle to perform service due to the landlord.  The boy received a solid education at the Gymnasium, or public school of the town.  At a proper age he was bound apprentice for five years to Breitkopf and Härtel, of Leipzig, as compositor and printer; but after serving for four and a quarter years, he was released from his engagement because of his exceptional skill, which was an unusual occurrence.

    During the later years of his apprenticeship, Koenig was permitted to attend the classes in the University, more especially those of Ernst Platner, "physician, philosopher, and anthropologist."  After that he proceeded to the printing-office of his uncle, Anton F. Röse, at Greifswald, an old seaport town on the Baltic, where he remained a few years.  He next went to Halle as a journeyman printer,—German workmen going about from place to place, during their wanderschaft, for the purpose of learning their business.  After that, he returned to Brietkopf and Härtel, at Leipzig, where he had first learnt his trade.  During this time, having saved a little money, he enrolled himself for a year as a regular student at the University of Leipzig.

    According to Koenig's own account, he first began to devise ways and means for improving the art of printing in the year 1802, when he was twenty-eight years old.  Printing large sheets of paper by hand was a very slow as well as a very laborious process.  One of the things that most occupied the young printer's mind was how to get rid of this "horse-work," for such it was, in the business of printing.  He was not, however, over-burdened with means, though he devised a machine with this object.  But to make a little money, he made translations for the publishers.  In 1803 Koenig returned to his native town of Eisleben, where he entered into an arrangement with Frederick Riedel, who furnished the necessary capital for carrying on the business of a printer and bookseller.  Koenig alleges that his reason for adopting this step was to raise sufficient money to enable him to carry out his plans for the improvement of printing.

    The business, however, did not succeed, as we find him in the following year carrying on a printing trade at Mayence.  Having sold this business, he removed to Suhl in Thuringia.  Here he was occupied with a stereotyping process, suggested by what he had read about the art as perfected in England by Earl Stanhope.  He also contrived an improved press, provided with a moveable carriage, on which the types were placed, with inking rollers, and a new mechanical method of taking off the impression by flat pressure.

    Koenig brought his new machine under the notice of the leading printers in Germany, but they would not undertake to use it.  The plan seemed to them too complicated and costly.  He tried to enlist men of capital in his scheme, but they all turned a deaf ear to him.  He went from town to town, but could obtain no encouragement whatever.  Besides, industrial enterprise in Germany was then in a measure paralysed by the impending war with France, and men of capital were naturally averse to risk their money on what seemed a merely speculative undertaking.

    Finding no sympathisers or helpers at home, Koenig next turned his attention abroad.  England was then, as now, the refuge of inventors who could not find the means of bringing out their schemes elsewhere; and to England he wistfully turned his eyes.  In the meantime, however, his inventive ability having become known, an offer was made to him by the Russian Government to proceed to St. Petersburg and organise the State printing-office there.  The invitation was accepted, and Koenig proceeded to St. Petersburg in the spring of 1806.  But the official difficulties thrown in his way were very great, and so disgusted him, that he decided to throw up his appointment, and try his fortune in England.  He accordingly took ship for London, and arrived there in the following November, poor in means, but rich in his great idea, then his only property.

    As Koenig himself said, when giving an account of his invention:—"There is on the Continent no sort of encouragement for an enterprise of this description.  The system of patents, as it exists in England, being either unknown, or not adopted in the Continental States, there is no inducement for industrial enterprise; and projectors are commonly obliged to offer their discoveries to some Government, and to solicit their encouragement.  I need hardly add that scarcely ever is an invention brought to maturity under such circumstances.  The well-known fact, that almost every invention seeks, as it were, refuge in England, and is there brought to perfection, though the Government does not afford any other protection to inventors beyond what is derived from the wisdom of the laws, seems to indicate that the Continent has yet to learn from her the best manner of encouraging the mechanical arts.  I had my full share in the ordinary disappointments of Continental projectors; and after having lost in Germany and Russia upwards of two years in fruitless applications, I at last resorted to England." [p.160]

    After arriving in London, Koenig maintained himself with difficulty by working at his trade, for his comparative ignorance of the English language stood in his way.  But to work manually at the printer's "case," was not Koenig's object in coming to England.  His idea of a printing machine was always uppermost in his mind, and he lost no opportunity of bringing the subject under the notice of master printers likely to take it up.  He worked for a time in the printing office of Richard Taylor, Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, and mentioned the matter to him.  Taylor would not undertake the invention himself, but he furnished Koenig with an introduction to Thomas Bensley, the well-known printer of Bolt Court, Fleet Street.  On the 11th of March, 1807, Bensley invited Koenig to meet him on the subject of their recent conversation about "the discovery;" and on the 31st of the same month, the following agreement was entered into between Koenig and Bensley:—

"Mr. Koenig, having discovered an entire new Method of Printing by Machinery, agrees to communicate the same to Mr. Bensley under the following conditions:—that, if Mr. Bensley shall be satisfied the Invention will answer all the purposes Mr. Koenig has stated in the Particulars he has delivered to Mr. Bensley, signed with his name, he shall enter into a legal Engagement to purchase the Secret from Mr. Koenig, or enter into such other agreement as may be deemed mutually beneficial to both parties; or, should Mr. Bensley wish to decline having any concern with the said Invention, then he engages not to make any use of the Machinery, or to communicate the Secret to any person whatsoever, until it is proved that the Invention is made use of by any one without restriction of Patent, or other particular agreement on the part of Mr. Koenig, under the penalty of Six Thousand Pounds.
                                                            "(Signed)           T. B
Witness— J. H

    Koenig now proceeded to put his idea in execution.  He prepared his plans of the new printing machine.  It seems, however, that the progress made by him was very slow.  Indeed, three years passed before a working model could be got ready, to show his idea in actual practice.  In the meantime, Mr. Walter of The Times had been seen by Bensley, and consulted on the subject of the invention.  On the 9th of August, 1809, more than two years after the date of the above agreement, Hensley writes to Koenig: "I made a point of calling upon Mr. Walter yesterday, who, I am sorry to say, declines our proposition altogether, having (as he says) so many engagements as to prevent him entering into more."

    It may be mentioned that Koenig's original plan was confined to an improved press, in which the operation of laying the ink on the types was to be performed by an apparatus connected with the motions of the coffin, in such a manner as that one hand could be saved.  As little could be gained in expedition by this plan, the idea soon suggested itself of moving the press by machinery, or to reduce the several operations to one rotary motion, to which the first mover might be applied.  Whilst Koenig was in the throes of his invention, he was joined by his friend Andrew F. Bauer, a native of Stuttgart, who possessed considerable mechanical power, in which the inventor himself was probably somewhat deficient.  At all events, these two together proceeded to work out the idea, and to construct the first actual working printing machine.

    A patent was taken out, dated the 29th of March, 1810, which describes the details of the invention.  The arrangement was somewhat similar to that known as the platen machine; the printing being produced by two flat plates, as in the common hand-press.  It also embodied an ingenious arrangement for inking the type.  Instead of the old-fashioned inking balls, which were beaten on the type by hand labour, several cylinders covered with felt and leather were used, and formed part of the machine itself.  Two of the cylinders revolved in opposite directions, so as to spread the ink, which was then transferred by two other inking cylinders alternately applied to the "forme" by the action of spiral springs.  The movement of all the parts ,of the machine were to be derived from a steam-engine, or other first mover.

    "After many obstructions and delays," says Koenig himself, in describing the history of his invention, "the first printing machine was completed exactly upon the plan which I have described in the specification of my first patent.  It was set to Work in April, 1811.  The sheet (H) of the new Annual Register for 1810, 'Principal Occurrences,' 3,000 copies, was printed with it; and is, I have no doubt, the first part of a book ever printed with a machine.  The actual use of it, however, soon suggested new ideas, and led to the rendering it less complicated and more powerful." [p.163]  Of course!  No great invention was ever completed at one effort.  It would have been strange if Koenig had been satisfied with his first attempt.  It was only a beginning, and he naturally proceeded with the improvement of his machine.  It took Watt more than twenty years to elaborate his condensing steam-engine; and since his day, owing to the perfection of self-acting tools, it has been greatly improved.  The power of the Steamboat and the Locomotive also, as well as of all other inventions, have been developed by the constantly succeeding improvements of a nation of mechanical engineers.

