The history of print from 1800 to 1899

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.

A. Hoen & Co - Lithographers and Chromo Printers1841

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.


George Phineas Gordon produces the Franklin press, which is also known as the Gordon Jobber. Once the patents on this design expired other companies build presses based on Gordon’s design, such as the Chandler & Price letterpress below.

Example of a 'Gordon Jobber' printing press


A reproduction of the Domesday Book is the first publication that is printed using photozincography, a lithographic printing technique that uses zinc plates instead of stones. It is developed by the team of Henry James of the British Ordnance Survey. The picture below shows him in front of the photography building. These plates are the precursor to today’s aluminum offset printing plates.

Ordnance Survey building


William Bullock perfects Hoe’s rotary press. His web press prints on both sides, folds the paper and cuts sheets at a speed of up to 12,000 sheets an hour. Bullock dies during an operation to amputate his leg that accidentally got crushed in one of his presses.

Bullock rotary press


Agfa, the Aktiengesellschaft fur Anilinfabrikation, is founded in Rummelsburg, Germany. Originally the company focusses on producing color dyes but it will gradually become one of the leading manufacturers of film and printing plates.


Mass production of corrugated board starts. It is initially used to package bottles and glass lantern chimneys.


In England, Robert Barclay patents the first rotary offset lithographic printing press for printing on tin. As the name offset implies, in this press the tin substrate does not come into direct contact with the printing cylinder. In between is an offset cylinder covered with specially treated cardboard that transfers the printed image to the recipient. Cardboard later gets replaced by rubber, which is still the most commonly used material today.


• Thomas Edison receives a patent for a printing mechanism that around 1890 will result in the mimeograph or stencil duplicator. The Mimeo name is a trademark of Albert Blake Dick who licenses Edison’s patents. European manufacturers such as Gestetner develop similar machines. They allow anyone to inexpensively print dozens or hundreds of copies of a typed page. These small duplicators remain popular until photocopying becomes affordable.

• Golding & Co. introduce the Pearl letterpress, a small printing press that is available in two sizes. It has no throw-off or depressible grippers and two ink rollers. The press sells well but many commercial printers only consider it suitable for ‘bedroom printers’.


The Czech painter Karel Klíč invents photogravure, a process to faithfully reproduce the detail and continuous tones of photographs. To do so a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue which has been exposed to a film positive. The plate is then etched so that when ink is applied to the plate and wiped off, some ink will remain in the etched grooves and can then be transferred to paper.


T. & R. Annan in Glasgow is the first photogravure in Britain.


Hugo Brehmer develops the first mechanical thread-based sewing machine for bookbinding. The image below shows a sewing machine from a few years later.

book binding - sewing machine


• Linn Boyd Benton invents the pantographic punch cutter. With this machine, an operator can trace the brass pattern of a letter with one arm of the device. A cutting tool is mounted on another arm and it engraves the letter on the punch in a reduced size. The punch cutter can be adjusted to cut a complete series of sizes from one set of patterns. Those letters have a more uniform shape than the type that previously always had to be carved manually.

• Frederick and Samuel Goss found the Goss Printing Press Company in Chicago, with the financial backing of Jacob Walser. Their first product is the Clipper, a press that can print double-sided by reversing one of its cylinders. After a few difficult years the Straightline Newspaper Perfecting Press, which debuts in 1892, firmly establishes the company as a leading manufacturer of newspaper presses.


Ottmar Mergenthaler invents the Linotype composing machine. With this typesetter, an operator can enter text using a 90-character keyboard. From a stock of letter form molds, the machine assembles a line containing the typed text. Molten lead is then poured over this line to create a slug,  a line of metal type. Once the operation is finished the matrices are returned to the type magazine from which they came. The machines are built in New York by the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. The name ‘line-o’-type’ is a pretty good description of what the machine does. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest advances in printing since the development of movable type 400 years earlier.
Around that same time the Swiss company Orell Gessner Füssli patents the ‘Aac process’ that is used to create photochroms, also called photochrome prints. In this process colorized images are produced from black and white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto a lithographic stone. Six to fifteen tint stones, each bearing an appropriate retouched image, are used to create the color print. The photochrom technique is very popular in the 1890s and mainly used for printing postcards of city scapes.

A postscard of the castle of Neuschwanstein, printed using the Aac process1889

Lothar Meggendorfer’s International Circus is a pop-up book that contains six pop-up scenes of circus acts, including acrobats, clowns, and daredevil riders. Unfolded they form a circus complete with orchestra and spectators. It is not the first pop-up book to be published but thanks to reproductions, such as the 1979 version shown below, it is still available today.


• Bibby, Baron, and Sons build the first flexographic press.  This type of press uses the relief on a rubber printing plate to hold the image that needs to be printed. Because the ink that is used in that first flexo press smears easily, the device becomes known as Bibby’s Folly. Later improvements in the technology do make flexography one of the most used industrial printing processes.

• Accidentally Robert Gair invents the pre-cut cardboard box.


George Eastman changes the name of his company to Eastman Kodak Company, which later becomes Kodak.


De Nederlandsche Financier in Amsterdam, Holland is the first newspaper on the European continent to start using a Linotype. Two years later the  Mergenthaler Setzmaschinenfabrik is founded in Berlin to cater for the European market.


Yellow Kid by Richard Outcault is the first comic strip to use text balloons.
• Charles and Alfred Harris found the Harris Automatic Press Company to market the first printing press with an automatic sheet feeder.  The press is nearly ten times faster than handfed presses and the brothers have to understate its capabilities in order to get prospects to believe them. The company will produce many innovative presses before moving into the semiconductor business and selling off its printing division in 1983.


• The Lanston Monotype Machine Company, founded by Tolbert Lanston in Washington D.C. in 1887, builds its first hot metal typesetting machine. In contrast to the Linotype which casts complete lines of type, the Monotype machine forms individual letters. That makes it easier to correct spelling mistakes by adding or removing an individual letter. This is an advantage for less time critical work, such as typesetting books.
• Monotype issues its first typeface, Modern Condensed.


The July issue of Scientific American includes an advertisement for the Winton Motor Carriage. This is generally considered to be the first ad for an automobile.

The first car ad ever published


11 February 2017

3 responses to “The history of print from 1800 to 1899”

  1. Hin Oey (Netherlands) says:

    Hello, nice website.

    I am researching the Dutch lithopgrapher Poortermans. I have a few references that did the lithography of publications at West Point. Some references indicate him as the establisher of the West Point Press (or Lithography Office).

    Have you (or your readers) came across this West Point Lithography Office?

    Kind regards,
    Hin Oey

    • Laurens says:

      I cannot help you with this but maybe one of the visitors of this page can leave a helpful reply.

  2. EF5Twister says:

    Look at that image just above this comment, of the Winton Motor Carriage. Looks to be about 895 vinitage and the motor carriage is $1,000.00 What would that be in today’s dollars? Probably at least $50,000.00.

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