Men of Invention and Industry/Chapter VI

Men of Invention and Industry
by Samuel Smiles
(Chapter 6: Frederick Koenig: Inventor of the Steam-Printing Machine)
29595Men of Invention and Industry — (Chapter 6: Frederick Koenig: Inventor of the Steam-Printing Machine)Samuel Smiles

"The honest projector is he who, having by fair and plain principles of sense, honesty, and ingenuity, brought any contrivance to a suitable perfection, makes out what he pretends to, picks nobody's pocket, puts his project in execution, and contents himself with the real produce as the profit of his invention."--De Foe.

I published an article in 'Macmillan's Magazine' for December, 1869, under the above title. The materials were principally obtained from William and Frederick Koenig, sons of the inventor. Since then an elaborate life has been published at Stuttgart, under the title of "Friederich Koenig und die Erfindung Der Schnellpresse, Ein Biographisches Denkmal. Von Theodor Goebel." The author, in sending me a copy of the volume, refers to the article published in 'Macmillan,' and says, "I hope you will please to accept it as a small acknowledgment of the thanks, which every German, and especially the sons of Koenig, in whose name I send the book as well as in mine, owe to you for having bravely taken up the cause of the much wronged inventor, their father — an action all the more praiseworthy, as you had to write against the prejudices and the interests of your own countrymen."

I believe it is now generally admitted that Koenig was entitled to the merit of being the first person practically to apply the power of steam to indefinitely multiplying the productions of the printing-press; and that no one now attempts to deny him this honour. It is true others, who followed him, greatly improved upon his first idea; but this was the case with Watt, Symington, Crompton, Maudslay, and many more. The true inventor is not merely the man who registers an idea and takes a patent for it, or who compiles an invention by borrowing the idea of another, improving upon or adding to his arrangements, but the man who constructs a machine such as has never before been made, which executes satisfactorily all the functions it was intended to perform. And this is what Koenig's invention did, as will be observed from the following brief summary of his life and labours.

Frederick Koenig was born on the 17th of April, 1774, at Eisleben, in Saxony, the birthplace also of a still more famous person, Martin Luther. His father was a respectable peasant proprietor, described by Herr Goebel as Anspanner. But this word has now gone out of use. In feudal times it described the farmer who was obliged to keep draught cattle to perform service due to the landlord. The boy received a solid education at the Gymnasium, or public school of the town. At a proper age he was bound apprentice for five years to Breitkopf and Hartel, of Leipzig, as compositor and printer; but after serving for four and a quarter years, he was released from his engagement because of his exceptional skill, which was an unusual occurrence.

During the later years of his apprenticeship, Koenig was permitted to attend the classes in the University, more especially those of Ernst Platner, a physician, philosopher, and anthropologist. After that he proceeded to the printing-office of his uncle, Anton F. Rose, at Greifswald, an old seaport town on the Baltic, where he remained a few years. He next went to Halle as a journeyman printer, — German workmen going about from place to place, during their wanderschaft, for the purpose of learning their business. After that, he returned to Breitkopf and Hartel, at Leipzig, where he had first learnt his trade. During this time, having saved a little money, he enrolled himself for a year as a regular student at the University of Leipzig.

According to Koenig's own account, he first began to devise ways and means for improving the art of printing in the year 1802, when he was twenty-eight years old. Printing large sheets of paper by hand was a very slow as well as a very laborious process. One of the things that most occupied the young printer's mind was how to get rid of this "horse-work," for such it was, in the business of printing. He was not, however, over-burdened with means, though he devised a machine with this object. But to make a little money, he made translations for the publishers. In 1803 Koenig returned to his native town of Eisleben, where he entered into an arrangement with Frederick Riedel, who furnished the necessary capital for carrying on the business of a printer and bookseller. Koenig alleges that his reason for adopting this step was to raise sufficient money to enable him to carry out his plans for the improvement of printing.

The business, however, did not succeed, as we find him in the following year carrying on a printing trade at Mayence. Having sold this business, he removed to Suhl in Thuringia. Here he was occupied with a stereotyping process, suggested by what he had read about the art as perfected in England by Earl Stanhope. He also contrived an improved press, provided with a moveable carriage, on which the types were placed, with inking rollers, and a new mechanical method of taking off the impression by flat pressure.

Koenig brought his new machine under the notice of the leading printers in Germany, but they would not undertake to use it. The plan seemed to them too complicated and costly. He tried to enlist men of capital in his scheme, but they all turned a deaf ear to him. He went from town to town, but could obtain no encouragement whatever. Besides, industrial enterprise in Germany was then in a measure paralysed by the impending war with France, and men of capital were naturally averse to risk their money on what seemed a merely speculative undertaking.