    Koenig's experiment was only a beginning, and he naturally proceeded with the improvement of his machine.  Although the platen machine of Koenig's has since been taken up anew, and perfected, it was not considered by him sufficiently simple in its arrangements as to be adapted for common use; and he had scarcely completed it, when he was already revolving in his mind a plan of a second machine on a new principle, with the object of ensuring greater speed, economy, and simplicity.

    By this time, other well-known London printers, Messrs. Taylor and Woodfall, had joined Koenig and Beesley in their partnership for the manufacture and sale of printing machines.  The idea which now occurred to Koenig was, to employ a cylinder instead of a flat platen machine, for taking the impressions off the type, and to place the sheet round the cylinder, thereby making it, as it were, part of the periphery.  As early as the year 1790, one William Nicholson had taken out a patent for a machine for printing "on paper, linen, cotton, woollen, and other articles," by means of "blocks, forms, types, plates, and originals," which were to be "firmly imposed upon a cylindrical surface in the same manner as common letter is imposed upon a flat stone." [p.164]  From the mention of "colouring cylinder," and paper-hangings, floor-cloths, cottons, linens, woollens, leather, skin, and every other flexible material," mentioned in the specification, it would appear as if Nicholson's invention were adapted for calico-printing and paper-hangings, as well as for the printing of books.  But it was never used for any of these purposes.  It contained merely the register of an idea, and that was all.  It was left for Adam Parkinson, of Manchester, to invent and make practical use of the cylinder printing machine for calico in the year 1805, and this was still further advanced by the invention of James Thompson, of Clitheroe, in 1813; while it was left for Frederick Koenig to invent and carry into practical operation the cylinder printing press for newspapers.

    After some promising experiments, the plans for a new machine on the cylindrical principle were proceeded with.  Koenig admitted throughout the great benefit he derived from the assistance of his friend Bauer.  "By the judgment and precision," he said, "with which he executed my plans, he greatly contributed to my success."  A patent was taken out on October 30th, 1811; and the new machine was completed in December, 1812.  The first sheets ever printed with an entirely cylindrical press, were sheets G and X of Clarkson's 'Life of Penn.'  The papers of the Protestant Union were also printed with it in February and March, 1813.  Mr. Koenig, in his account of the invention, says that "sheet M of Acton's 'Hortus Kewensis,' vol. v., will show the progress of improvement in the use of the invention.  Altogether, there are about 160,000 sheets now in the hands of the public, printed with this machine, which, with the aid of two hands, takes off 800 impressions in the hour." [p.165]

    Koenig took out a further patent on July 23rd, 1813 and a fourth (the last) on the 14th of March, 1814.  The contrivance of these various arrangements cost the inventor many anxious days and nights of study and labour.  But he saw before him only the end he wished to compass, and thought but little of himself and his toils.  It may be mentioned that the principal feature of the invention was the printing cylinder in the centre of the machine, by which the impression was taken from the types, instead of by flat plates as in the first arrangement.  The forme was fixed in a cast-iron plate which was carried to and fro on a table, being received at either end by strong spiral springs.  A double machine, on the same principle,—the forme alternately passing under and giving an impression at one of two cylinders at either end of the press,—was also included in the patent of 1811.

    How diligently Koenig continued to elaborate the details of his invention will be obvious from the two last patents which he took out, in 1813 and 1814.  In the first he introduced an important improvement in the inking arrangement, and a contrivance for holding and carrying on the sheet, keeping it close to the printing cylinder by means of endless tapes; while in the second, he added the following new expedients: a feeder, consisting of an endless web,—an improved arrangement of the endless tapes by inner as well as outer friskets,—an improvement of the register (that is, one page falling exactly on the back of another), by which greater accuracy of impression was also secured; and finally, an arrangement by which the sheet was thrown out of the machine, printed by the revolving cylinder on both sides.

    The partners in Koenig's Patents had established a manufactory in Whitecross Street for the production of the new machines.  The workmen employed were sworn to secrecy.  They entered into an agreement by which they were liable to forfeit £100 if they communicated to others the secret of the machines, either by drawings or description, or if they told by whom or for whom they were constructed.  This was to avoid the hostility of the pressmen, who, having heard of the new invention, were up in arms against it, as likely to deprive them of their employment.  And yet, as stated by Johnson in his 'Typographia,' the manual labour of the men who worked at the hand press, was so severe and exhausting, "that the stoutest constitutions fell a sacrifice to it in a few years."  The number of sheets that could be thrown off was also extremely limited.  With the improved press, perfected by Earl Stanhope, about 250 impressions could be taken, or 125 sheets printed on both sides in an hour.  Although a greater number was produced in newspaper printing offices by excessive labour, yet it was necessary to have duplicate presses, and to set up duplicate forms of type, to carry on such extra work; and still the production of copies was quite inadequate to satisfy the rapidly increasing demand for newspapers.  The time was therefore evidently ripe for the adoption of such a machine as that of Koenig.  Attempts had been made by many inventors, but every one of them had failed.  Printers generally regarded the steam-press as altogether chimerical.

    Such was the condition of affairs when Koenig finished his improved printing machine in the manufactory in Whitecross Street.  The partners in the invention were now in great hopes.  When the machine had been got ready for work, the proprietors of several of the leading London newspapers were invited to witness its performances.  Amongst them were Mr. Perry of the Morning Chronicle, and Mr. Walter of The Times.  Mr. Perry would have nothing to do with the machine; he would not even go to see it, for he regarded it as a gimcrack. [p.167]  On the contrary, Mr. Walter, though he had five years before declined to enter into any arrangement with Bensley, now that he heard the machine was finished, and at work, decided to go and inspect it.  It was thoroughly characteristic of the business spirit of the man.  He had been very anxious to apply increased mechanical power to the printing of his newspaper.  He had consulted Isambard Brunel—one of the cleverest inventors of the day—on the subject; but Brunel, after studying the subject, and labouring over a variety of plans, finally gave it up.  He had next tried Thomas Martyr, an ingenious young compositor, who had a scheme for a self-acting machine for working the printing press.  But, although Mr. Walter supplied him with the necessary funds, his scheme never came to anything.  Now, therefore, was the chance for Koenig!

    After carefully examining the machine at work, Mr. Walter was at once satisfied as to the great value of the invention.  He saw it turning out the impressions with unusual speed and great regularity.  This was the very machine of which he had been in search.  But it turned out the impressions printed on one side only.  Koenig, however, having briefly explained the more rapid action of a double machine on the same principle for the printing of newspapers, Mr. Walter, after a few minutes' consideration, and before leaving the premises, ordered two double machines for the printing of The Times newspaper.  Here, at last, was the opportunity for a triumphant issue out of Koenig's difficulties.

    The construction of the first newspaper machine was still, however, a work of great difficulty and labour.  It must be remembered that nothing of the kind had yet been made by any other inventor.  The single-cylinder machine, which Mr. Walter had seen at work, was intended for bookwork only.  Now Koenig had to construct a double-cylinder machine for printing newspapers, in which many of the arrangements must necessarily be entirely new.  With the assistance of his leading mechanic, Bauer, aided by the valuable suggestions of Mr. Walter himself, Koenig at length completed his plans, and proceeded with the erection of the working machine.  The several parts were prepared at the workshop in Whitecross Street, and taken from thence, in as secret a way as possible, to the premises in Printing House Square adjoining The Times office, where they were fitted together and erected into a working machine.  Nearly two years elapsed before the press was ready for work.  Great as was the secrecy with which the operations were conducted, the pressmen of The Times office obtained some inkling of what was going on, and they vowed vengeance to the foreign inventor who threatened their craft with destruction.  There was, however, always this consolation: every attempt that had heretofore been made to print newspapers in any other way than by manual labour had proved an utter failure!

    At length the day arrived when the first newspaper steam-press was ready for use.  The pressmen were in a state of great excitement, for they knew by rumour that the machine of which they had so long been apprehensive was fast approaching completion.  One night they were told to wait in the press-room, as important news was expected from abroad.  At six o'clock in the morning of the 29th November, 1814, Mr. Walter, who had been watching the working of the machine all through the night, suddenly appeared among the pressmen, and announced that "The Times is already printed by steam!"  Knowing that the pressmen had vowed vengeance against the inventor and his invention, and that they had threatened "destruction to him and his traps," he informed them that if they attempted violence, there was a force ready to suppress it; but that if they were peaceable, their wages should be continued to every one of them until they could obtain similar employment.  This proved satisfactory so far, and he proceeded to distribute several copies of the newspaper amongst them—the first newspaper printed by steam!  That paper contained the following memorable announcement:—

    "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 forme 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 1,100 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 agreement with the patentees, to our own particular business; yet few can conceive—even with this limited interest—the various disappointments and deep anxiety to which we have for a long course of time been subjected.

