Advances in Printing in the 19th Century

Printing Technology Made Great Leaps Forward in the 1800s

At the beginning of the 19th century the printing press had been unchanged for nearly a century. Newspapers reporting on the War of 1812 were produced on the same type of press that Benjamin Franklin would have used as a printer’s apprentice 100 years earlier.

Rapid changes in printing technology then began to emerge. By the end of the 1800s the technology of printing had advanced to the point where many thousands of copies of a big city newspaper flew off enormous automated presses.

Here are some of the major steps printing took during the 1800s:

1813: George Clymer and the Columbian Press

A Philadelphia mechanic, George Clymer, began tinkering with printing presses around 1800s and by 1813 had devised an improved press. He had problems finding an American market, however, and following the War of 1812 he moved to England and began producing advanced presses made of iron. They became popular in Europe.

Clymer used the name “Columbian” to distinguish them as American. He also decorated the presses with American eagles.

1814: The Rotary Press

The Times of London newspaper began using an innovative steam-powered rotary press in 1814. It had been devised by a German, Friedrich Koenig. It would print pages much faster than the traditional flat plate presses in use previously, and would greatly influence later presses.

Steam-powered rotary presses began to be used by newspapers in New York City in the mid-1830s.

The speed of the presses made innovations in journalism, such as the penny press, possible.

1840s: The Hoe Press

American inventor Richard Hoe devised an improved press in the mid-1840s. His press was fast and became standard in the newspaper industry. He kept improving it over the years, and eventually the presses evolved into machines that could print on both sides, cut the pages, and essentially assemble the newspaper.

1884: The Linotype Machine

The German inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler devised the Linotype machine, a complicated mechanism that eliminated the need to set each letter by hand. The name Linotype was a pun, as the machine created a "line of type" as an operator typed at a keyboard. With the Linotype machine type could be set much faster than ever before, and daily newspapers could be much larger.

Linotype machines were used by newspapers well into the 20th century.