Finding no sympathisers or helpers at home, Koenig next turned his attention abroad. England was then, as now, the refuge of inventors who could not find the means of bringing out their schemes elsewhere; and to England he wistfully turned his eyes. In the meantime, however, his inventive ability having become known, an offer was made to him by the Russian Government to proceed to St. Petersburg and organise the State printing-office there. The invitation was accepted, and Koenig proceeded to St. Petersburg in the spring of 1806. But the official difficulties thrown in his way were very great, and so disgusted him, that he decided to throw up his appointment, and try his fortune in England. He accordingly took ship for London, and arrived there in the following November, poor in means, but rich in his great idea, then his only property.

As Koenig himself said, when giving an account of his invention: — "There is on the Continent no sort of encouragement for an enterprise of this description. The system of patents, as it exists in England, being either unknown, or not adopted in the Continental States, there is no inducement for industrial enterprise; and projectors are commonly obliged to offer their discoveries to some Government, and to so licit their encouragement. I need hardly add that scarcely ever is an invention brought to maturity under such circumstances. The well-known fact, that almost every invention seeks, as it were, refuge in England, and is there brought to perfection, though the Government does not afford any other protection to inventors beyond what is derived from the wisdom of the laws, seems to indicate that the Continent has yet to learn from her the best manner of encouraging the mechanical arts. I had my full share in the ordinary disappointments of Continental projectors; and after having lost in Germany and Russia upwards of two years in fruitless applications, I at last resorted to England."[1]

After arriving in London, Koenig maintained himself with difficulty by working at his trade, for his comparative ignorance of the English language stood in his way. But to work manually at the printer's "case," was not Koenig's object in coming to England. His idea of a printing machine was always uppermost in his mind, and he lost no opportunity of bringing the subject under the notice of master printers likely to take it up. He worked for a time in the printing office of Richard Taylor, Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, and mentioned the matter to him. Taylor would not undertake the invention himself, but he furnished Koenig with an introduction to Thomas Bensley, the well-known printer of Bolt Court, Fleet Street. On the 11th of March, 1807, Bensley invited Koenig to meet him on the subject of their recent conversation about "the discovery;" and on the 31st of the same month, the following agreement was entered into between Koenig and Bensley:—

"Mr. Koenig, having discovered an entire new Method of Printing by Machinery, agrees to communicate the same to Mr. Bensley under the following conditions: — that, if Mr. Bensley shall be satisfied the Invention will answer all the purposes Mr. Koenig has stated in the Particulars he has delivered to Mr. Bensley, signed with his name, he shall enter into a legal Engagement to purchase the Secret from Mr. Koenig, or enter into such other agreement as may be deemed mutually beneficial to both parties; or, should Mr. Bensley wish to decline having any concern with the said Invention, then he engages not to make any use of the Machinery, or to communicate the Secret to any person whatsoever, until it is proved that the Invention is made use of by any one without restriction of Patent, or other particular agreement on the part of Mr. Koenig, under the penalty of Six Thousand Pounds.

"(Signed) T. Bensley, "Friederich Konig. "Witness--J. Hunneman."

Koenig now proceeded to put his idea in execution. He prepared his plans of the new printing machine. It seems, however, that the progress made by him was very slow. Indeed, three years passed before a working model could be got ready, to show his idea in actual practice. In the meantime, Mr. Walter of The Times had been seen by Bensley, and consulted on the subject of the invention. On the 9th of August, 1809, more than two years after the date of the above agreement, Bensley writes to Koenig: "I made a point of calling upon Mr. Walter yesterday, who, I am sorry to say, declines our proposition altogether, having (as he says) so many engagements as to prevent him entering into more."

It may be mentioned that Koenig's original plan was confined to an improved press, in which the operation of laying the ink on the types was to be performed by an apparatus connected with the motions of the coffin, in such a manner as that one hand could be saved. As little could be gained in expedition by this plan, the idea soon suggested itself of moving the press by machinery, or to reduce the several operations to one rotary motion, to which the first mover might be applied. Whilst Koenig was in the throes of his invention, he was joined by his friend Andrew F. Bauer, a native of Stuttgart, who possessed considerable mechanical power, in which the inventor himself was probably somewhat deficient. At all events, these two together proceeded to work out the idea, and to construct the first actual working printing machine.

