Nature 131, 51-52 (14 January 1933) | doi:10.1038/131051d0

Centenary of Friedrich Koenig, 1774–1833


FEW things have assisted the spread of knowledge more than the invention of printing from moveable types, the mass production of paper and the introduction of the power-driven printing machine, the last of which we owe to the German printer Friedrich Koenig, whose centenary occurs on January 17. He was born at Eisleben on April 17, 1774, and, after attending school, was apprenticed to a printer of Leipzig and then worked as a journeyman. His first improvements were made in connexion with the ordinary hand press. To further his projects he came to England in 1806, and it was soon after this that he met his countryman, Andreas Friedrich Bauer (1783–1860), who possessed the mechanical skill Koeng lacked. Four patents were taken out between 1810 and 1814 and from these came the power-driven flat bed printing machine in which the paper was pressed against the type by a cylindrical roller. Through John Walter (1776–1847), two of Koenigs machines were installed for printing the Times, and with the appearance of the issue of November 28, 1814, a new era in newspaper production began. Koenigs success, however, was but the prelude to a long struggle against difficulties. Returning to Germany with Bauer in 1817, he founded a works for the building of printing machines at Oberzell near Würzburg, only to find it next to impossible to obtain properly skilled artisans. Five years indeed passed before the partners completed their first German printing machine, and throughout his life Koenig met with little but adversity. He died at Oberzell at the age of fifty-eight years. The business was carried on by Bauer and relations, and after-wards gained a wide reputation. The speed of an early Koenig machine was about two thousand sheets an hour. Improvements by Cowper and Applegarth raised the speed to 5,000—10,000 sheets an hour, the Hoes of America then built machines doubling the capacity and to-day the rate of printing is some fifty times as fast as that in 1814.