    "Of the person who made this discovery we have but little to add.  Sir Christopher Wren's noblest monument is to be found in the building which he erected so is the best tribute of praise which we are capable of offering to the inventor of the printing machine, comprised in the preceding description, which we have feebly sketched, of the powers and utility of his invention.  It must suffice to say further, that he is a Saxon by birth; that his name is Koenig; and that the invention has been executed under the direction of his friend and countryman, Bauer."

    The machine continued to work steadily and satisfactorily, notwithstanding the doubters, the unbelievers, and the threateners of vengeance.  The leading article of The Times for December 3rd, 1814, contains the following statement:—

    "The machine of which we announced the discovery and our adoption a few days ago, has been whirling on its course ever since, with improving order, regularity, and even speed.  The length of the debates on Thursday, the day when Parliament was adjourned, will have been observed; on such an occasion the operation of composing and printing the last page must commence among all the journals at the same moment; and starting from that moment, we, with our infinitely superior circulation, were enabled to throw off our whole impression many hours before the other respectable rival prints.  The accuracy and clearness of the impression will likewise excite attention.

    "We shall make no reflections upon those by whom this wonderful discovery has been opposed,—the doubters and unbelievers,—however uncharitable they may have been to us; were it not that the efforts of genius are always impeded by drivellers of this description, and that we owe it to such men as Mr. Koenig and his Friend, and all future promulgators of beneficial inventions, to warn them that they will have to contend with everything that selfishness and conceited ignorance can devise or say; and if we cannot clear their way before them, we would at least give them notice to prepare a panoply against its dirt and filth.

    "There is another class of men from whom we receive dark and anonymous threats of vengeance if we persevere in the use of this machine.  These are the Pressmen.  They well know, at least should well know, that such menace is thrown away upon us.  There is nothing that we will not do to assist and serve those whom we have discharged.  They themselves can see the greater rapidity and precision with which the paper is printed.  What right have they to make us print it slower and worse for their supposed benefit?  A little reflection, indeed, would show them that it is neither in their power nor in ours to stop a discovery now made, if it is beneficial to mankind; or to force it down if it is useless.  They had better, therefore; acquiesce in a result which they cannot alter; more especially as there will still be employment enough for the old race of pressmen, before the new method obtains general use, and no new ones need be brought up to the business; but we caution them seriously against involving themselves and their families in ruin, by becoming amenable to the laws of their country.  It has always been matter of great satisfaction to us to reflect, that we encountered and crushed one conspiracy; and we should be sorry to find our work half done.

    "It is proper to undeceive the world in one particular; that is, as to the number of men discharged.  We in fact employ only eight fewer workmen than formerly; whereas more than three times that number have been employed for a year and a half in building the machine."

    On the 8th of December following, Mr. Koenig addressed an advertisement "To the Public" in the columns of The Times, giving an account of the origin and progress of his invention.  We have already cited several passages from the statement.  After referring to his two last patents, he says:

    "The machines now printing The Times and Mail are upon the same principle; but they have been contrived for the particular purpose of a newspaper of extensive circulation, where expedition is the great object.

    "The public are undoubtedly aware, that never, perhaps, was a new invention put to so severe a trial as the present one, by being used on its first public introduction for the minting of newspapers, and will, I trust, be indulgent with respect to the many defects in the performance, though none of them are inherent in the principle of the machine; and we hope, that in less than two months, the whole will be corrected by greater adroitness in the management of it, so far at least as the hurry of newspaper printing will at all admit.

    "It will appear from the foregoing narrative, that it was incorrectly stated in several newspapers, that I had sold my interest to two other foreigners; my partners in this enterprise being at present two Englishmen, Mr. Bensley and Mr. Taylor; and it is gratifying to my feelings to avail myself of this opportunity to thank those gentlemen publicly for the confidence which they have reposed in me, for the aid of their practical skill, and for the persevering support which they have afforded me in long and very expensive experiments; thus risking their fortunes in the prosecution of my invention.

    "The first introduction of the invention was considered by some as a difficult and even hazardous step.  The Proprietor of The Times having made that his task, the public are aware that it is in good hands."

    One would think that Koenig would now feel himself in smooth water, and receive a share of the good fortune which he had so laboriously prepared for others.  Nothing of the kind!  His merits were disputed; his rights were denied; his patents were infringed; and he never received any solid advantages for his invention, until he left the country and took refuge in Germany.  It is true, he remained for a few years longer, in charge of the manufactory in Whitecross Street, but they were years to him of trouble and sorrow.

    In 1816, Koenig designed and superintended the construction of a single cylinder registering machine for book-printing.  This was supplied to Bensley and Son, and turned out 1,000 sheets, printed on both sides, in the hour.  Blumenbach's 'Physiology' was the first entire book printed by steam, by this new machine.  It was afterwards employed, in 1818, in working off the Literary Gazette.  A machine of the same kind was supplied to Mr. Richard Taylor for the purpose of printing the 'Philosophical Magazine,' and books generally.  This was afterwards altered to a double machine, and employed for printing the Weekly Dispatch.

    But what about Koenig's patents?  They proved of little use to him.  They only proclaimed his methods, and enabled other ingenious mechanics to borrow his adaptations.  Now that he had succeeded in making machines that would work, the way was clear for everybody else to follow his footsteps.  It had taken him more than six years to invent and construct a successful steam printing press; but any clever mechanic, by merely studying his specification, and examining his machine at work, might arrive at the same results in less than a week.

    The patents did not protect him.  New specifications, embodying some modification or alteration in detail, were lodged by other inventors and new patents taken out.  New printing machines were constructed in defiance of his supposed legal rights; and he found himself stripped of the reward that he had been labouring for during so many long and toilsome years.  He could not go to law, and increase his own vexation and loss.  He might get into Chancery easy enough but when would he get out of it, and in what condition?

    It must also be added, that Koenig was unfortunate in his partner Bensley.  While the inventor was taking steps to push the sale of his book-printing machines among the London printers, Bensley, who was himself a book-printer, was hindering him in every way in his negotiations.  Koenig was of opinion that Bensley wished to retain the exclusive advantage which the possession of his registering book machine gave him over the other printers, by enabling him to print more quickly and correctly than they could, and thus give him an advantage over them in his printing contracts.

    When Koenig, in despair at his position, consulted counsel as to the infringement of his patent, he was told that he might institute proceedings with the best prospect of success; but to this end a perfect agreement by the partners was essential.  When, however, Koenig asked Bensley to concur with him in taking proceedings in defence of the patent right, the latter positively refused to do so.  Indeed, Koenig was under the impression that his partner had even entered into an arrangement with the infringers of the patent to share with them the proceeds of their piracy.

    Under these circumstances, it appeared to Koenig that only two alternatives remained for him to adopt.  One was to commence an expensive, and it might be a protracted, suit in Chancery, in defence of his patent rights, with possibly his partner, Bensley, against him; and the other, to abandon his invention in England without further struggle, and settle abroad.  He chose the latter alternative, and left England finally in August, 1817.

    Mr. Richard Taylor, the other partner in the patent, was an honourable man; but he could not control the proceedings of Bensley.  In a memoir published by him in the 'Philosophical Magazine,' "On the Invention and First Introduction of Mr. Koenig's Printing Machine," in which he honestly attributes to him the sole merit of the invention, he says, "Mr. Koenig left England, suddenly, in disgust at the treacherous conduct of Bensley, always shabby and overreaching, and whom he found to be laying a scheme for defrauding his partners in the patents of all the advantages to arise from them.  Bensley, however, while he destroyed the prospects of his partners, outwitted himself, and grasping at all, lost all, becoming bankrupt in fortune as well as in character." [p.176]

    Koenig was badly used throughout.  His merits as an inventor were denied.  On the 3rd of January, 1818, after he had left England, Bensley published a letter in the Literary Gazette, in which he speaks of the printing machine as his own, without mentioning a word of Koenig.  The 'British Encyclopedia,' in describing the inventors of the printing machine, omitted the name of Koenig altogether.  The 'Mechanics Magazine,' for September, 1847, attributed the invention to the Proprietors of The Times, though Mr. Walter himself had said that his share in the event had been "only the application of the discovery;" and the late Mr. Bennet Woodcroft, usually a fair man, in his introductory chapter to 'Patents for Inventions in Printing,' attributes the merit to William Nicholson's patent (No. 1748), which, he said, "produced an entire revolution in the mechanism of the art."  In other publications, the claims of Bacon and Donkin were put forward, while those of Koenig were ignored.  The memoir of Mr. Richard Taylor, in the 'Philosophical Magazine,' was honest and satisfactory; and should have set the question at rest.