A patent was taken out, dated the 29th of March, 1810, which describes the details of the invention. The arrangement was somewhat similar to that known as the platen machine; the printing being produced by two flat plates, as in the common hand-press. It also embodied an ingenious arrangement for inking the type. Instead of the old-fashioned inking balls, which were beaten on the type by hand labour, several cylinders covered with felt and leather were used, and formed part of the machine itself. Two of the cylinders revolved in opposite directions, so as to spread the ink, which was then transferred by two other inking cylinders alternately applied to the "forme" by the action of spiral springs. The movement of all the parts of the machine were to be derived from a steam-engine, or other first mover.

"After many obstructions and delays," says Koenig himself, in describing the history of his invention, "the first printing machine was completed exactly upon the plan which I have described in the specification of my first patent. It was set to Work in April, 1811. The sheet (H) of the new Annual Register for 1810, 'Principal Occurrences,' 3000 copies, was printed with it; and is, I have no doubt, the first part of a book ever printed with a machine. The actual use of it, however, soon suggested new ideas, and led to the rendering it less complicated and more powerful"[2]

Of course! No great invention was ever completed at one effort. It would have been strange if Koenig had been satisfied with his first attempt. It was only a beginning, and he naturally proceeded with the improvement of his machine. It took Watt more than twenty years to elaborate his condensing steam-engine; and since his day, owing to the perfection of self-acting tools, it has been greatly improved. The power of the Steamboat and the Locomotive also, as well as of all other inventions, have been developed by the constantly succeeding improvements of a nation of mechanical engineers.

Koenig's experiment was only a beginning, and he naturally proceeded with the improvement of his machine. Although the platen machine of Koenig's has since been taken up a new, and perfected, it was not considered by him sufficiently simple in its arrangements as to be adapted for common use; and he had scarcely completed it, when he was already revolving in his mind a plan of a second machine on a new principle, with the object of ensuring greater speed, economy, and simplicity.

By this time, other well-known London printers, Messrs. Taylor and Woodfall, had joined Koenig and Bensley in their partnership for the manufacture and sale of printing machines. The idea which now occurred to Koenig was, to employ a cylinder instead of a flat Platen machine, for taking the impressions off the type, and to place the sheet round the cylinder, thereby making it, as it were, part of the periphery. As early as the year 1790, one William Nicholson had taken out a patent for a machine for printing "on paper, linen, cotton, woollen, and other articles," by means of "blocks, forms, types, plates, and originals," which were to be "firmly imposed upon a cylindrical surface in the same manner as common letter is imposed upon a flat stone."[3] From the mention of "colouring cylinder," and "paper-hangings, floor-cloths, cottons, linens, woollens, leather, skin, and every other flexible material," mentioned in the specification, it would appear as if Nicholson's invention were adapted for calico-printing and paper-hangings, as well as for the printing of books. But it was never used for any of these purposes. It contained merely the register of an idea, and that was all. It was left for Adam Parkinson, of Manchester, to invent and make practical use of the cylinder printing machine for calico in the year 1805, and this was still further advanced by the invention of James Thompson, of Clitheroe, in 1813; while it was left for Frederick Koenig to invent and carry into practical operation the cylinder printing press for newspapers.

After some promising experiments, the plans for a new machine on the cylindrical principle were proceeded with. Koenig admitted throughout the great benefit he derived from the assistance of his friend Bauer. "By the judgment and precision," he said, "with which he executed my plans, he greatly contributed to my success." A patent was taken out on October 30th, 1811; and the new machine was completed in December, 1812. The first sheets ever printed with an entirely cylindrical press, were sheets G and X of Clarkson's 'Life of Penn.' The papers of the Protestant Union were also printed with it in February and March, 1813. Mr. Koenig, in his account of the invention, says that "sheet M of Acton's 'Hortus Kewensis,' vol. v., will show the progress of improvement in the use of the invention. Altogether, there are about 160,000 sheets now in the hands of the public, printed with this machine, which, with the aid of two hands, takes off 800 impressions in the hour"[4]

Koenig took out a further patent on July 23rd, 1813, and a fourth (the last) on the 14th of March, 1814. The contrivance of these various arrangements cost the inventor many anxious days and nights of study and labour. But he saw before him only the end he wished to compass, and thought but little of himself and his toils. It may be mentioned that the principal feature of the invention was the printing cylinder in the centre of the machine, by which the impression was taken from the types, instead of by flat plates as in the first arrangement. The forme was fixed in a cast-iron plate which was carried to and fro on a table, being received at either end by strong spiral springs. A double machine, on the same principle, — the forme alternately passing under and giving an impression at one of two cylinders at either end of the press, — was also included in the patent of 1811.

