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Friedrich König

co-inventor of the steam-driven printing press

Friedrich König was born at Eisleben on April 17, 1774, and, after attending school, was apprenticed to a printer in Leipzig and then worked as a journeyman printer.

Friedrich Konig

By the end of the 18th century, the demand for printed information had grown to the extent where existing hand-worked presses found it hard to cope. In an effort to better meet the demand, König, a German printer and engineer determined to apply steam power, already successful in other industrial processes, to a printing machine. Between 1803 and 1811 he devoted himself to trying to perfect a press that worked by a series of gear wheels that raised and lowered the flat platen (the plate that presses the paper to be printed against the type matrix) at the same time as the bed containing the type moved back and forth under the platen while inking cylinders applied ink to the type.

The mechanical platen press did not prove successful in practice, so König went into partnership with another engineer, Andreas Bauer. Working together, the two men adopted the prinicple of using a cylindrical rather than a flat platen. As the platen turned, it carried the sheet of paper with it and pressed it down against the type held in the flatbed, which moved to and fro in coordination with the cylinder. The flatbed meanwhile returned under the inking rollers, ready to repeat the process.

the machine Konig built in 1814 for printing The Times

The first operating steam-powered press of this type was installed in 1814 to print The Times of London. By using two cylinders, so that two copies of each sheet could be printed with each backward-and-forward motion, it was able to print on one side over 1,000 sheets an hour.

In 1818, König and Bauer built what they called a "perfecting machine." This made double-sided printing possible as each sheet of paper was passed through a system of two cylinders. The paper still had to be fed in by hand, though this part of the operation was mechanized by American-born British inventor William Church in 1824.

Friedrich König died in Zell am Main, Germany, on January 17, 1833. His press was supplanted by the all-rotary press, built by American inventor and printer Richard Hoe in 1846.

Anthony Feldman and Peter Ford Scientists and Inventors, The People Who Made Technology from Earliest Times to Present Day New York: Facts on File, 1979

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This page was last updated on 05/03/2017.