Friedricher König Biography (1774-1833)

printmaker and engineer

Friedricher König brought about the first major changes in mechanized printing since the innovations of Johannes Gutenberg in the fifteenth century.Since Gutenberg's time, there had been a number of changes in the nature andthe readership of printed material, many of them caused in part by Gutenberg's development of mass printing itself. Increases in population, the spread ofnewspapers and periodicals, the rise of the novel as a literary form, the growth of leisure reading, and the need for print communication in the increasingly complex world of trade factors that spurred a drastic increase in the demand for sheer numbers of printed pages, a demand which became increasingly hard to meet. As late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, printers were using essentially the same techniques as their medieval counterparts--setting a matrix of moveable type, then using their own hands to feed paper into aprinting press and to raise and lower the platen (a flat metal sheet which presses the paper against the inked type). Born on April 17, 1774, in Eisleben, Saxony, König devoted himself to the idea of using steam, which had been employed in other industries, to power the workings of the printing press.Because he could not get financial backing for his idea in Germany, König moved to London in 1806.

For eight years, König worked on a machine which moved the platen with the steam power, but was unsuccessful in synchronizing the platen's vertical motion with the horizontal motion of the type, which moved back and forth under inking rollers. Working in concert with the engineer Andreas Bauer (1783- 1860), König found a solution in 1812. Rather than simply changing the means of powering the platen, König changed the flat platen itself, replacing it with a cylinder--an idea proposed, but never developed, by English scientist William Nicholson (1753-1815) in 1790. The cylinder rolled in synchronization with the type, carrying and pressing down hand-fed sheets of paper asit moved. König refined his press to employ two cylinders, enabling twosheets to be processed with each cycle of motion. This machine was installedin 1814 to print The Times of London, and could print up to 1,200 copies per hour--four times the rate of a manual press. Blumenbach's Physiology, the first book printed with the process, was published in 1817. König and Bauer experimented further with their press, and four years later introduced the "perfecting machine, " which employed a two- cylinder system toprint both sides of a sheet at one pass. König died in Obserzell, Bavaria, on January 17, 1833.

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