How diligently Koenig continued to elaborate the details of his invention will be obvious from the two last patents which he took out, in 1813 and 1814. In the first he introduced an important improvement in the inking arrangement, and a contrivance for holding and carrying on the sheet, keeping it close to the printing cylinder by means of endless tapes; while in the second, he added the following new expedients: a feeder, consisting of an endless web, — an improved arrangement of the endless tapes by inner as well as outer friskets, — an improvement of the register (that is, one page falling exactly on the back of another), by which greater accuracy of impression was also secured; and finally, an arrangement by which the sheet was thrown out of the machine, printed by the revolving cylinder on both sides.

The partners in Koenig's Patents had established a manufactory in Whitecross Street for the production of the new machines. The workmen employed were sworn to secrecy. They entered into an agreement by which they were liable to forfeit 100L. if they communicated to others the secret of the machines, either by drawings or description, or if they told by whom or for whom they were constructed. This was to avoid the hostility of the pressmen, who, having heard of the new invention, were up in arms against it, as likely to deprive them of their employment. And yet, as stated by Johnson in his 'Typographia,' the manual labour of the men who worked at the hand press, was so severe and exhausting, "that the stoutest constitutions fell a sacrifice to it in a few years." The number of sheets that could be thrown off was also extremely limited.

With the improved press, perfected by Earl Stanhope, about 250 impressions could be taken, or l25 sheets printed on both sides in an hour. Although a greater number was produced in newspaper printing offices by excessive labour, yet it was necessary to have duplicate presses, and to set up duplicate forms of type, to carry on such extra work; and still the production of copies was quite inadequate to satisfy the rapidly increasing demand for newspapers. The time was therefore evidently ripe for the adoption of such a machine as that of Koenig. Attempts had been made by many inventors, but every one of them had failed. Printers generally regarded the steam-press as altogether chimerical.

Such was the condition of affairs when Koenig finished his improved printing machine in the manufactory in Whitecross Street. The partners in the invention were now in great hopes. When the machine had been got ready for work, the proprietors of several of the leading London newspapers were invited to witness its performances. Amongst them were Mr. Perry of the Morning chronicle, and Mr. Walter of The Times. Mr. Perry would have nothing to do with the machine; he would not even go to see it, for he regarded it as a gimcrack.[5] On the contrary, Mr. Walter, though he had five years before declined to enter into any arrangement with Bensley, now that he heard the machine was finished, and at work, decided to go and inspect it. It was thoroughly characteristic of the business spirit of the man. He had been very anxious to apply increased mechanical power to the printing of his newspaper. He had consulted [Marc] Isambard Brunel — one of the cleverest inventors of the day — on the subject; but Brunel, after studying the subject, and labouring over a variety of plans, finally gave it up. He had next tried Thomas Martyn, an ingenious young compositor, who had a scheme for a self-acting machine for working the printing press. But, although Mr. Walter supplied him with the necessary funds, his scheme never came to anything. Now, therefore, was the chance for Koenig!

After carefully examining the machine at work, Mr. Walter was at once satisfied as to the great value of the invention. He saw it turning out the impressions with unusual speed and great regularity. This was the very machine of which he had been in search. But it turned out the impressions printed on one side only. Koenig, however, having briefly explained the more rapid action of a double machine on the same principle for the printing of newspapers, Mr. Walter, after a few minutes' consideration, and before leaving the premises, ordered two double machines for the printing of The Times newspaper. Here, at last, was the opportunity for a triumphant issue out of Koenig's difficulties.

The construction of the first newspaper machine was still, however, a work of great difficulty and labour. It must be remembered that nothing of the kind had yet been made by any other inventor. The single-cylinder machine, which Mr. Walter had seen at work, was intended for bookwork only. Now Koenig had to construct a double-cylinder machine for printing newspapers, in which many of the arrangements must necessarily be entirely new. With the assistance of his leading mechanic, Bauer, aided by the valuable suggestions of Mr. Walter himself, Koenig at length completed his plans, and proceeded with the erection of the working machine. The several parts were prepared at the workshop in Whitecross Street, and taken from thence, in as secret a way as possible, to the premises in Printing House Square, adjoining The Times office, where they were fitted together and erected into a working machine. Nearly two years elapsed before the press was ready for work. Great as was the secrecy with which the operations were conducted, the pressmen of The Times office obtained some inkling of what was going on, and they vowed vengeance to the foreign inventor who threatened their craft with destruction. There was, however, always this consolation: every attempt that had heretofore been made to print newspapers in any other way than by manual labour had proved an utter failure!

