Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The History of Letterpress, Part 3

May we get personal for a moment?
We were doing research on our own presses, planning to work blurbs about them into our history lessons, and we discovered that our little friends have been holding back some good stories from us. Our presses have fascinating histories of their own – fascinating enough, in fact, that we think they deserve more than blurbs. We think they need their own article. So, given that, here are the life stories of the Chandler & Price New Series and the Heidelberg Windmill, as told to us over glasses of wine and axle grease in the wee hours of Gilah.
May we introduce you to the Chandler & Price New Series. 

Harrison T. Chandler and William H. Price essentially got their start copying earlier designs from a press called the Franklin Jobber, which was the brainchild of one George Gordon. 
Gordon was one of the first people to release a jobbing press after the Card & Billhead press (first-ever jobber, 1851) arrived on the scene. The Card & Billhead was an inspiration to many inventors, and Gordon was among those who tried their hands at one-upping it. His first effort was called the Alligator, which was rather apt given the press' tendency to snap shut on the fingers of its operator. It did not catch on.
The Alligator was followed by several moderately-successful designs, then in 1854 Gordon struck gold. His Franklin press, named after his hero Ben, was a huge hit.

Gordon took out over 50 patents on various components of his press between 1850 and 1875. As the patents started expiring towards the end of the century, other manufacturers started releasing presses modeled after the successful Franklin.  Chandler & Price, founded in Ohio in 1881, was one of those manufacturers.
The New Series press, which was a sturdier and more user-friendly improvement on their original model, was impressive enough that by 1930 about 90% of presses operating in the U.S. were manufactured by Chandler & Price.

As offset lithography started butting into jobbing press' territory, entering the field of small runs and cards and the like, Chandler & Price fell out of relevance, and their last New Series platen press was manufactured in 1964.
Now we'd like you to meet one of our other presses, the Heidelberg Windmill.

Andreas Hamm started his company in Heidelberg, Germany in 1850 to make engines. In 1856 he met up with a man named Andreas Albert, who was something of an expert in letterpress manufacturing, and the two put their heads together and came up with some reasonable and moderately-successful designs. Albert ended up leaving the company in 1873 and the two became competitors, which undoubtedly led to a lifetime of regret on Albert's part.
In 1912 a man named Karl Georg Ferdinand Gilke came on board and invented what would become the trademark of the Heidelberg company: the rotating feeder arm.
The arm rotates in quarter turns.  First it picks up a sheet of paper with little vacuum suckers, then it continues holding on while the platen presses the paper against the text, then it drops the printed paper off on a receiving tray. The fact that the arm is double-sided means an instant doubling of sheets per hour, because as one page is being removed another is already being inserted. 

The Heidelberg Original, featuring this iconic rotating arm, was released in 1913, and it was such a runaway success that in 1924 Hamm created the first-ever press factory assembly line, which completed 100 new presses every month. 
One major factor in the success of the Heidelberg press was the creative marketing of the new management board director, Hubert H.A. Sternberg. Sternberg mounted one of the presses to a car and drove around the continent, visiting print shops and giving live demos. He would pull into a shop's driveway and print their own work right then and there, proving the superior efficiency of his product to anyone who cared to watch.

During WWII the shop cut back on its press manufacturing and started also producing metal lathes and hydraulic devices, so that the government wouldn’t have any excuse to draft its skilled workers – if they're already contributing by making war-necessary products, you don’t have to drag them away to battle, right? In this way the company managed to retain most of its trained workers through the war.
Once the war ended the Heidelberg company started up where it had left off, doing major business internationally and continuing to innovate. In 1957 they opened the largest printing press factory in the world in the town of Weisloch (near Heidelberg). They started producing offset presses in 1962, but unlike most press companies, they continued making their platen machines as well.