    It may further be mentioned that William Nicholson,—who was a patent agent, and a great taker out of patents, both in his own name and in the names of others,—was the person employed by Koenig as his agent to take the requisite steps for registering his invention.  When Koenig consulted him on the subject, Nicholson observed that "seventeen years before he had taken out a patent for machine printing, but he had abandoned it, thinking that it wouldn't do; and had never taken it up again."  Indeed, the two machines were on different principles.  Nor did Nicholson himself ever make any claim to priority of invention, when the success of Koenig's machine was publicly proclaimed by Mr. Walter of The Times some seven years later.

    When Koenig, now settled abroad, heard of the attempts made in England to deny his merits as an inventor, he merely observed to his friend Bauer, "It is really too bad that these people, who have already robbed me of my invention, should now try to rob me of my reputation."  Had he made any reply to the charges against him, it might have been comprised in a very few words: "When I arrived in England, no steam printing machine had ever before been seen; when I left it, the only printing machines in actual work were those which I had constructed."  But Koenig never took the trouble to defend the originality of his invention in England, now that he had finally abandoned the field to others.

    There can be no question as to the great improvements introduced in the printing machine by Mr. Applegath and Mr. Cowper; by Messrs. Hoe and Sons, of New York; and still later by the present Mr. Walter of The Times, which have brought the art of machine printing to an extraordinary degree of perfection and speed.  But the original merits of an invention are not to be determined by a comparison of the first machine of the kind ever made with the last, after some sixty years' experience and skill have been applied in bringing it to perfection.  Were the first condensing engine made at Soho—now to be seen at the Museum in South Kensington—in like manner to be compared with the last improved pumping-engine made yesterday, even the great James Watt might be made out to have been a very poor contriver.  It would be much fairer to compare Koenig's steam-printing machine with the hand-press newspaper printing machine which it superseded.  Though there were steam engines before Watt, and steamboats before Fulton, and steam locomotives before Stephenson, there were no steam printing presses before Koenig with which to compare them.  Koenig's was undoubtedly the first, and stood unequalled and alone.

    The rest of Koenig's life, after he retired to Germany, was spent in industry, if not in peace and quietness.  He could not fail to be cast down by the utter failure of his English partnership, and the loss of the fruits of his ingenious labours.  But instead of brooding over his troubles, he determined to break away from them, and begin the world anew.  He was only forty-three when he left England, and he might yet be able to establish himself prosperously in life.  He had his own head and hands to help him.  Though England was virtually closed against him, the whole continent of Europe was open to him, and presented a wide field for the sale of his printing machines.

    While residing in England, Koenig had received many communications from influential printers in Germany.  Johann Spencer and George Decker wrote to him in 1815, asking for particulars about his invention; but finding his machine too expensive, [p.179] the latter commissioned Koenig to send him a Stanhope printing press—the first ever introduced into Germany—the price of which was £95.  Koenig did this service for his friend, for although he stood by the superior merits of his own invention, he was sufficiently liberal to recognise the merits of the inventions of others.  Now that he was about to settle in Germany, he was able to supply his friends and patrons on the spot.

    The question arose, where was he to settle?  He made enquiries about sites along the Rhine, the Neckar, and the Main.  At last he was attracted by a specially interesting spot at Oberzell on the Main, near Würzburg.  It was an old disused convent of the Præmonstratensian monks.  The place was conveniently situated for business, being nearly in the centre of Germany.  The Bavarian Government, desirous of giving encouragement to so useful a genius, granted Koenig the use of the secularised monastery on easy terms; and there accordingly he began his operations in the course of the following year.  Bauer soon joined him, with an order from Mr. Walter for an improved Times machine; and the two men entered into a partnership which lasted for life.

    The partners had at first great difficulties to encounter in getting their establishment to work.  Oberzell was a rural village, containing only common labourers, from whom they had to select their workmen.  Every person taken into the concern had to be trained and educated to mechanical work by the partners themselves.  With indescribable patience they taught these labourers the use of the hammer, the file, the turning-lathe, and other tools, which the greater number of them had never before seen, and of whose uses they were entirely ignorant.  The machinery of the workshop was got together with equal difficulty piece by piece, some of the parts from a great distance,—the mechanical arts being then at a very low ebb in Germany, which was still suffering from the effects of the long continental war.  At length the workshop was fitted up, the old barn of the monastery being converted into an iron foundry.

    Orders for printing machines were gradually obtained.  The first came from Brockhaus, of Leipzig.  By the end of the fourth year two other single-cylinder machines were completed and sent to Berlin, for use in the State printing office.  By the end of the eighth year seven double-cylinder steam presses had been manufactured for the largest newspaper printers in Germany.  The recognised excellence of Koenig and Bauer's book-printing machines—their perfect register, and the quality of the work they turned out—secured for them an increasing demand, and by the year 1829 the firm had manufactured fifty-one machines for the leading book printers throughout Germany.  The Oberzell manufactory was now in full work, and gave regular employment to about 120 men.


A Koenig-type cylindrical press manufactured by Applegath and Cowper, London,
showing the inking scheme and the movement of paper.

    A period of considerable depression followed.  As was the case in England, the introduction of the printing machine in Germany excited considerable hostility among the pressmen.  In some of the principal towns they entered into combinations to destroy them, and several printing machines were broken by violence and irretrievably injured.  But progress could not be stopped; the printing machine had been fairly born, and must eventually do its work for mankind.  These combinations, however, had an effect for a time.  They deterred other printers from giving orders for the machines; and Koenig and Bauer were under the necessity of suspending their manufacture to a considerable extent.  To keep their men employed, the partners proceeded to fit up a paper manufactory, Mr. Cotta, of Stuttgart, joining them in the adventure; and a mill was fitted up, embodying all the latest improvements in paper-making.

    Koenig, however, did not live to enjoy the fruits of all his study, labour, toil, and anxiety; for, while this enterprise was still in progress, and before the machine trade had revived, he was taken ill, and confined to bed.  He became sleepless; his nerves were unstrung; and no wonder.  Brain disease carried him off on the 17th of January, 1833; and this good, ingenious, and admirable inventor was removed from all further care and trouble.  He died at the early age of fifty-eight, respected and beloved by all who knew him.

    His partner Bauer survived to continue the business for twenty years longer.  It was during this later period that the Oberzell manufactory enjoyed its greatest prosperity.  The prejudices of the workmen gradually subsided when they found that machine printing, instead of abridging employment, as they feared it would do, enormously increased it; and orders accordingly flowed in from Berlin, Vienna, and all the leading towns and cities of Germany, Austria, Denmark, Russia, and Sweden.  The six hundredth machine, turned out in 1847, was capable of printing 6,000 impressions in the hour.  In March, 1865, the thousandth machine was completed at Oberzell, on the occasion of the celebration of the fifty years' jubilee of the invention of the steam press by Koenig.

    The sons of Koenig carried on the business; and in the biography by Goebel, it is stated that the manufactory of Oberzell has now turned out no fewer than 3,000 printing machines.  The greater number have been supplied to Germany; but 660 were sent to Russia, 61 to Asia, 12 to England, and 11 to America.  The rest were despatched to Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Holland, and other countries.

    It remains to be said that Koenig and Bauer, united in life, were not divided by death.  Bauer died on February 27, 1860, and the remains of the partners now lie side by side in the little cemetery at Oberzell, close to the scene of their labours and the valuable establishment which they founded.





    "Intellect and industry are never incompatible.  There is more wisdom, and will be more benefit, in combining them than scholars like to believe, or than the common world imagine.  Life has time enough for both, and its happiness will be increased by the union."—SHARON TURNER.

