New York American full page with article about their new printing machine
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The "New-York American" Newspaper Installs a Napier Double Imperial Printing Machine, the First Printing Machine Used by a U.S. Newspaper

New-York American Newspaper article about their new printing machine
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In their issue of January 4, 1826 the New-York American Newspaper ran an article on their front page headlined "THE NAPIER PRINTING MACHINE." This Double Imperial, or double cylinder, machine was designed for newspaper production, and built in Scotland by David Napier. The first printing machine installed by a U.S. newspaper, it was operated by human power rather than a steam engine or a horse, and remarkably, the author of the article explained that having a man turn the flywheel to power the machine was cheaper than a horse, and more reliable! According to Moran, Printing Presses, p. 133, Napier had been building newspaper machines since 1822. As the writer of the article emphasized, the proprietors of the newspaper acquired the machine in order to speed up production, and the printers of the newspaper were having some difficulty getting used to it. The intricate detail of the description of the machine's operation presented on the front page indicates the appreciated novelty of the machine for the time, and the interest that the writer expected his readers to have in its operation. 

The records of the early introduction of printing machines in newspapers have proven to be very difficult to collect both because of the rarity of early newspapers and the difficulties of determining which specific issues are relevant

Here is the text:

"It has already been announced to our readers, that we had sent to Europe, in conjuction with the Editors of the American, to procure a Printing Press that would enable us to print our papers with great expedition than could be attained with the common Press- and they have also been informed of the arrival of the machine. There has been, however, a considerable delay in getting it into operation. In the first place, it was nearly a month after its arrival before could procure a place to set it up and accomodate two officies under the same roof, and almost another month passed before the building could be prepared. These causes, with some difficulties arising from the trifling imperfections which could not immediately be seen, together with regulating, and (to use a technical phrase) the working down of a new machine &c. we consider as furnishing an ample apology for such delay.

"The Machine has now been in operatiion nearly a month; and although many of the early impressions were imperfect they have improved daily, and will continue to improve as workmen become more familiar with the various movements of the machinery, and acquire that knowledge and skill which practical experience alone can give them.

"We have said that the object of procuring this Machine was to enable us to strike off our papers with great expedition. That the public may judge how far we have accomplished this point, it comes necessary to inform that that the most approved common presses which we could procure, would print but three hundred and sixty sheets on one side in an hour; and this number in a large publication was more than workmen could perform regularly for a length of time. The number of daily papers issued by the office of the Daily Advertiser exceeds two thousand seven hundred--consequently it occupied on the common press nearly eight hours per day to print one side of the publication; and as the second, or inside of a daily morning newspaper cannot be made ready for the press much before 12 o'clock at night, and is often detained until one our workmen had eight hours more to labour before the publication was completed, and this all night. That made it impossible for us to serve our subscribers in many parts of the city until so late an hour in the morning, that the paper became almost useless to them, and was the object of daily perplexities and complaints to us.

"We are now enabled to make, with our new machine (even on our cotton paper, which we find difficult to put in order for working,) fourteen hundred impressions in an hour; and could we procure paper of the quality used in England, this number could be increased several hundred more without difficulty. The writer of this article has seen 2400 sheets worked upon a similar machine within the hour in London; and the Editor of the London Courier, whose paper is worked upon the Napier Press, announced to his readers on the 14th of November 1823, that his press in one instance produced a the rate of 2880 sheets within the hour. But the better to enable to contrast the difference between the Napier machine and the common press, we will put down the number of impressions (each newspaper requiring two impressions) given in each week by the offices of the Daily Advertiser and American in their daily and country papers. They amount to sixty-four thousand four hundred and sixteen. To perform this work at the common press at 360 impressions per hour, would require within a few minutes of one hundred and seventy-nine hours, or seven days and nights and seven hours, without allowing a moment for rest. The same quantity of work is now performed by the two offices in forty-six hours; less than two days and nights, and this with one third of the labour formerly required. The fact is, the only real labour about the machine is that of turning the fly wheel, and even this bears no comparison with that of sawing wood, or many occupations in which thousands are daily employed. The machine, it is true, is expensive compared with other printing presses; but the early dissemination of intelligence in the country, and in the city, was of too much importance to the public and the proprietors, to let the price stand in the way of the great advantages which the machine promised, and which it performs to our entire satisfaction.

