1920s newspaper press missouri cropped.jpg

Steam-powered Rotary Printing Press

Richard March Hoe
1811 - 2000

The rotary press imprinted images using a rotating cylinder, which allowed for faster, more efficient, and higher quality printing. At upwards of 8,000 pages an hour, the steam-powered rotary press further increased the speed at which materials could be printed and thus expanded the potential audience base for the new text and fixed image medium. 

The process began with the 1812 invention of the cylinder press by Friedrich Gottlob Koenig and Andreas Friedrich Bauer. In 1843, Richard March Hoe introduced both the first lithographic printing press, which involved setting type on the rotating cylinder, rather than on the flatbed, and the steam-powered press. The steam-powered press dramatically increased the volume of pages printed in a single day. Then in 1870, Hoe developed a method for printing on both sides of the paper simultaneously. In combination with affordable pulp paper, which was eventually mounted on rolls for continuous feed, the process became so efficient that newspapers and other printed materials flooded the market.

By 1892, the Goss Printing Press Company, based in Chicago, became an industry leader that provided newspapers around the country with the commercial presses. Three years later, their competitor, Harris Automatic Press Company, began marketing an automatic paper feeder. Automation sped up the process so dramatically that it defied belief. The brothers, Charles and Alfred Harris, were forced to understate its speed and efficiency in order to make sales. The automatic feeder, ten times faster than manual feed, soon outstripped existing presses, requiring newer models to be designed. The brothers continued working with the printing press throughout their lives, filing several patents. For an example of one of the Harris brothers' patents, click here.

As more and more newspapers acquired these automated machines, the cost of newspapers decreased. These cheaper penny press newspapers were first marketed to the lower classes and often contained tabloid-style rumors and gossip. For a time there was a clear distinction between the penny papers and the more expensive, upper-class six cent papers. However, as the reading public increased, the demand for real news also increased. Journalism began to be taken seriously and the quality of reporting in most newspapers improved. 

Note the reciprocal causation between technology and culture here. Nineteenth-century culture formed a market for printed materials. Technology made those printed materials affordable to the general public. The public responded with an increased interest in the news. A capitalist desire for greater profits encouraged further developments of the printing press, pushing it towards faster and more cost efficient methods of printing. As supply increased, demand followed.

"Edward Lloyd, 1815-1890." Edward Lloyd: Victorian Newspaper Proprietor, Publisher, and Entrepeneur. Accessed December 10, 2015. http://www.edwardlloyd.org/ printing.htm. 

Hoe, Robert 1902. A Short History of the Printing Press and Improvements in Printing Machinery from the Time of Gutenberg up to the Present Day. New York: Robert Hoe.

McLuhan, Marshall 1967. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Reprint.