"I have beheld with most respect the man
 Who knew himself, and knew the ways before him,
 And from among them chose considerately,
 With a clear foresight, not a blindfold courage;
 And, having chosen, with a steadfast mind
 Pursued his purpose."

HENRY TAYLORPhilip von Artevelde.


JOHN WALTER (1776-1847):
second Editor of The Times.
Picture: Wikipedia

THE late John Walter, who adopted Koenig's steam printing press in printing The Times, was virtually the inventor of the modern newspaper.  The first John Walter, his father, learnt the art of printing in the office of Dodsley, the proprietor of the 'Annual Register.'  He afterwards pursued the profession of an underwriter, but his fortunes were literally shipwrecked by the capture of a fleet of merchantmen by a French Squadron.  Compelled by this loss to return to his trade, he succeeded in obtaining the publication of 'Lloyd's List,' as well as the printing of the Board of Customs.  He also established himself as a publisher and bookseller at No. 8, Charing Cross.  But his principal achievement was in founding The Times newspaper.

    The Daily Universal Register was started on the 1st of January, 1785, and was described in the heading as "printed logographically."  The type had still to be composed, letter by letter, each placed alongside of its predecessor by human fingers.  Mr. Walter's invention consisted in using stereotyped words and parts of words instead of separate metal letters, by which a certain saving of time and labour was effected.  The name of the 'Register' did not suit, there being many other publications bearing a similar title.  Accordingly, it was re-named The Times, and the first number was issued from Printing House Square on the 1st of January, 1788.


"NUMB. 1." of the Universal Daily Register, January 1, 1785.

    The Times was at first a very meagre publication.  It was not much bigger than a number of the old 'Penny Magazine,' containing a single short leader on some current topic, without any pretensions to excellence; some driblets of news spread out in large type; half a column of foreign intelligence, with a column of facetious paragraphs under the heading of "The Cuckoo;" while the rest of each number consisted of advertisements.  Notwithstanding the comparative innocence of the contents of the early numbers of the paper, certain passages which appeared in it on two occasions subjected the publisher to imprisonment in Newgate.  The extent of the offence, on one occasion, consisted in the publication of a short paragraph intimating that their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York had "so demeaned themselves as to incur the just disapprobation of his Majesty!"  For such slight offences were printers sent to gaol in those days.

    Although the first Mr. Walter was a man of considerable business ability, his exertions were probably too much divided amongst a variety of pursuits to enable him to devote that exclusive attention to The Times which was necessary to ensure its success.  He possibly regarded it, as other publishers of newspapers then did, mainly as a means of obtaining a profitable business in job-printing.  Hence, in the elder Walter's hands, the paper was not only unprofitable in itself, but its maintenance became a source of gradually increasing expenditure; and the proprietor seriously contemplated its discontinuance.

    At this juncture, John Walter, junior, who had been taken into the business as a partner, entreated his father to entrust him with the sole conduct of the paper, and to give it "one more trial."  This was at the beginning of 1803.  The new editor and conductor was then only twenty-seven years of age.  He had been trained to the manual work of a printer "at case," and passed through nearly every department in the office, literary and mechanical.  But in the first place, he had received a very liberal education, first at Merchant Taylors' School, and afterwards at Trinity College, Oxford, where he pursued his classical studies with much success.  He was thus a man of well-cultured mind; he had been thoroughly disciplined to work; he was, moreover, a man of tact and energy, full of expedients, and possessed by a passion for business.  His father, urged by the young man's entreaties, at length consented, although not without misgivings, to resign into his hands the entire future control of The Times.

    Young Walter proceeded forthwith to remodel the establishment, and to introduce improvements into every department, as far as the scanty capital at his command would admit.  Before he assumed the direction, The Times did not seek to guide opinion or to exercise political influence.  It was a scanty newspaper—nothing more.  Any political matters referred to were usually introduced in "Letters to the Editor," in the form in which Junius's Letters first appeared in the Public Advertiser.  The comments on political affairs by the Editor were meagre and brief, and confined to a mere statement of supposed facts.

    Mr. Walter, very much to the dismay of his father, struck out an entirely new course.  He boldly stated his views on public affairs, bringing his strong and original judgment to bear upon the political and social topics of the day.  He carefully watched and closely studied public opinion, and discussed general questions in all their bearings.  He thus invented the modern Leading Article.  The adoption of an independent line of politics necessarily led him to canvass freely, and occasionally to condemn, the measures of the Government.  Thus, he had only been about a year in office as editor, when the Sidmouth Administration was succeeded by that of Mr. Pitt, under whom Lord Melville undertook the unfortunate Catamaran expedition.  His Lordship's malpractices in the Navy Department had also been brought to light by the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry.  On both these topics Mr. Walter spoke out freely in terms of reprobation; and the result was, that the printing for the Customs and the Government advertisements were at once removed from The Times office.

    Two years later Mr. Pitt died, and an Administration succeeded which contained a portion of the political chiefs whom the editor had formerly supported on his undertaking the management of the paper.  He was invited by one of them to state the injustice which had been done to him by the loss of the Customs printing, and a memorial to the Treasury was submitted for his signature, with a view to its recovery.  But believing that the reparation of the injury in this manner was likely to be considered as a favour, entitling those who granted it to a certain degree of influence over the politics of the journal, Walter refused to sign it, or to have any concern in presenting the memorial.  He did more; he wrote to those from whom the restoration of the employment was expected to come, disavowing all connection with the proceeding.  The matter then dropped, and the Customs printing was never restored to the office.

    This course was so unprecedented, and, as his father thought, was so very wrong-headed, that young Walter had for some time considerable difficulty in holding his ground and maintaining the independent position he had assumed.  But with great tenacity of purpose he held on his course undismayed.  He was a man who looked far ahead,—not so much taking into account the results at the end of each day or of each year, but how the plan he had laid down for conducting the paper would work out in the long run.  And events proved that the high-minded course he had pursued with so much firmness of purpose was the wisest course after all.

    Another feature in the management which showed clear-sightedness and business acuteness, was the pains which the Editor took to ensure greater celerity of information and dispatch in printing.  The expense which he incurred in carrying out these objects excited the serious displeasure of his father, who regarded them as acts of juvenile folly and extravagance.  Another circumstance strongly roused the old man's wrath.  It appears that in those days the insertion of theatrical puffs formed a considerable source of newspaper income; and yet young Walter determined at once to abolish them.  It is not a little remarkable that these earliest acts of Mr. Walter—which so clearly marked his enterprise and high-mindedness—should have been made the subject of painful comments in his father's will.

    Notwithstanding this serious opposition from within, the power and influence of the paper visibly and rapidly grew.  The new Editor concentrated in the columns of his paper a range of information such as had never before been attempted, or indeed thought possible.  His vigilant eye was directed to every detail of his business.  He greatly improved the reporting of public meetings, the money market, and other intelligence,—aiming at greater fulness and accuracy.  In the department of criticism his labours were unwearied.  He sought to elevate the character of the paper, and rendered it more dignified by insisting that it should be impartial.  He thus conferred the greatest public service upon literature, the drama, and the fine arts, by protecting them against the evil influences of venal panegyric on the one hand, and of prejudiced hostility on the other.

    But the most remarkable feature of The Times—that which emphatically commended it to public support and ensured its commercial success—was its department of foreign intelligence.  At the time that Walter undertook the management of the journal, Europe was a vast theatre of war; and in the conduct of commercial affairs—not to speak of political movements—it was of the most vital importance that early information should be obtained of affairs on the Continent.  The Editor resolved to become himself the purveyor of foreign intelligence, and at great expense he despatched his agents in all directions, even in the track of armies; while others were employed, under various disguises and by means of sundry pretexts, in many parts of the Continent.  These agents collected information, and despatched it to London, often at considerable risks, for publication in The Times, where it usually appeared long in advance of the government despatches.

    The late Mr. Pryme, in his 'Autobiographic Recollections,' mentions a visit which he paid to Mr. Walter at his seat at Bearwood.  "He described to me," says Mr. Pryme, "the cause of the large extension in the circulation of The Times.  He was the first to establish a foreign correspondent.  This was Henry Crabb Robinson, at a salary of £300 a year. . . . Mr. Walter also established local reporters, instead of copying from the country papers.  His father doubted the wisdom of such a large expenditure, but the son prophesied a gradual and certain success, which has actually been realised."

