KOENIG: his first Powered Printing Machines 1803 - 1818

"The Times"
London, December 3rd, 1824
Invention of Printing by Steam

__Ten years elapsed on the 29th of last month, since this journal appeared for the first time printed by a mechanical apparatus; and it has continued to be printed by the same method to the present day.  It is unnecessary to dwell here on the advantages resulting from early publication, and the better press-work of the paper. These advantages are too obvious to the public, and too sensibly felt by ourselves.
__The invention excited much interest and curiosity at the time of its first introduction, and the originality of it was not disputed, as no proof of an earlier application of the same principles could be adduced. This Journal is undoubtedly the first work ever printed by a mechanical apparatus; we attempted, on its introduction, to do justice to the claims of the inventor, Mr. Koenig, who some years afterwards returned to his native country, Germany, not benefited, we fear, up to the full extent of his merits, by his wonderful invention and his exertions in England.
__We have perceived since, that several persons not only seized Mr. Koenigs invention, and profited by its adoption, but attempts have even been made to rob him of the reputation due to him as the inventor. Several patents have been taken out, claiming as new and original, what has been in daily use in our house for years. We have before us the London Literary Gazette of 29th October 1822, with a drawing of a printing machine, entitled "Bensley's Printing Machine". In an explanatory article in the same number of the Gazette, professing to give the history of this great improvement in the art of printing, the credit of the invention is given to the late Mr. Nicholson, a well-known author and unsuccessful projector, who, in 1790, took out a patent for some crude ideas relating to improvements in the art of printing; but it was not till many years afterwards, that the scheme was accomplished by Mr. Koenig. An insidious account is given in the said article of Mr. Koenig's share in the  invention;   he  is  represented  as  having only participated in the first attempts and unsuccessful trial -- as active only in the infancy of the invention.
__Some other names are introduced, but it is not said by whom the essential principles of the machine have been discovered and first used; it may be, however, inferred from the inscription of the plate - "Bensley's Machine" - that this gentleman wishes to be considered as the person who brought it to perfection. We have seen lately, also, in the British Encyclopaedia, under the article 'Printing', an account of the several printing machines lately brought out, with the names of their authors, describing even some attempts that are already forgotten, and never came into use. The list seems to be complete, only the name of the real inventor of the printing machine is omitted.
__Now it is a rare occurrence, that a foreigner brings an invention to bear in this country. There is here so much native talent in the mechanical arts - England stands so high in this particular, that she can afford to do justice to foreign merit, and as we happen to be acquainted with all the circumstances of the case in question, we shall take that office upon us.
__First as to our own machines, they were certainly executed from beginning to end according to the plans of Mr. Koenig, we were at the time in daily  intercourse  with  him,  we  saw  the  work   growing   under  our  eyes,  and  never

heard then of any claims of  Mr. Bensley, or of the inventive powers of that gentleman. On the contrary, when the negotiations between us and the patentees were going on, and the responsibility for the success was argued, Mr. Bensley declared, that he knew nothing at all about it, and that he relied entirely upon Mr. Koenig. Messrs Taylor and Woodfall, who were then partners in the enterprise, can attest the truth of our account.
__As to Mr. Nicholson's claims, we shall state only one circumstance. Mr. Nicholson was still alive, when this Journal was first printed by the machine; Mr. Koenig had already been publicly named as the inventor and Mr. Nicholson did not bring forward any claim. We happen to know, that Mr. Nicholson,  who gave professional advice to the patentee, offered his services to Mr. Koenig, who had just then a patent in progress. Those, who have wrongfully seized what was not their own, want to shelter themselves under an old and long forgotten patent.
__Before Mr. Koenig left this country, he accomplished the last great improvement namely the printing of the sheet on both sides; and the drawing in the Literary Gazette is a representation of what is substantially his invention. The removing of some wheels, or the different arrangement of same parts of the apparatus, cannot entitle others to appropriate to themselves the whole work; and there is in that account the same bad faith as to their simplifications; they pretend to have removed many more wheels than were originally in it.
__Simplicity is the last stage of an invention; it results from long observation of a work in actual use, and is hardly ever attainable in the first of the kind. The inferior merit of those, who have added something to an existing invention in such a way, is proverbially facile est inventis reddere. In this case, it still remains to be ascertained, whether the alleged improvements have advanced the invention, and whether the inventor has not himself simplified and improved his work since that time to a higher degree of perfection than the piratical improvers. We are informed that he has lately constructed machines abroad, printing 1200 on both sides, and 2400 on one side, within the hour. The article in the Literary Gazette states that Messrs. Bensley's improved machines throw off only from 800 to 1000 sheets per hour on both sides and from 1500 to 1600 on one side. Our own machines at first did not print above 1100 in the hour. In consequence of successive improvements suggested and planned by Mr. Koenig, the inventor, they now print 2000 with more ease, than 1100 in the original state. Thus our machines, complicated as they are said to be, are one quarter more powerful than those of Messrs. Bensley, and the improvements have been added without any of the improvers having interfered.

__We cannot close this account, without giving our testimony not only to the enlightened mind and ardent spirit of Mr. Koenig, but also to his strict honour and pure integrity. Our intercourse with him was constant, during the very critical and trying period when he was bringing his invention into practice at our office; so that we had no slight knowledge of his manners and character; and the consequence has been sincere friendship and high regard for him ever since.



Dodd, George.  British Manufactures, Chapter III, London, Charles Knight and Co., 1846
Goebel, Theodor.  Friedrich Koenig und die Erfindung der Schnellpresse, Stuttgart, 1906
Green, Ralph. 'Early American Power Printing Presses'. Fredson Bowers, ed., Studies in  __American Bibliography, vol. 4 (1951-1952) pp. 143-145
Koenig, Friedrich and Bauer, Andreas Friedrich.  The First Printing Machines. Constructed __in London up to the Year 1818. Leipzig, 1851
Moran, James. Printing Presses; History & Development from the Fifteenth Century to __Modern Times, London: Faber & Faber, 1973
Smiles,  Samuel.  Men of Invention and Industry; Chapter 6, Frederick G. Koenig: Inventor of __the Steam-Printing  Machine, London, 1884
Wilson, F.J.F. Typographic Printing Machines and Machine Printing, London: Wyman & __Co., 1879

A special thanks to my good friend Herwig Kempenaers for allowing me the use of his Koenig & Bauer collection.

This review was compiled, for the interest of the letterpress fraternity and historians alike. Considerable 'misinformation' and unreliable interpretations during the last two centuries, have been passed on in print by, mostly, non-technical authors. There is still much to be done though, so I hope these few pages contribute something useful toward the furtherance of knowledge of letterpress printing and the 'black art'.
I consider this a 'work-in-progress,' and welcome any contributions and comments!