"Having said this much of the advantages of it, we will now endeavor to give the public a brief description of the machine itself. It is called THE DOUBLE IMPERIAL PRINTING MACHINE, and is the invention of D. Napier, Engineer, of London, a Scotchman, not less distinguished for his mechanical ingenuity than for his gentemanly and upright character.

"The machine weighs about two tons, and is composed of a great variety of parts, but so compact and beautiful in all its movements, that it occupies no greater space than the common press. It is ten feet in length, five in breadth, and five in height. The motion is given to a fly-wheel by manual labour, and a stout man will turn it with ease. This supercedes the necessity of steam, and is superior to horse power, because it is less expensive, less trouble, and more regular. The impression is given by two Cylinders. The bed, or carriage upon which the type or form is placed, runs upon friction rollers, which move from one end of the press to the other on ways or ribs which extend the full length of the machine. The carriage with the form of type passes under the Cylinders by the fly-wheel. At each of the press there is a supplying board upon which the paper is laid by tokens (ten quires at a time,) and at each board a man or boy is stationed merely to move down the blank sheets three or four inches, to a gauge; when by a beautiful movement of a part of the machine, called the feeding bar, which unlocks and falls at a given moment, the sheet is held to the cylinder until is taken by tapes and cords, running upon twenty-two brass reels (eleven to each cylinder,) and carried by them close round the cylinder to the form, over which the cylinder passes and gives the impression. Then the sheet is lifted by a cord in the centre, and one on each margin of the paper at the sides, clear of the type, and carried by another cord, called the delivering cord, alternately at each end of the machine, to two little boys, who are stationed underneath the supplying boards to receive the sheets and lay them even. These cords can be shifted at any moment so as to suite newspapers of any size. The cylinders at the bottom of each side, to ease the impression.- The moment the type are passing under the cylinder, it is brought down by means of levers, which are continually changing their position by the action of a unviersal joint, having a wheel on one end, and playing upon a rack under the form, to which the bed or carriage with the types is fastend; and this pinion wired, being alternately on the top and bottom of the rack, produces the change in the levers, and acts upon the slides, which causes the rising and falling of the cylinders. The moment a cylinder has printed a sheet, it raises and is held in its position sufficiently high let the type pass under it, to go to the other, which has got its sheet closely fastened in its surface by the tapes, and is waiting for the type to perform its operation; and the immediately rises, to let the bed return to the other end; and so, rising and falling alternately, throws out the sheets the moment they are printed, as fast as the paper can be supplied.

'The inking apparatus is placed in the centre of the machine, between the two cylinders. The ink is continued in a iron trough, against the bottom of which an iron roller is placed, turned by a rocket one eight of a revolution each time the former passes to and fro. This roller, called a receiver, is lifted up (as well as the roller) by levers acted upon by the movement of the carriage to the feeding roller, from which it takes a supply of ink, and is then immediately let down to the wooden or distributing roller, which as a laterial motion given to it by two small wheels playing upon a rack, enabling to distribute the ink upon the fourth. This is also an elastic composition, roller, which passes over the form, and inks the types at each revolution of the carriage; thus preparing the types for the sheets as fast as they can be brought under the cylinders.--The inking duct or trough is so constructed that, by means of a valve, the ink alowed to pass only from one side the iron roller, and by means of screws, as lesser or greater quantity of ink is given in a moment. The power of the cylinders is also easily adjusted, by means of four screws, to any degree of pressure, without even interrupting the progress of the machine when in full motion.

"There are a great variety of particulars respecting the movement of many parts of the machine, which could be added, but they would serve rather to perfplex than otherwise, and are therefore omitted.

"To conclude. By working the Daily Advertiser and the American on the Napier machine, the proprietors are enabled to serve their patrons in every part of the city at a very early hour, in the morning and evening, and to dispatch their respective papers by mail to many parts of the country earlier than could formerly be done."


Comparato, Chronicles of Genius and Folly (1979) pp. 37-38.



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