Original Heidelberg
'The Prince of Presses'

By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Summer 1981

Even in this “offset age,” the Heidelberg platen presses prove their worth—day in, day out. Still the most versatile presses on the market they can print, imprint, number, perforate, punch, slit, emboss, die-cut, score and hot foil stamp.

They can print on a wide range of paper stocks from onion paper to carton. Some models can print on leather, cloth & plastic.

Designed and built by German craftsmen, the Heidelberg press features heavy-duty construction with massive base and platen of specially cast alloy and shaft of stell, toggle lever drive with impression control, push-and-pull mechanism for feeding very thin paper, perfect register at all speed variations, cylinder inking system and rollers running in precision ball bearings.

But the most radical feature of the Original Heidelberg press is its sweeping windmill feeder. This double blade, with grippers on both ends, moves in quarter turns from feeding, to print, to delivery positions.

Vacuum suckers lift unprinted sheets from the pile holding them until seized by grippers in either end of the windmill blade, which revolves, carrying the sheet to the edge of the platen. While the grippers still hold the sheet, the press closes, making the impression. After platen opens the windmill revolves another quarter-turn, delivering printed sheet.

The press, regarded by pressmen as “The Prince of Presses,” is made in West Germany by Schnellpressenfabrik AG Heidelberg (Heibelberg Rapid Press Works, Inc.) & now is made in 10.1/4x15” and 13 3/8x18 1/8” sizes.

The Heidelberg got its start over 130 years ago when German master machinist Andreas Hamm established a factory in the university town of Heidelberg in Baden-Wurttemberg in 1850 to build presses, folding machines and gas engines.

Shortly before the turn of the century he began concentrating on the designing of high-speed Letterpress machines.

In 1912 work and testing began on the Heidelberg Original press. Speed, precise register and the windmill gripper were incorporated into this ingenious mechanism. The press made its debut in 1913.

Early Heidelberg presses had a revolving ink disk system, but in 1919 it was discarded in favor of the presently used cylindric inking system.

The toggle action for control of the platen movement was not featured on the press until 1924. This same year an assembly line was instituted to step up production of the press. Speed of the press art the time was in excess of 3,000 i.p.h.

In 1933 the 13x18” Heidelberg press, with impressional strength of 60 tons, was introduced. Three years later the company began making cylinder presses. Soon the speed of the platen press was raised to 5,000 (10,000 using the double feeder attachment) i.p.h.

Production of all presses was resumed in 1949 after being curtailed during World War II. New dramatic techniques were used to regain lost markets.

Special vans were outfitted, each containing a Heidelberg. Driven directly to printers’ doors, extension cables would be connected to local powser outlets and the press would be demonstrated as it turned out the printers’ own jobs. Sales soared and within a few years the unique Heidelberg press was busily operating in all parts of the world.

In 1957 another factory was opened at Wieslock, West Germany and the number of employees rose to around 6,000. In 1967 Heidelberg announced that it had built over 175,000 of the platen presses. One press was built every 14 minutes.

Nevertheless, each day’s output was shipped out at once—the factory has never been able to keep any in stock!

In 1958 a new line of cutting and creasing platen presses were introduced. Four years later, because of American demands, a press for letterset and offset duplicating was brought out.

In spite of the tremendous acceptance of offset presses, prerssmen are not likely to forget the Heidelberg press. Long will they admire the ease at which it can be set-up and its fast getaway on any job, its tremendous impressional strength, its hair-line register and smooth trouble-free operation.