At length the day arrived when the first newspaper steam-press was ready for use. The pressmen were in a state of great excitement, for they knew by rumour that the machine of which they had so long been apprehensive was fast approaching completion. One night they were told to wait in the press-room, as important news was expected from abroad. At six o'clock in the morning of the 29th November, 1814, Mr. Walter, who had been watching the working of the machine all through the night, suddenly appeared among the pressmen, and announced that "The Times is already printed by steam!" Knowing that the pressmen had vowed vengeance against the inventor and his invention, and that they had threatened "destruction to him and his traps," he informed them that if they attempted violence, there was a force ready to suppress it; but that if they were peaceable, their wages should be continued to every one of them until they could obtain similar employment. This proved satisfactory so far, and he proceeded to distribute several copies of the newspaper amongst them — the first newspaper printed by steam! That paper contained the following memorable announcement: —

"Our Journal of this day presents to the Public the practical result of the greatest improvement connected with printing since the discovery of the art itself. The reader of this paragraph now holds in his hand one of the many thousand impressions of The Times newspaper which were taken off last night by a mechanical apparatus. A system of machinery almost organic has been devised and arranged, which, while it relieves the human frame of its most laborious' efforts in printing, far exceeds all human powers in rapidity and dispatch. That the magnitude of the invention may be justly appreciated by its effects, we shall inform the public, that after the letters are placed by the compositors, and enclosed in what is called the forme, little more remains for man to do than to attend upon and to watch this unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper: itself places the forme, inks it, adjusts the paper to the forme newly inked, stamps the sheet, and gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time withdrawing the forme for a fresh coat of ink, which itself again distributes, to meet the ensuing sheet now advancing for impression; and the whole of these complicated acts is performed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement, that no less than 1100 sheets are impressed in one hour.

"That the completion of an invention of this kind, not the effect of chance, but the result of mechanical combinations methodically arranged in the mind of the artist, should be attended with many obstructions and much delay, may be readily imagined. Our share in this event has, indeed, only been the application of the discovery, under an agreement with the patentees, to our own particular business; yet few can conceive — even with this limited interest — the various disappointments and deep anxiety to which we have for a long course of time been subjected.

"Of the person who made this discovery we have but little to add. Sir Christopher Wren's noblest monument is to be found in the building which he erected; so is the best tribute of praise which we are capable of offering to the inventor of the printing machine, comprised in the preceding description, which we have feebly sketched, of the powers and utility of his invention. It must suffice to say further, that he is a Saxon by birth; that his name is Koenig; and that the invention has been executed under the direction of his friend and countryman, Bauer."

The machine continued to work steadily and satisfactorily, notwithstanding the doubters, the unbelievers, and the threateners of vengeance. The leading article of The Times for December 3rd, 1814, contains the following statement: —

"The machine of which we announced the discovery and our adoption a few days ago, has been whirling on its course ever since, with improving order, regularity, and even speed. The length of the debates on Thursday, the day when Parliament was adjourned, will have been observed; on such an occasion the operation of composing and printing the last page must commence among all the journals at the same moment; and starting from that moment, we, with our infinitely superior circulation, were enabled to throw off our whole impression many hours before the other respectable rival prints. The accuracy and clearness of the impression will likewise excite attention.

"We shall make no reflections upon those by whom this wonderful discovery has been opposed, — the doubters and unbelievers, — however uncharitable they may have been to us; were it not that the efforts of genius are always impeded by drivellers of this description, and that we owe it to such men as Mr. Koenig and his Friend, and all future promulgators of beneficial inventions, to warn them that they will have to contend with everything that selfishness and conceited ignorance can devise or say; and if we cannot clear their way before them, we would at least give them notice to prepare a panoply against its dirt and filth.

"There is another class of men from whom we receive dark and anonymous threats of vengeance if we persevere in the use of this machine. These are the Pressmen. They well know, at least should well know, that such menace is thrown away upon us. There is nothing that we will not do to assist and serve those whom we have discharged. They themselves can seethe greater rapidity and precision with which the paper is printed. What right have they to make us print it slower and worse for their supposed benefit? A little reflection, indeed, would show them that it is neither in their power nor in ours to stop a discovery now made, if it is beneficial to mankind; or to force it down if it is useless. They had better, therefore, acquiesce in a result which they cannot alter; more especially as there will still be employment enough for the old race of pressmen, before the new method obtains general use, and no new ones need be brought up to the business; but we caution them seriously against involving themselves and their families in ruin, by becoming amenable to the laws of their country. It has always been matter of great satisfaction to us to reflect, that we encountered and crushed one conspiracy; and we should be sorry to find our work half done.

"It is proper to undeceive the world in one particular; that is, as to the number of men discharged. We in fact employ only eight fewer workmen than formerly; whereas more than three times that number have been employed for a year and a half in building the machine."

