The history of print from 1800 to 1849

During the nineteenth century the productivity of presses increased greatly, partly because of improvements in their construction and partly because of the use of steam to power them. As a result, print becomes more affordable and accessible to the working class. A typical example of this are the so-called penny prints, cheap single page prints which often commemorate important and unusual events. The example below is a humorous 19th-century penny print depicting a henpecked husband who gets a beating from his bossy wife. Such prints already existed in the previous centuries, but this one is printed with two additional spot colors.

A 19th century penny print of Jan De Wasscher


Charles Stanhope, the third Earl Stanhope, builds the first press which has an iron frame instead of a wooden one. It can print around 200 impressions per hour. Because this Stanhope press is also more durable and can print larger sheets, other press manufacturers soon switch to a similar type of construction.


Isaiah Thomas creates the two-volume History of Printing in America which is one of the best resources on colonial printing in the United States.


Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer build their first cylinder press, which is much faster than the existing flatbed presses. One of the first customers is John Walter of The Times. The first issue of The Times that is printed with the new presses is published in 1814. The press is installed in secret to avoid sabotage by disgruntled pressmen operating the existing Stanhope presses. The machine is capable of printing over 1100 double-sided sheets per hour. In 1817 Koenig & Bauer return to Germany and start building presses in an abandoned monastery in Würzburg. Their company is nowadays known as KBA.

Koenig double cylinder press


The cast iron Columbian Press, invented by George Clymer, can produce 250 prints per hour. The Eagle mounted on top is not just a decorative element, it also serves as a counterweight.

Columbian press


The first cardboard box packaging is produced. The Kellogg Company is the first to use it for packaging cereals in the late 19th century.


John Marshall invents the dandy roll which makes it much easier for paper manufacturers to add a watermark to paper.


In Switzerland, Rudolphe Töpffer creates the world’s first comic strip.


Louis Braille publishes his Braille alphabet, a tactile reading system for the blind.



Philip Watt invents the sewing machine, a major step forward in automating binding.


In France, Godefroy Engelmann is awarded a patent on chromolithography, a method for printing in color using lithography. Chromolithographs or chromos are mainly used to reproduce paintings. The advertisement below is from the end of the century and shows what can be achieved using this color printing technique.

A chromolithograph from around 1890In the United States, A. Hoen & Co in Baltimore is one of the first printing companies to use the technology.

Lithographers A Hoen


The Penny Black is the first adhesive postage stamp.  It allows UK citizens to send letters of up to 14 grams to any location in the country at a flat rate of one penny.

Penny Black adhesive postage stamp


Anastatic printing is a process to create a facsimile or identical copy of a document. As such, it is an early forerunner of photocopying. Its most well-known proponent is Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet and writer who publishes an article on the potential and dangers of the technique.


The Illustrated London News is the world’s first illustrated weekly newspaper. It costs five pence. From 1861 onwards such newspaper becomes a lot cheaper in the United Kingdom because of the abolition of paper duty.


Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins is the first book ever to be illustrated exclusively with photographs. The 389 photos are all made by placing algea directly onto photographic paper and exposing them using sunlight.

First book with only photographs as illustrations


• Sir Henry Cole commissions the English painter John Callcott Horsley to do the artwork of (arguably) the first commercial Christmas card. Around 1000 cards are printed and hand-colored. Ten of these are still in existence today. The card was fairly controversial in its day because it featured a child taking a sip from a glass of wine.

The oldest mass-produced Christmas card• The American inventor Richard March Hoe builds the first lithographic rotary printing press, a press in which the type is placed on a revolving cylinder instead of a  flatbed. This speeds up the printing process considerably.

Hoe rotary press

Printing gets even faster in 1870 when Hoe builds a rotary press that prints both sides of a page in a single operation. This roll-fed press has a speed of 240 meters (800 ft) per minute. It is used for printing newspapers and includes a built-in cutting unit and separate folder.


• The Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty and his German counterpart  F.G. Keller simultaneously invent a new papermaking technique based on pulping wood. Until then all paper was made from pulped rags. Cotton fiber is still used today but only for specialty applications such as currency.
• Carl Buz and Carl August Reichenbach, a nephew of Friedrich Koenig, establish the Reichenbach’sche Maschinenfabrik and build their first press, the ‘Schnellpresse’. Their factory will later become a part of manroland, currently one of the largest manufacturers of printing presses.


• Five daily newspapers in New York City create The Associated Press (AP) to share the cost of transmitting news of the Mexican-American War by boat, horse express, and telegraph. Other news agencies from the same era are Agence France-Presse or AFP (France, 1835), Agenzia Stefani (Italy, 1853) and Reuter’s Telegram Company (UK, 1857).

• Friedrich von Martini begins manufacturing folding and stitching machines. Martini introduced its Book Sewing Machine in 1897 and for 37 years also builds automobiles. It is now part of Muller Martini.


18 May 2017

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