F&M College Library

History of the Book - Machine Press Period, 1800-1950

This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of printing technologies during the machine press period.

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The Iron Hand Press and Mechanization of Printing

At the beginning of the 19th century, the iron hand press emerged as the first major improvement to the wooden hand press in almost 350 years.  The all metal Stanhope press was introduced in 1803 and utilized a series of compound levers to produce greater downward pressure.  With its full-sized platen, printers could now produce a complete folio in a single pull, increasing efficiency and daily output.  In 1811, German inventor Friedrich Koenig revolutionized printing when he introduced a steam driven, flat-bed cylinder press that could print at ten times the speed of the Stanhope.  With Koenig's invention, printers could now produce over 1,000 sheets per hour.  By 1830, mechanical presses began to proliferate around the world, with the first steam driven rotary press appearing in Scotland in 1851.  The rotary press improved printing efficiency still further, allowing for outputs at the rate of 10,000 sheets per hour, or 100 times faster than the beginning of the century.