    Mr. Robinson has described in his Diary the manner in which he became connected with the foreign correspondence.  "In January, 1807," he says, "I received, through my friend J. D. Collier, a proposal from Mr. Walter that I should take up my residence at Altona, and become The Times correspondent.  I was to receive from the editor of the 'Hamburger Correspondenten' all the public documents at his disposal, and was to have the benefit also of a mass of information, of which the restraints of the German Press did not permit him to avail himself.  The honorarium I was to receive was ample with my habits of life.  I gladly accepted the offer, and never repented having done so.  My acquaintance with Mr. Walter ripened into friendship, and lasted as long as he lived." [p.189]

    Mr. Robinson was forced to leave Germany by the Battle of Friedland and the Treaty of Tilsit, which resulted in the naval coalition against England.  Returning to London, he became foreign editor of The Times until the following year, when he proceeded to Spain as foreign correspondent.  Mr. Walter had also an agent in the track of the army in the unfortunate Walcheren expedition; and The Times announced the capitulation of Flushing forty-eight hours before the news had arrived by any other channel.  By this prompt method of communicating public intelligence, the practice, which had previously existed, of systematically retarding the publication of foreign news by officials at the General Post-office, who made gain by selling them to the Lombard Street brokers, was effectually extinguished.

    This circumstance, as well as the independent course which Mr. Walter adopted in the discussion of foreign politics, explains in some measure the opposition which he had to encounter in the transmission of his despatches.  As early as the year 1805, when he had come into collision with the Government and lost the Customs printing, The Times despatches were regularly stopped at the outports, whilst those for the Ministerial journals were allowed to proceed.  This might have crushed a weaker man, but it did not crush Walter.  Of course he expostulated.  He was informed at the Home Secretary's office that he might be permitted to receive his foreign papers as a favour.  But as this implied the expectation of a favour from him in return, the proposal was rejected; and, determined not to be baffled, he employed special couriers, at great cost, for the purpose of obtaining the earliest transmission of foreign intelligence.

    These important qualities—enterprise, energy, business tact, and public spirit—sufficiently account for his remarkable success.  To these, however, must be added another of no small importance—discernment and knowledge of character.  Though himself the head and front of his enterprise, it was necessary that he should secure the services and co-operation of men of first-rate ability; and in the selection of such men his judgment was almost unerring.  By his discernment and munificence, he collected round him some of the ablest writers of the age.  These were frequently revealed to him in the communications of correspondents—the author of the letters signed "Vetus" being thus selected to write in the leading columns of the paper.  But Walter himself was the soul of The Times.  It was he who gave the tone to its articles, directed its influence, and superintended its entire conduct with unremitting vigilance.

    Even in conducting the mechanical arrangements of the paper—a business of no small difficulty—he had often occasion to exercise promptness and boldness of decision in cases of emergency.  Printers in those days were a rather refractory class of workmen, and not unfrequently took advantage of their position to impose hard terms on their employers, especially in the daily press, where everything must be promptly done within a very limited time.  Thus on one occasion, in 1810, the pressmen made a sudden demand upon the proprietor for an increase of wages, and insisted upon a uniform rate being paid to all hands, whether good or bad.  Walter was at first disposed to make concessions to the men; but having been privately informed that a combination was already entered into by the compositors, as well as by the pressmen, to leave his employment suddenly, under circumstances that would have stopped the publication of the paper, and inflicted on him the most serious injury, he determined to run all risks, rather than submit to what now appeared to him in the light of an extortion.

    The strike took place on a Saturday morning, when suddenly, and without notice, all the hands turned out.  Mr. Walter had only a few hours' notice of it, but he had already resolved upon his course.  He collected apprentices from half a dozen different quarters, and a few inferior workmen, who were glad to obtain employment on any terms.  He himself stript to his shirt-sleeves, and went to work with the rest; and for the next six-and-thirty hours he was incessantly employed at case and at press.  On the Monday morning, the conspirators, who had assembled to triumph over his ruin, to their inexpressible amazement saw The Times issue from the publishing office at the usual hour, affording a memorable example of what one man's resolute energy may accomplish in a moment of difficulty.

    The journal continued to appear with regularity, though the printers employed at the office lived in a state of daily peril.  The conspirators, finding themselves baffled, resolved upon trying another game.  They contrived to have two of the men employed by Walter as compositors apprehended as deserters from the Royal Navy.  The men were taken before the magistrate; but the charge was only sustained by the testimony of clumsy, perjured witnesses, and fell to the ground.  The turn-outs next proceeded to assault the new hands, when Mr. Walter resolved to throw around them the protection of the law.  By the advice of counsel, he had twenty-one of the conspirators apprehended and tried, and nineteen of them were found guilty and condemned to various periods of imprisonment.  From that moment combination was at an end in Printing House Square.

    Mr. Walter's greatest achievement was his successful application of steam power to newspaper printing.  Although he had greatly improved the mechanical arrangements after he took command of the paper, the rate at which the copies could be printed off remained almost stationary.  It took a very long time indeed to throw off, by the hand-labour of pressmen, the three or four thousand copies which then constituted the ordinary circulation of The Times.  On the occasion of any event of great public interest being reported in the paper, it was found almost impossible to meet the demand for copies.  Only about 300 copies could be printed in the hour, with one man to ink the types and another to work the press, while the labour was very severe.  Thus it took a long time to get out the daily impression, and very often the evening papers were out before The Times had half supplied the demand.

    Mr. Walter could not brook the tedium of this irksome and laborious process.  To increase the number of impressions, he resorted to various expedients.  The type was set up in duplicate, and even in triplicate; several Stanhope presses were kept constantly at work; and still the insatiable demands of the newsmen on certain occasions could not be met.  Thus the question was early forced upon his consideration, whether he could not devise machinery for the purpose of expediting the production of newspapers.  Instead of 300 impressions an hour, he wanted from 1,500 to 2,000.  Although such a speed as this seemed quite as chimerical as propelling a ship through the water against wind and tide at fifteen miles an hour, or running a locomotive on a railway at fifty, yet Mr. Walter was impressed with the conviction that a much more rapid printing of newspapers was feasible than by the slow hand-labour process; and he endeavoured to induce several ingenious mechanical contrivers to take up and work out his idea.

    The principle of producing impressions by means of a cylinder, and of inking the types by means of a roller, was not new.  We have seen, in the preceding memoir, that as early as 1790 William Nicholson had patented such a method, but his scheme had never been brought into practical operation.  Mr. Walter endeavoured to enlist Marc Isambard Brunel—one of the cleverest inventors of the day—in his proposed method of rapid printing by machinery; but after labouring over a variety of plans for a considerable time, Brunel finally gave up the printing machine, unable to make anything of it.  Mr. Walter next tried Thomas Martyr, an ingenious young compositor, who had a scheme for a self-acting machinery for working the printing press.  He was supplied with the necessary funds to enable him to prosecute his idea; but Mr. Walter's father was opposed to the scheme, and when the funds became exhausted, this scheme also fell to the ground.

The Times, 29 November, 1814

    As years passed on, and the circulation of the paper increased, the necessity for some more expeditious method of printing became still more urgent.  Although Mr. Walter had declined to enter into an arrangement with Bensley in 1809, before Koenig had completed his invention of printing by cylinders, it was different five years later, when Koenig's printing machine was actually at work.  In the preceding memoir, the circumstances connected with the adoption of the invention by Mr. Walter are fully related; as well as the announcement made in The Times on the 29th of November, 1814—the day on which the first newspaper printed by steam was given to the world.

    But Koenig's printing machine was but the beginning of a great new branch of industry.  After he had left this country in disgust, it remained for others to perfect the invention; although the ingenious German was entitled to the greatest credit for having made the first satisfactory beginning.  Great inventions are not brought forth at a heat.  They are begun by one man, improved by another, and perfected by a whole host of mechanical inventors.  Numerous patents were taken out for the mechanical improvement of printing.  Donkin and Bacon contrived a machine in 1813, in which the types were placed on a revolving prism.  One of them was made for the University of Cambridge, but it was found too complicated; the inking was defective; and the project was abandoned.

