Publishing Firsts: The Rotary Press

American inventor Richard Hoe’s 1847 four-cylinder rotary press helped increase printing output tenfold, to 8,000 pages per hour. Thomas Nelson Jr. (son of Thomas Nelson, the company’s founder) improved upon Hoe’s product by inventing a double-sided press that used cylindrical stereotype plates to print on a roll of paper—as opposed to the sheets of paper that had been hand-fed into the machinery—and significantly increased printing speed. A serrated edge separated the pages automatically. This method delivered 10,000 impressions per hour, printing on both sides of the page.

Nelson Jr.’s invention was displayed at the Crystal Palace International Exhibition. Though the London International Exhibition in 1851 featured more than 200 exhibits of new inventions in paper, printing, and bookbinding, his press stood out. Nelson never patented his work, however, so Collins, Harper & Brothers, and the majority of the world’s newspapers soon adapted and expanded on his concept.