Saturday, 29 November 2014

29th November 1814: The Times newspaper automates their printing operation

The Tuesday morning 29th November 1814 edition of The Times was the first one printed using the new automated steam-powered printing press designed & built by Friedrich König & Andreas Bauer of Würzburg, Germany. The editorial waxed lyrical about the new machine:


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 form, little more remains for man to do, than to attend upon, and watched this unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper: itself places the form, inks it, adjusts the paper to the form newly inked, stamps the sheet, and gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time withdrawing the form 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 eleven hundred 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 admitted. 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, comprising in the preceding description, which we have feebly sketched, of the powers and utility of his invention. It must suffice to say father, that he is a Saxon by birth; that his name is KŒNIG; and that the invention has been executed under the direction of his friend and countryman BAUER

Four days later, another editorial seemed rather more defensive and made it clear that the print workers were less than happy about some of their number losing their jobs to the new machine:

We are at length able to meet the complaints of our customers with a confidence in our capacity to remove the cause of them,—to meet their increasing demands with an assurance that we shall be able to fulfil them. 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. Till Parliament, therefore, shall be again assembled, there will exist no reason why the public in any part of the metropolis should wait for the The Times Journal longer than eight o'clock.

We should 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. KŒNIG and his Friend, and all future promulgators of beneficial inventions, to warn them that they will have to contend with every thing 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, or 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 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 shew them, that it is neither in their power nor in our’s 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 may 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: 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 hands discharged. We, in fact, employ only eight fewer workmen than formerly; whereas more than three times that number have been engaged for a year and an half in building the machine.

The Leeds Intelligencer of 12th December 1814 quoted a recent edition the Stamford Mercury which revealed that the machine had cost The Times "upwards of £8,000", but that the newspaper had saved £25 per week for each 'pressman' it had replaced.

The König & Bauer company that the two inventors formed 3 years later still exists, & today their machines print most of the world's banknotes.

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