    In 1816, Mr. Cowper obtained a patent (No. 3974) entitled, "A Method of Printing Paper for Paper Hangings, and Other Purposes."  The principal feature of this invention consisted in the curving or bending of stereotype plates for the purpose of being printed in that form.  A number of machines for printing in two colours, in exact register, was made for the Bank of England, and four millions of One Pound notes were printed before the Bank Directors determined to abolish their further issue.  The regular mode of producing stereotype plates, from plaster of Paris moulds, took so much time, that they could not then be used for newspaper printing.

    Two years later, in 1818, Mr. Cowper invented and patented (No. 4194) his great improvements in printing.  It may be mentioned that he was then himself a printer, in partnership with Mr. Applegath, his brother-in-law.  His invention consisted in the perfect distribution of the ink, by giving end motion to the rollers, so as to get a distribution cross ways, as well as lengthways.  This principle is at the very foundation of good printing, and has been adopted in every machine since made.  The very first experiment proved that the principle was right.  Mr. Cowper was asked by Mr. Walter to alter Koenig's machine at The Times office, so as to obtain good distribution.  He adopted two of Nicholson's single cylinders and flat formes of type.  Two "drums" were placed betwixt the cylinders to ensure accuracy in the register,—over and under which the sheet was conveyed in its progress from one cylinder to the other,—the sheet being at all times firmly held between two tapes, which bound it to the cylinders and drums.  This is commonly called, in the trade, a "perfecting machine;" that is, it printed the paper on both sides simultaneously, and is still much used for "book-work," whilst single cylinder machines are often used for provincial newspapers.

    After this, Mr. Cowper designed the four cylinder machine for The Times,—by means of which from 4,000 to 5,000 sheets could be printed from one forme in the hour.  In 1823, Mr. Applegath invented an improvement in the inking apparatus, by placing the distributing rollers at an angle across the distributing table, instead of forcing them endways by other means.

    Mr. Walter continued to devote the same unremitting attention to his business as before.  He looked into all the details, was familiar with every department, and, on an emergency, was willing to lend a hand in any work requiring more than ordinary despatch.  Thus, it is related of him that, in the spring of 1833, shortly after his return to Parliament as Member for Berkshire, he was at The Times office one day, when an express arrived from Paris, bringing the speech of the King of the French on the opening of the Chambers.  The express arrived at 10 A.M., after the day's impression of the paper had been published, and the editors and compositors had left the office.  It was important that the speech should be published at once; and Mr. Walter immediately set to work upon it.  He first translated the document; then, assisted by one compositor, he took his place at the type-case, and set it up.  To the amazement of one of the staff, who dropped in about noon, he "found Mr. Walter, M.P. for Berks, working in his shirt-sleeves!"  The speech was set and printed, and the second edition was in the City by one o'clock.  Had he not "turned to" as he did, the whole expense of the express service would have been lost.  And it is probable that there was not another man in the whole establishment who could have performed the double work—intellectual and physical—which he that day executed with his own bead and bands.

    Such an incident curiously illustrates his eminent success in life.  It was simply the result of persevering diligence, which shrank from no effort and neglected no detail; as well as of prudence allied to boldness, but certainly not "of chance; " and, above all, of high-minded integrity and unimpeachable honesty.  It is perhaps unnecessary to add more as to the merits of Mr. Walter as a man of enterprise in business, or as a public man and a Member of Parliament.  The great work of his life was the development of his journal, the history of which forms the best monument to his merits and his powers.

    The progressive improvement of steam printing machinery was not affected by Mr. Walter's death, which occurred in 1847.  He had given it an impulse which it never lost.  In 1846 Mr. Applegath patented certain important improvements in the steam press.  The general disposition of his new machine was that of a vertical cylinder 200 inches in circumference, holding on it the type and distributing surfaces, and surrounded alternately by inking rollers and pressing cylinders.  Mr. Applegath estimated in his specification that in his new vertical system the machine, with eight cylinders, would print about 10,000 sheets per hour.  The new printing press came into use in 1848, and completely justified the anticipations of its projector.

    Applegath's machine, though successfully employed at The Times office, did not come into general use.  It was, to a large extent, superseded by the invention of Richard M. Hoe, of New York.  Hoe's process consisted in placing the types upon a horizontal cylinder, against which the sheets were pressed by exterior and smaller cylinders.  The types were arranged in segments of a circle, each segment forming a frame that could be fixed on the cylinder.  These printing machines were made with from two to ten subsidiary cylinders.  The first presses sent by Messrs. Hoe & Co. to this country were for Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, and were of the six-cylinder size.  These were followed by two ten-cylinder machines, ordered by the present Mr. Walter, for The Times.  Other English newspaper proprietors—both in London and the provinces—were supplied with the machines, as many as thirty-five having been imported from America between 1856 and 1862.  It may be mentioned that the two ten-cylinder Hoes made for The Times were driven at the rate of thirty-two revolutions per minute, which gives a printing rate of 19,200 per hour, or about 10,000 including stoppages.


John Walter (1818-94), third Editor of The Times.
Picture, Wikipedia

    Much of the ingenuity exercised both in the Applegath and Hoe Machines was directed to the "chase," which had to hold securely upon its curved face the mass of movable type required to form a page.  And now the enterprise of the proprietor of The Times again came to the front.  The change effected in the art of newspaper-printing, by the process of stereo-types, is scarcely inferior to that by which the late Mr. Walter applied steam-power to the printing press, and certainly equal to that by which the rotary press superseded the reciprocatory action of the flat machine.

    Stereotyping has a curious history.  Many attempts were made to obtain solid printing-surfaces by transfer from similar surfaces, composed, in the first place, of movable types.  The first who really succeeded was one Ged, an Edinburgh goldsmith, who, after a series of difficult experiments, arrived at a knowledge of the art of stereotyping.  The first method employed was to pour liquid stucco, of the consistency of cream, over the types; and this, when solid, gave a perfect mould.  Into this the molten metal was poured, and a plate was produced, accurately resembling the page of type.  As long ago as 1730, Ged obtained a privilege from the University of Cambridge for printing Bibles and Prayer-books after this method.  But the workmen were dead against it, as they thought it would destroy their trade.  The compositors and the pressmen purposely battered the letters in the absence of their employers.  In consequence of this interference Ged was ruined, and died in poverty.

    The art had, however, been born, and could not be kept down.  It was revived in France, in Germany, and in America.  Fifty years after the discovery of Ged, Tilloch and Foulis, of Glasgow, patented a similar invention, without knowing anything of what Ged had done; and after great labour and many experiments, they produced plates, the impressions from which could not be distinguished from those taken from the types from which they were cast.  Some years afterwards, Lord Stanhope, to whom the art of printing is much indebted, greatly improved the art of stereotyping, though it was still quite inapplicable to newspaper printing.  The merit of this latter invention is due to the enterprise of the present proprietor of The Times.

    Mr. Walter began his experiments, aided by an ingenious Italian founder named Dellagana, early in 1856.  It was ascertained that when papier-mâché matrices were rapidly dried and placed in a mould, separate columns might be cast in them with stereotype metal, type high, planed flat, and finished with sufficient speed to get up the duplicate of a forme of four pages fitted for printing.  Steps were taken to adapt these type-high columns to the Applegath Presses, then worked with polygonal chases.  When the Hoe machines were introduced, instead of dealing with the separate columns, the papier-mâché matrix was taken from the whole page at one operation, by roller-presses constructed for the purpose.  The impression taken off in this manner is as perfect as if it had been made in the finest wax.  The matrix is rapidly dried on heating surfaces, and then accurately adjusted in a casting machine curved to the exact circumference of the main drum of the printing press, and fitted with a terra-cotta top to secure a casting of uniform thickness.  On pouring stereotype metal into this mould, a curved plate was obtained, which, after undergoing a certain amount of trimming at two machines, could be taken to press and set to work within twenty-five minutes from the time at which the process began.

    Besides the great advantages obtained from uniform sets of the plates, which might be printed on different machines at the rate of 50,000 impressions an hour, or such additional number as might be required, there is this other great advantage, that there is no wear and tear of type in the curved chases by obstructive friction; and that the fount, instead of wearing out in two years, might last for twenty; for the plates, after doing their work for one day, are melted down into a new impression for the next day's printing.  At the same time, the original type-page, safe from injury, can be made to yield any number of copies that may be required by the exigencies of the circulation.  It will be sufficiently obvious that by the multiplication of stereotype plates and printing machines, there is practically no limit to the number of copies of a newspaper that may be printed within the time which the process now usually occupies.

