Open Enrollment | Subscribe to Printing Impressions HERE
Follow us on

WOA 50th ANNIVERSARY -- An Industry Time Line

May 2002
Here are some milestones that occurred in the history of printing and in the web offset process, in particular.

1434—Johann Gutenberg settles in Strassburg, Germany, and, by 1438, forms a business partnership. In 1450, he is able to pay the first installment on a loan from his partner, Johann Fust (Furst). A second installment is paid to Fust two years later. In 1457, Gutenberg goes broke as a result of a lawsuit and Fust takes over his equipment.

1439—Around this time, Gutenberg is working on the development of a two-part, fixed-metal type mold capable of producing type characters (movable type) of various widths and of a uniform type height. These molds replace the inadequate wood and clay molds used earlier.

1444—In recent times, the earliest fragment of printing from moveable type are discovered in Mainz, Germany, having been buried for centuries in the binding of an old book. Because of its crude printing, authorities conclude that "The World of Judgment" probably dates from the period when Gutenberg was concluding his experiments in Strassburg.

1455—A two-volume Latin Bible is produced. The bible is referred to as the Gutenberg Bible. There are 48 known copies of the bible today. Eleven of the surviving bibles were printed on vellum. Before Gutenberg, there were approximately 30,000 books on the entire continent of Europe. Most were handmade bibles or religious commentaries. By 1500, there were more than nine million books on various subjects.

1457—Johann Fust (Furst) and his nephew, Peter Schöffer, produce the famous "Psalter" in Germany. This was the first book printed to contain the names of the printers. It was also the first truly important work that includes color.

1704—The Boston News Letter, the first continuous (webfed) newsletter published in colonial America, begins and is printed by Bartholomew Greene and published by John Campbell.

1776—Experiments with a new method of printing, known as lithography, were beginning. Alois (Aloys) Senefelder, a Bavarian actor and dramatist, was eventually given credit for this process, in which he etched an image on limestone (using nitric acid) after drawing a design on the stone with an oily ink. The non-image area of the stone was treated with gum arabic.

1865—The first successful self-feeding or web printing press is developed by William Bullock of Philadelphia. The continuous roll of paper is printed on both sides of the sheet. This perfecting method used stereotype plates. Bullock dies in 1868 as a result of an injury caused when his clothes are caught in the running press.

1868—Web paper manufacturing first begins. Until this time, paper had been made in sheet form. With this new method, continuous rolls of paper are being produced and made available for web press production.

1886—Ottmar Mergenthaler's Blower typesetting machine is released and put into commercial use. One dozen machines are installed at the New York Tribune, where it is used to compose the daily newspaper. By the summer of 1887, 160 machines have been built with 60 of them installed in the newspaper trade.

1907—Other presses may have preceded it, but the first instance appearing in a sales blurb is the Bigelow rotary offset press manufactured in Buffalo, NY. Designed for letterhead and similar work, it ran at speeds to 8,000 iph.

1911—The Harris Automatic Press Co., founded by Alfred E. Harris and Charles C. Harris, is delivering sheetfed and one- and two-color rotary presses for the letterpress industry. Web offset presses are soon on the horizon.

1914—The Walter Scott Co. comes out with what is said to be the first perfecting web offset press.

1931—The first web offset press in the United States is installed by John F. Webendorfer. The first Webendorfer in 1933 is built exclusively for printing theater programs, but is quickly adapted to other uses. Later, Webendorfer built large lithographic presses that could print two colors on both side of a 40˝ web with a 25˝ cutoff. One press even included a plate and impression cylinder for rapid electrotype changes to imprint magazine mastheads.

1935—Heatset printing inks and paper coated on a machine are developed, allowing for the production of high-quality, four-color images on webfed letterpress presses for magazine production. These wet-color printing methods were developed by Time Inc. The use of color photographs begins to appear in Life magazine. Eastman Kodak Laboratories produces a color scanner and Time Inc. develops an electronic scanner—called the PDI scanner—while others such as RCA, Fairchild, Crosfield and Hell refine the technology even further.

1938—American Type Founders (ATF) acquires the Webendorfer-Willis Co., therefore inheriting the web engineering from that enterprise. Around 1945, ATF starts to manufacture web offset presses designed to be used for printing catalogs, newspapers, magazines, telephone books and encyclopedias. In time, added features are available, including sheeters, full-width double imprinters, high-speed folders, two jaw cylinders for single and double parallel folds, choppers for right-angle folds, full-width cross-perforation and slot-type vertical perforation, and ribbon folders able to interleave color pages with black-and-white pages anywhere in the signature.

