Inventor of the Steam-Powered Press Friedrich Koenig Recounts the Early History of its Development

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On December 9, 1814, the inventor of the steam-powered press, Friedrich Koenig, recounted the early history of its development eleven days after it was first used to print an issue of The Times newspaper. In The Times issue for December 9, Koenig published the following:


I have been called upon by my friends to give some account of the origin and progress of he invention which has been made use of during the last week for printing The Times and Evening Mail newspapers. I should not have presumed to relate the details of an enterprise which has in it nothing so extraordinary as to excite public attention, and which would scarcely have been noticed, had it not been connected with the art of Printing, but a confused statement having appeared in several newspapers, and insinuations thrown out that the Editor of The Times had not bestowed the merit of the invention on the rightful owner, it will perhaps not be thought assuming to publish the following facts:-

"The first idea relating to this invention occurred to me 11 years ago, and the first experiments were made soon after in Saxony. My 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 motion of the coffin, in such a manner that one hand could be saved. As nothing could be gained in expedition by this plan, the idea soon suggested itself to move this press by machinery, or to reduce the several operations to one rotatory motion, to which any first mover might be applied. Its execution was not quite completed when I found myself under the necessity of seeking assistance for the further prosecution of it.

"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 individual enterprise, and projectors are commonly obliged to offer their discoveries to some government, and to solicit 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, where the Government does not afford any other protection to inventors than 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 disappointmens of continental projectors; and, after having lost in Germany and Russia upwards of two years in fruitless applications, I arrived about eight years ago in England, where I was introduced to and soon joined by Mr. THOMAS BENSLEY, a printer so well known to the literary world, that the mention of his name is sufficient.

"In this country of spirited enterprise and speculation, it is difficult to have a plan entirely new. Soon after my arrival, I learnt that many attempts of a similar description had been made before mine, and that they had all failed. Patents had been taken and thousands of pounds sunk without obtaining the desired result. I and Mr. Bensley, however, were not discouraged by the failure of our predescessors; the execution of the plan was begun, and as the experiments became very expensive, two other Gentlemen, Mr. GEORGE WOODFALL, and Mr. RICHARD TAYLOR, eminent printers in London, joined us.

"After many obstructions and delays, the first printing machine was completed exactly upon the plan which I have described in the specification of my first patent, which is dated March 29,1810. It was set to work in April, 1811. The sheet (H) of the new Annual Register for 1810, "Principal Occurrences", 3000 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. Impressions produced by means of cylinders, which had likewise been already attempted by others without the desired effect, were again tried by me upon a new plan, namely, to place the sheet round the cylinder, thereby making it, as it were, part of its periphery. After some promising experiments, the plan for a new machine on this principle was made, and a manufactory, established for the purpose. Since this time I have had the benefit of my friend Mr. BAUER's assistance, who, by the judgment and precision with which he executed my plans, has greatly contributed to their success. The new machine was completed in December, 1812, after great difficulties attending the cylindrical impression. Sheets G and X of Clarkson's Life of Penn, Vol. 1, are the first printed with an entirely cylindrical press. The papers of the Protestant Union were also printed with in February and March, 1813. Sheet M of Aiton's Hortus Kewensis vol. V will shew the progress of improvement in the use of this machine. All together 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 to the hour. It is accurately described in the specifications of my two patents, dated October. 30, 1812 and July 23, 1813.

"The machines now printing The Times and Mail are upon the same principle as that just mentioned; 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 printing of newspapers, and will, I trust, be indulgent with respect to many defects in the performance, none of them being 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 foreoing 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 gentlement 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.


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