    This new method of newspaper stereotyping was originally employed on the cylinders of the Applegath and Hoe Presses.  But it is equally applicable to those of the Walter Press, a brief description of which we now subjoin.  As the construction of the first steam newspaper machine was due to the enterprise of the late Mr. Walter, so the construction of this last and most improved machine is due in like manner to the enterprise of his son.  The new Walter Press is not, like Applegath and Cowper's, and Hoe's, the improvement of an existing arrangement, but an almost entirely original invention.

    In the Reports of the Jurors on the "Plate, Letterpress, and other modes of Printing," at the International Exhibition of 1862, the following passage occurs:—

    "It is incumbent on the reporters to point out that, excellent and surprising as are the results achieved by the Hoe and Applegath Machines, they cannot be considered satisfactory while those machines themselves are so liable to stoppages in working.  No true mechanic can contrast the immense American ten-cylinder presses of The Times with the simple calico-printing machine, without feeling that the latter furnishes the true type to which the mechanism for newspaper printing should as much as possible approximate."

    On this principle, so clearly put forward, the inventors of the Walter Press proceeded in the contrivance of the new machine.  It is true that William Nicholson, in his patent of 1790, prefigured the possibility of printing on "paper, linen, cotton, woollen, and other articles," by means of type fixed on the outer surface of a revolving cylinder; but no steps were taken to carry his views into effect.  Sir Rowland Hill also, before he became connected with Post Office reform, revived the contrivance of Nicholson, and referred to it in his patent of 1835 (No. 6762); and he also proposed to use continuous rolls of paper, which Fourdrinier and Donkin had made practicable by their invention of the paper-making machine about the year 1804; but both Nicholson's and Hill's patents remained a dead letter. [p.202]

    It may be easy to conceive a printing machine, or even to make a model of one; but to construct an actual working printing press, that must be sure and unfailing in its operations, is a matter surrounded with difficulties.  At every step fresh contrivances have to be introduced; they have to be tried again and again; perhaps they are eventually thrown aside to give place to new arrangements.  Thus the head of the inventor is kept in a state of constant turmoil.  Sometimes the whole machine has to be remodelled from beginning to end.  One step is gained by degrees, then another; and at last, after years of labour, the new invention comes before the world in the form of a practical working machine.

    In 1862 Mr. Walter began in The Times office, with tools and machinery of his own, experiments for constructing a perfecting press which should print the paper from rolls of paper instead of from sheets.  Like his father, Mr. Walter possessed an excellent discrimination of character, and selected the best men to aid him in his important undertaking.  Numerous difficulties had, of course, to be surmounted.  Plans were varied from time to time; new methods were tried, altered, and improved, simplification being aimed at throughout, six long years passed in this pursuit of the possible.  At length the clear light dawned.  In 1868 Mr. Walter ventured to order the construction of three machines on the pattern of the first complete one which had been made.  By the end of 1869 these were finished and placed in a room by themselves; and a fourth was afterwards added.  There the printing of The Times is now done, in less than half the time it previously occupied, and with one-fifth the number of hands.

    The most remarkable feature in the Walter Press is its wonderful simplicity of construction.  Simplicity of arrangement is always the beau idéal of the mechanical engineer.  This printing press is not only simple, but accurate, compact, rapid, and economical.  While each of the ten-feeder Hoe Machines occupies a large and lofty room, and requires eighteen men to feed and work it, the new Walter Machine occupies a space of only about 14 feet by 5, or less than any newspaper machine yet introduced; and it requires only three lads to take away, with half the attention of an overseer, who easily superintends two of the machines while at work.  The Hoe Machine turns out 7,000 impressions printed on both sides in the hour, whereas the Walter Machine turns out 12,000 impressions completed in the same time.

    The new Walter Press does not in the least resemble any existing printing machine, unless it be the calendering machine which furnished its type.  At the printing end it looks like a collection of small cylinders or rollers.  The first thing to be observed is the continuous roll of paper four miles long, tightly mounted on a reel, which, when the machine is going, flies round with immense rapidity.  The web of paper taken up by the first roller is led into a series of small hollow cylinders filled with water and steam, perforated with thousands of minute holes.  By this means the paper is properly damped before the process of printing is begun.  The roll of paper, drawn by nipping rollers, next flies through to the cylinder on which the stereotype plates are fixed, so as to form the four pages of the ordinary sheet of The Times; there it is lightly pressed against the type and printed; then it passes downwards round another cylinder covered with cloth, and reversed; next to the second type-covered roller, where it takes the impression exactly on the other side of the remaining four pages.  It next reaches one of the most ingenious contrivances of the invention—the cutting machinery, by means of which the paper is divided by a quick knife into the 5,500 sheets of which the entire web consists.  The tapes hurry the now completely printed newspaper up an inclined plane, from which the divided sheets are showered down in a continuous stream by an oscillating frame, where they are met by two boys, who adjust the sheets as they fall.  The reel of four miles long is printed and divided into newspapers complete in about twenty-five minutes.

    The machine is almost entirely self-acting, from the pumping-up of the ink into the ink-box out of the cistern below stairs, to the registering of the numbers as they are printed in the manager's room above.  It is always difficult to describe a machine in words.  Nothing but a series of sections and diagrams could give the reader an idea of the construction of this unrivalled instrument.  The time to see it and wonder at it is when the press is in full work.  And even then you can see but little of its construction, for the cylinders are wheeling round with immense velocity.  The rapidity with which the machine works may be inferred from the fact that the printing cylinders (round which the stereotyped plates are fixed), while making their impressions on the paper, travel at the surprising speed of 200 revolutions a minute, or at the rate of about nine miles an hour!

    Contrast this speed with the former slowness.  Go back to the beginning of the century.  Before the year 1814 the turn-out of newspapers was only about 800 single impressions in an hour—that is, impressions printed on only one side of the paper.  Koenig by his invention increased the issue to 1,100 impressions.  Applegath and Cowper by their four-cylinder machine increased the issue to 4,000, and by the eight-cylinder machine to 10,000 an hour.  But these were only impressions printed on one side of the paper.  The first perfecting press—that is, printing simultaneously the paper on both sides—was the Walter, the speed of which has been raised to 12,000, though, if necessary, it can produce excellent work at the rate of 17,000 complete copies of an eight-page paper per hour.  Then, with the new method of stereotyping—by means of which the plates can be infinitely multiplied—and by the aid of additional machines, the supply of additional impressions is absolutely unlimited.

    The Walter Press is not a monopoly.  It is manufactured at The Times office, and is supplied to all comers.  Among the other daily papers printed by its means in this country are the Daily News, the Scotsman, and the Birmingham Daily Post.  The first Walter Press was sent to America in 1872, where it was employed to print the Missouri Republican at St. Louis, the leading newspaper of the Mississippi Valley.  An engineer and a skilled workman from The Times office accompanied the machinery.  On arriving at St. Louis—the materials were unpacked, lowered into the machine-room, where they were erected and ready for work in the short space of five days.

    The Walter Press was an object of great interest at the Centennial Exhibition held at Philadelphia in 1876, where it was shown printing the New York Times—one of the most influential journals in America.  The press was surrounded with crowds of visitors intently watching its perfect and regular action, "like a thing of life."  The New York Times said of it: "The Walter Press is the most perfect printing press yet known to man; invented by the most powerful journal of the Old World, and adopted as the very best press to be had for its purposes by the most influential journal of the New World. . . . It is an honour to Great Britain to have such an exhibit in her display, and a lasting benefit to the printing business, especially to newspapers. . . The first printing press run by steam was erected in the year 1814 in the office of The Times by the father of him who is the present proprietor of that world-famous journal.  The machine of 1814 was described in The Times of the 29th November in that year, and the account given of it closed in these words: 'The whole of these complicated acts is performed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement that no less than 1,100 sheets are impressed in one hour.'  Mirabile dicta!  And the Walter Press of to-day can run off 17,000 copies an hour printed on both sides.  This is not bad work for one man's lifetime."

    It is unnecessary to say more about this marvellous machine.  Its completion forms the crown of the industry which it represents, and of the enterprise of the journal which it prints.


[Next Page]


[Home] [Up] [James Brindley] [The Stephensons] [Boulton and Watt] [Smeaton and Rennie] [Metcalfe & Telford] [Brief Biographies] [Self Help] [Miscellanea] [Site Search] [Main Index]