1939—As far as can be ascertained, the Hoe Co. transfers its affections from rotary to web offset around this year, producing a large four-color press carrying four plates across each cylinder and two around, running at speeds up to 15,000 iph. The press is equipped with a three-arm reel and a high-speed paster.

1940—During the early 1940s, the use of web offset increased in the printing of business forms. About a decade later, web offset was used more frequently for magazine and book production, as well as in the commercial printing field. Large print orders of 50,000 or more were considered suitable for these presses. They were equipped with ovens and dryers. At the time, some of them cost more than $1 million.

1949—A neat little web-to-sheet offset jobber called the ATF Green Hornet is introduced. By 1962, Solna has added the Super Green Hornet web-to-sheet offset-letterset press with multiple printing units and turning bars for perfecting. It is also capable of breaking the speed limit by churning out up to 21,000 iph.

1951—Sun Chemical (now the world's largest ink manufacturer) introduces a set of gloss heatset inks for web offset print production.

1954—Web offset has become a popular method of print production by 1954. In recognition of this, the Printing Industries of America adds a Web Offset Section to its organization.

1960—The original M-1000 heatset offset printing machine is built as a 16-page web press by the Harris-Cottrell Co.

1963—Harris introduces the M-1000 web offset press. Innovations to this press design include a plate-to-blanket ratio of 1:2, on-the-run register control and a press that would operate at 1,000 fpm. This press establishes a new design criteria for high-speed, web offset production. More than 5,000 units installed worldwide.

1967—Edward Blank writes about the 1967 DRUPA exhibition. Offset printing volume by this date has surpassed letterpress and Blank correctly predicts the increase in offset presses from foreign manufacturers entering the U.S. market. Of significance at DRUPA '67 is the introduction of a variable-size cutoff press from Roland in Germany, with the ability to offer up to 10 trim sizes, in five colors, at speeds of 1,200 fpm.

1968—Business Week magazine switches to web offset at the William Krueger Printing Co.

1975—The group SWOP (Specifications for Web Offset Publications) is formed. SWOP is established by various graphic arts groups to write specifications for printing materials supplied to web offset publications.

1985—Pinless folders are introduced, which provide substantial paper savings by reducing bleed trim requirements to an absolute minimum.

1992—Heidelberg debuts gapless press blankets, a major development in web offset press design and the most significant feature of Sunday Presses.

1995—An R.R. Donnelley & Sons customer, Scientific American magazine becomes the first web offset magazine to accept digital advertising. Twenty-one advertising pages from Apple Computer are delivered to the publication by the BBDO agency in Los Angeles. All ads are in digital format—as either native application files or high-resolution native scans. No film is used to produce the issue. The original digital data is used to image offset printing plates.

1998—Quad/Graphics' Saratoga Springs, NY, print production plant reportedly becomes the first web offset facility to offer 100 percent digital services (digital photography, digital proofing, telecommunications and digital output to plates and cylinders). The printer's other plants soon follow.

2000—At DRUPA in Germany, Sun Chemical and Flint Ink both announce their intent to develop single-fluid inks that eliminate the necessity to balance ink and water on-press.

2001—Heidelberg receives a GATF InterTech Award for the development of its Ecocool dryer, the first web press dryer with an integrated chill roll section.

Rewarding Reading

Text and images for this printing industry time line was used, with permission, from the authors of two fascinating books on the subject.

The first, "Publishing Timeline 2000: A Chronology of Publishing & Graphic Arts Events," by Richard Sasso, is available from QBC Publishing Systems, Hawley, PA. Sasso has more than 40 years of publishing experience, including 36 years with Scientific American, where he served as associate publisher and vice president of production and technology. With 350 illustrations, both hard and softcover editions, including a searchable CD-ROM, are available at a discount. E-mail, call (570) 775-6856 or visit

"The Power of the Press: A History of Printing Presses Spanning 550 Years" was written in 1998 by Paul Martin Tonsing, a 50-year veteran of the printing trade who first worked in his father's print shop at the tender age of 12. In the early 1960s, he was at the forefront of the offset revolution and converted, as he says with a great deal of effort, from letterpress to offset. Ordering information is available by contacting P&T Publishing, Mansfield, TX, at (817) 293-7394.


Click here to leave a comment...
Comment *
Most Recent Comments: