Treadwell's wooden-frame bed and platen power press. Savings in labor were achieved by having the press operated by women.

From Hoe, A Short History of the Printing Press (1902) p. 11.

On left, logo used to indicate that a book was printed by Treadwell

On left, logo used to indicate that a book was printed by Treadwell's Power Press. This appeared on all 8 vols. of William Mitford's The History of Greece published in Boston by Timothy Bedlington and Charles Ewer in 1823.

This thin pamphlet printed in 1823 indicates only on the upper printed wrapper that it was published by Treadwell

This thin pamphlet printed in 1823 indicates only on the upper printed wrapper that it was published by Treadwell's Power Press.

Treadwell Power Press Rogers & Co

A book issued from Treadwell's Power Press before the fire destroyed the printing facility in 1826. 

Treadwell Rogers 1826 enlargement

Detail showing the reference to Treadwell's Power Press- J.G. Rogers & Co. on the title page.

Detail map of Boston, Massachusetts, United States Overview map of Boston, Massachusetts, United States

A: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Daniel Treadwell Invents the First American Power Press, Operated by Women

1821 to 1826
Portrait of Treadwell reproduced photographically as the frontispiece for Wyman

Portrait of Treadwell reproduced photographically as the frontispiece for Wyman's Memoir (1888).

In 1819 American inventor Daniel Treadwell of Boston travelled to London. There he saw the Koenig printing machine in operation. By 1821 Treadwell, having returned to Boston, invented the Treadwell Power Press, the first American printing machine. From this beginning mechanized presses became known as power presses in America, or just presses, as distinct from England and the continent where they were known as printing machines. In his Autobiography Treadwell wrote:

"After an examination of the steam cylinder press while in England, I concluded that a better steam or power press for book-work might be consructed by the using the platen instead of the cylinder for the impression. All the English machines gave the impression by cylinders, which, while they are capable of executing work more rapidly, do not give so fair and clear a page as can be produced by the flat surface of the platen. Soon after my return I began the construction of a machine to print by 'Power.' It was completed in about a year, being the first press by which a sheet of paper was printed on this continent [North America] by other than human power. All the operations except supplying and removing the sheets were automatic, dervied from a rotatory shaft worked by a horse. The press worked regularly as to time, making nine or ten impressions between fifty-eight and sixty-two seconds. Although constructed in 1821, it was not patented till 1826, which added by so much to the fourteen years' monopoly" (Morrill Wyman, Memoir of Daniel Treadwell [1888] 339. Wyman includes several schematics of the press.)

Treadwell continued, "There was not at that time, 1821...I believe, a single steam-engine at work in any shop or manufactory in the old peninsula of Boston, but a single one at the foundry at South Boston. There was not a lathe to be procured large enough to turn the face of an iron bed or of a platen, and I was obliged to construct these as in the Ramage press, the former of stone and the latter of wood. The inking rollers were of the English composition of glue and treacle, formed in a block-tin mould. They were the first rollers of the kind ever made in this country, and no other person obtained possession of the art of making them for eight or ten years. The first press was operated by a horse, in 1821.

"After satisfying myself of the quality of the work, and that an important saving in price would be made over hand printing, but not finding the printers prepared to adopt it, I determined to begin the business of printing, and continue it until the printers should be satisfied that it would be for their advantage to adopt my press and purchase the right to use it. I built a second machine in 1822, to be operated by the same horse that carried the first. In this the bed and platen were of cast-iron, I having succeeded in adapting an old lathe to turn their faces. In connection with two gentlemen, General W. H. Sumner and Mr. Redford Webster, I purchased type, procured workmen, and made contracts with some booksellers to print several books for them, and otherwise obtained work where I could get it. With these two presses I continued operations in Batterymarch Street, in a  building owned by Benjamin Bussey, for a year or two, the work being equal to any hand-press printing, and, being performed by females at the rate of nine or ten impressions a minute, the saving of expense was important. In 1822, one of the principal booksellers of Boston purchased my establishment with the patent right for Massachusetts. It was removed to another place, and two more presses added. The establishment was burned in 1826." (Wyman, pp. 344-345).

Wyman continued, "During these two years many books were printed, and can be seen on the shelves of libraries, bearing the imprint on the title-page, 'Treadwell's Power Press." In 1822 an edition of the New Testament from stereotype plates was printed upon this press.

"It must have required much boldness and perseverance on the part of the inventor to embark in a trade to which he was not educated, with doubts of pecuniary sucess, the opposition of the printers, and something worse among the journeymen; for his warehouse once took fire and his presses were damaged, not without grave suspicion of those who supposed their livelihood in danger from this innovation. It may be also that the employment--now first the first time, probably--of young women and girls in the press-work may have added to their fears" (Wyman, 345).

According to R. A. Gross  & M. Kelly, eds., A History of the Book in America, Vol. 2, p. 165, "by 1835 some fifty Treadwell presses were in operation in printing offices from Boston to Washington." 

The best modern reference on Treadwell's power press is Charles, Douglas W., Bed & Platen Book Printing Machines: American and British streams of ingenious regression in the quest for print quality. Plane Surface Press, 2017.



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