On the 8th of December following, Mr. Koenig addressed an advertisement "To the Public" in the columns of The Times, giving an account of the origin and progress of his invention. We have already cited several passages from the statement. After referring to his two last patents, he says: "The machines now printing The Times and Mail are upon the same principle; but they have been contrived for the particular purpose of a newspaper of extensive circulation, where expedition is the great object.

"The public are undoubtedly aware, that never, perhaps, was a new invention put to so severe a trial as the present one, by being used on its first public introduction for the printing of newspapers, and will, I trust, be indulgent with respect to the many defects in the performance, though none of them are inherent in the principle of the machine; and we hope, that in less than two months, the whole will be corrected by greater adroitness in the management of it, so far at least as the hurry of newspaper printing will at all admit.

"It will appear from the foregoing narrative, that it was incorrectly stated in several newspapers, that I had sold my interest to two other foreigners; my partners in this enterprise being at present two Englishmen, Mr. Bensley and Mr. Taylor; and it is gratifying to my feelings to avail myself of this opportunity to thank those gentlemen publicly for the confidence which they have reposed in me, for the aid of their practical skill, and for the persevering support which they have afforded me in long and very expensive experiments; thus risking their fortunes in the prosecution of my invention.

"The first introduction of the invention was considered by some as a difficult and even hazardous step. The Proprietor of The Times having made that his task, the public are aware that it is in good hands."

One would think that Koenig would now feel himself in smooth water, and receive a share of the good fortune which he had so laboriously prepared for others. Nothing of the kind! His merits were disputed; his rights were denied; his patents were infringed; and he never received any solid advantages for his invention, until be left the country and took refuge in Germany. It is true, he remained for a few years longer, in charge of the manufactory in Whitecross Street, but they were years to him of trouble and sorrow.

In 1816, Koenig designed and superintended the construction of a single cylinder registering machine for book-printing. This was supplied to Bensley and Son, and turned out 1000 sheets, printed on both sides, in the hour. Blumenbach's 'Physiology' was the first entire book printed by steam, by this new machine. It was afterwards employed, in 1818, in working off the Literary Gazette. A machine of the same kind was supplied to Mr. Richard Taylor for the purpose of printing the 'Philosophical Magazine,' and books generally. This was afterwards altered to a double machine, and employed for printing the Weekly Dispatch.

But what about Koenig's patents? They proved of little use to him. They only proclaimed his methods, and enabled other ingenious mechanics to borrow his adaptations. Now that he had succeeded in making machines that would work, the way was clear for everybody else to follow his footsteps. It had taken him more than six years to invent and construct a successful steam printing press; but any clever mechanic, by merely studying his specification, and examining his machine at work, might arrive at the same results in less than a week.

The patents did not protect him. New specifications, embodying some modification or alteration in detail, were lodged by other inventors and new patents taken out. New printing machines were constructed in defiance of his supposed legal rights; and he found himself stripped of the reward that he had been labouring for during so many long and toilsome years. He could not go to law, and increase his own vexation and loss. He might get into Chancery easy enough; but when would he get out of it, and in what condition?

It must also be added, that Koenig was unfortunate in his partner Bensley. While the inventor was taking steps to push the sale of his book-printing machines among the London printers, Bensley, who was himself a book-printer, was hindering him in every way in his negotiations. Koenig was of opinion that Bensley wished to retain the exclusive advantage which the possession of his registering book machine gave him over the other printers, by enabling him to print more quickly and correctly than they could, and thus give him an advantage over them in his printing contracts.

When Koenig, in despair at his position, consulted counsel as to the infringement of his patent, he was told that he might institute proceedings with the best prospect of success; but to this end a perfect agreement by the partners was essential. When, however, Koenig asked Bensley to concur with him in taking proceedings in defence of the patent right, the latter positively refused to do so. Indeed, Koenig was under the impression that his partner had even entered into an arrangement with the infringers of the patent to share with them the proceeds of their piracy.

Under these circumstances, it appeared to Koenig that only two alternatives remained for him to adopt. One was to commence an expensive, and it might be a protracted, suit in Chancery, in defence of his patent rights, with possibly his partner, Bensley, against him; and the other, to abandon his invention in England without further struggle, and settle abroad. He chose the latter alternative, and left England finally in August, 1817.

Mr. Richard Taylor, the other partner in the patent, was an honourable man; but he could not control the proceedings of Bensley. In a memoir published by him in the 'Philosophical Magazine,' "On the Invention and First Introduction of Mr. Koenig's Printing Machine," in which he honestly attributes to him the sole merit of the invention, he says, "Mr. Koenig left England, suddenly, in disgust at the treacherous conduct of Bensley, always shabby and overreaching, and whom he found to be laying a scheme for defrauding his partners in the patents of all the advantages to arise from them. Bensley, however, while he destroyed the prospects of his partners, outwitted himself, and grasping at all, lost all, becoming bankrupt in fortune as well as in character."[6]

Koenig was badly used throughout. His merits as an inventor were denied. On the 3rd of January, 1818, after he had left England, Bensley published a letter in the Literary Gazette, in which he speaks of the printing machine as his own, without mentioning a word of Koenig. The 'British Encyclopaedia,' in describing the inventors of the printing machine, omitted the name of Koenig altogether. The 'Mechanics Magazine,' for September, 1847, attributed the invention to the Proprietors of The Times, though Mr. Walter himself had said that his share in the event had been "only the application of the discovery;" and the late Mr. Bennet Woodcroft, usually a fair man, in his introductory chapter to 'Patents for Inventions in Printing,' attributes the merit to William Nicholson's patent (No. 1748), which, he said, "produced an entire revolution in the mechanism of the art." In other publications, the claims of Bacon and Donkin were put forward, while those of the real inventor were ignored. The memoir of Koenig by Mr. Richard Taylor, in the 'Philosophical Magazine,' was honest and satisfactory; and should have set the question at rest.

It may further be mentioned that William Nicholson, — who was a patent agent, and a great taker out of patents, both in his own name and in the names of others, — was the person employed by Koenig as his agent to take the requisite steps for registering his invention. When Koenig consulted him on the subject, Nicholson observed that "seventeen years before he had taken out a patent for machine printing, but he had abandoned it, thinking that it wouldn't do; and had never taken it up again." Indeed, the two machines were on different principles. Nor did Nicholson himself ever make any claim to priority of invention, when the success of Koenig's machine was publicly proclaimed by Mr. Walter of The Times some seven years later.

When Koenig, now settled abroad, heard of the attempts made in England to deny his merits as an inventor, he merely observed to his friend Bauer, "It is really too bad that these people, who have already robbed me of my invention, should now try to rob me of my reputation." Had he made any reply to the charges against him, it might have been comprised in a very few words: "When I arrived in England, no steam printing machine had ever before been seen; when I left it, the only printing machines in actual work were those which I had constructed." But Koenig never took the trouble to defend the originality of his invention in England, now that he had finally abandoned the field to others.

There can be no question as to the great improvements introduced in the printing machine by Mr. Applegath and Mr. Cowper; by Messrs. Hoe and Sons, of New York; and still later by the present Mr. Walter of The Times, which have brought the art of machine printing to an extraordinary degree of perfection and speed. But the original merits of an invention are not to be determined by a comparison of the first machine of the kind ever made with the last, after some sixty years' experience and skill have been applied in bringing it to perfection. Were the first condensing engine made at Soho--now to be seen at the Museum in South Kensington--in like manner to be compared with the last improved pumping-engine made yesterday, even the great James Watt might be made out to have been a very poor contriver. It would be much fairer to compare Koenig's steam-printing machine with the hand-press newspaper printing machine which it superseded. Though there were steam engines before Watt, and steamboats before Fulton, and steam locomotives before Stephenson, there were no steam printing presses before Koenig with which to compare them, Koenig's was undoubtedly the first, and stood unequalled and alone.

The rest of Koenig's life, after he retired to Germany, was spent in industry, if not in peace and quietness. He could not fail to be cast down by the utter failure of his English partnership, and the loss of the fruits of his ingenious labours. But instead of brooding over his troubles, he determined to break away from them, and begin the world anew. He was only forty-three when he left England, and he might yet be able to establish himself prosperously in life. He had his own head and hands to help him. Though England was virtually closed against him, the whole continent of Europe was open to him, and presented a wide field for the sale of his printing machines.

While residing in England, Koenig had received many communications from influential printers in Germany. Johann Spencer and George Decker wrote to him in 1815, asking for particulars about his invention; but finding his machine too expensive,[7] the latter commissioned Koenig to send him a Stanhope printing press — the first ever introduced into Germany — the price of which was 95L. Koenig did this service for his friend, for although he stood by the superior merits of his own invention, he was sufficiently liberal to recognise the merits of the inventions of others. Now that he was about to settle in Germany, he was able to supply his friends and patrons on the spot.

The question arose, where was he to settle? He made enquiries about sites along the Rhine, the Neckar, and the Main. At last he was attracted by a specially interesting spot at Oberzell on the Main, near Wurzburg. It was an old disused convent of the Praemonstratensian monks. The place was conveniently situated for business, being nearly in the centre of Germany. The Bavarian Government, desirous of giving encouragement to so useful a genius, granted Koenig the use of the secularised monastery on easy terms; and there accordingly he began his operations in the course of the following year. Bauer soon joined him, with an order from Mr. Walter for an improved Times machine; and the two men entered into a partnership which lasted for life.

