Times newspaper first issue printed on Koenig press
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons

First issue of The Times printed on Koenig's double cylinder steam-driven press.

Times Explanation of first Koenig press issue
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons

Here is the way the way The Times editor explained the historic accomplishment of steam-powered printing: "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...."

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John Walter Secretly Prints the First Issue of "The Times" on a Steam-Driven Koenig Cylinder Press


Koenig's double cylinder steam driven press printed The Times of London issue of November 29, 1814.

The major speed advantage of Koenig's cylinder press was first put to practical use on November 29, 1814 when the owner of the The Times of London newspaper, John Walter II, published its first issue printed on a double steam-driven Koenig cylinder press. The output of the new machine was initially 1,100 sheets an hour—more than four times faster than the hand presses previously used by the newspaper.

Most accounts of this very significant event in the history of printing and publishing describe it simply as a fait accompli. However, when steam-power was first applied to printing at The Times there were very strong feelings in the minds of the working classes against the introduction of machinery. Memory of the luddite machine-breaking in the textile industry during 1811 and 1812, and the resulting convictions and executions in 1812 and 1813, was very fresh. It was felt with much justification that machinery mainly benefitted the capitalist, and deprived the working man of his right to labor. Pressmen naturally shared this fear and hatred of mechanical innovations with other handcraftsmen. For that reason the owner of The Times, John Walter II, secretly set up Friedrich Koenig's printing machine in a separate building adjoining The Times office, for fear that his pressmen might smash the offensive machinery like the Luddites. Brock & Meadows, The Lamp of Learning (1984, p. 60) describe it this way:

"Walter immediately ordered two double machines with engines to be erected in a hired building close to Printing House Square amid close secrecy in order to avoid conflict with The Times's regular staff. Bauer [Koenig's business partner] bound his men with a £100 bond to divulge nothing. By tricking his staff on the evening of 29 November 1814 that the presses had to be held for important news expected from the Continent, Walter printed the first issue on Koenig's machines. Subsequently, by threatening to meet objections with the full weight of the law against combinations, and by also offering displaced staff full wages until they found work elsewhere, he avoided a confrontation with the workforce. (Taylor was to cause some offence in 1824 by referring to the way Walter had ruthlessly broken a union in The Times chapel [i.e. compositors' union] in 1810 when twenty-eight of his compositors walked out. One of the men he had had imprisoned died there.)"

Extremely proud of this achievement, The Times printed this statement in the November 29 issue:

"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 form, little more remains for man to do, that to attend upon, and watch this unconscious agent in its operations. The machine is then merely supplied with paper; itself places the form, inks it, adjusts the paper to the form newly inked, stamps the sheet, gives it forth to the hands of the attendant, at the same time withdrawing the form 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 peformed with such a velocity and simultaneousness of movement, that no less than eleven hundred sheets are impressed in one hour."

The Times followed up their original announcement with an article defending the introduction of the new technology on December 3, 1814. A few days later, on December 8, Friedrich Koenig published a relatively long article in The Times narrating the history of the developments that led to the introduction of the new technology.

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