The partners had at first great difficulties to encounter in getting their establishment to work. Oberzell was a rural village, containing only common labourers, from whom they had to select their workmen. Every person taken into the concern had to be trained and educated to mechanical work by the partners themselves. With indescribable patience they taught these labourers the use of the hammer, the file, the turning-lathe, and other tools, which the greater number of them had never before seen, and of whose uses they were entirely ignorant. The machinery of the workshop was got together with equal difficulty piece by piece, some of the parts from a great distance, — the mechanical arts being then at a very low ebb in Germany, which was still suffering from the effects of the long continental war. At length the workshop was fitted up, the old barn of the monastery being converted into an iron foundry.

Orders for printing machines were gradually obtained. The first came from Brockhaus, of Leipzig. By the end of the fourth year two other single-cylinder machines were completed and sent to Berlin, for use in the State printing office. By the end of the eighth year seven double-cylinder steam presses had been manufactured for the largest newspaper printers in Germany. The recognised excellence of Koenig and Bauer's book-printing machines — their perfect register, and the quality of the work they turned out — secured for them an increasing demand, and by the year 1829 the firm had manufactured fifty-one machines for the leading book printers throughout Germany. The Oberzell manufactory was now in full work, and gave regular employment to about 120 men.

A period of considerable depression followed. As was the case in England, the introduction of the printing machine in Germany excited considerable hostility among the pressmen. In some of the principal towns they entered into combinations to destroy them, and several printing machines were broken by violence and irretrievably injured. But progress could not be stopped; the printing machine had been fairly born, and must eventually do its work for mankind. These combinations, however, had an effect for a time. They deterred other printers from giving orders for the machines; and Koenig and Bauer were under the necessity of suspending their manufacture to a considerable extent. To keep their men employed, the partners proceeded to fit up a paper manufactory, Mr. Cotta, of Stuttgart, joining them in the adventure; and a mill was fitted up, embodying all the latest improvements in paper-making.

Koenig, however, did not live to enjoy the fruits or all his study, labour, toil, and anxiety; for, while this enterprise was still in progress, and before the machine trade had revived, he was taken ill, and confined to bed. He became sleepless; his nerves were unstrung; and no wonder. Brain disease carried him off on the 17th of January, 1833; and this good, ingenious, and admirable inventor was removed from all further care and trouble. He died at the early age of fifty-eight, respected and beloved by all who knew him.

His partner Bauer survived to continue the business for twenty years longer. It was during this later period that the Oberzell manufactory enjoyed its greatest prosperity. The prejudices of the workmen gradually subsided when they found that machine printing, instead of abridging employment, as they feared it would do, enormously increased it; and orders accordingly flowed in from Berlin, Vienna, and all the leading towns and cities of Germany, Austria, Denmark, Russia, and Sweden. The six hundredth machine, turned out in 1847, was capable of printing 6000 impressions in the hour. In March, 1865, the thousandth machine was completed at Oberzell, on the occasion of the celebration of the fifty years' jubilee of the invention of the steam press by Koenig.

The sons of Koenig carried on the business; and in the biography by Goebel, it is stated that the manufactory of Oberzell has now turned out no fewer than 3000 printing machines. The greater number have been supplied to Germany; but 660 were sent to Russia, 61 to Asia, 12 to England, and 11 to America. The rest were despatched to Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Holland, and other countries.

It remains to be said that Koenig and Bauer, united in life, were not divided by death. Bauer died on February 27, 1860, and the remains of the partners now lie side by side in the little cemetery at Oberzell, close to the scene of their labours and the valuable establishment which they founded.

Footnotes for Chapter VI.

[1]   Koenig's letter in The Times, 8th December, 1814

[2]   Koenig's letter in The Times, 8th December, 1814.

[3]   Date of Patent, 29th April, 1790, No. 1748,

[4]   Koenig's letter in The Times, 8th December, 1814.

[5]   Mr. Richard Taylor, one of the partners in the patent, says, "Mr. Perry declined, alleging that he did not consider a newspaper worth so many years' purchase as would equal the cost of the machine."

[6]   Mr. Richard Taylor, F.S.A., memoir in 'Philosophical Magazine' for October 1847, p. 300.

[7]   The price of a single cylinder non-registering machine was advertised at 900L.; of a double ditto, 1400L.; and of a cylinder registering machine, 2000L.; added to which was 250L., 350L., and 500L. per annum for each of these machines so long as the patent lasted, or an agreed sum to be paid down at once.