Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Richard M. Hoe

The recent death of Richard March Hoe, in Florence, Italy, closes the career of one whose name is known wherever the newspaper is used to spread intelligence.

He was the senior member of the firm of printing-press makers, and one of the leading inventors and developers of that great lever of public opinion. Mr. Hoe’s father was the founder of the firm. He came to this country from England in 1803, and worked at his trade of carpentry. Through his skill as a workman he was sought out by a man named Smith, a maker of printer’s material. He married Smith’s sister, and went into partnership with Smith and brother. The printing-presses of those days were made chiefly of wood, and Hoe’s skill as a wood-worker was valuable to the firm.

In 1822 Peter Smith invented a hand-press. This press was finally supplanted by the Washington press, invented by Samuel Rust in 1829. Mr. Smith died a year after securing his patent, and the firm-name was changed to R. Hoe & Co., but from the manufacture of the Smith press the company made a fortune. The demand for hand presses increased so rapidly that ten years later it was suggested that steam power might be utilized in some way to do the pulling and tugging necessary in getting an impression. At this time Richard M., one of the sons of the founder of the house, was an attentive listener to the discussions.

Young Richard M. Hoe was born in 1812. He had the advantage of an excellent education, but his father’s business possessed such a fascination for him that it was with difficulty he was kept in school. He was a young man of twenty before his father allowed him to work regularly in his shop; but he had already become an expert in handling tools, and soon became one of the best workmen. He joined with his father in the belief that steam would yet be applied to the printing-press, and the numerous models and experiments they made to that end would, in the light of the present day, appear extremely ridiculous.

In 1825-30 Napier had constructed a steam printing-press, and in 1830 Isaac Adams, of Boston, secured a patent for a power press. These inventions were kept very secret; the factories in which they were made being guarded jealously. In 1830 a Napier press was imported into this country for use on the National Intelligencer. Mordecai Noah, editor of Noah’s Sunday Times and Messenger, was collector of the port of New York at that time, and being desirous of seeing how the Napier press would work, sent for Mr. Hoe to put it up. He and Richard succeeded in setting up the press, and worked it successfully.

The success of Napier’s press set the Hoes to thinking. They made models of its peculiar parts and studied them carefully. Then, in pursuance of a plan suggested by Richard, his father sent his partner, Mr. Newton, to England, for the purpose of examining new machinery there, and to secure models for future use. On his return with ideas, Mr. Newton and the Hoes projected and turned out for sale a novel two-cylinder press, which became universally popular and soon superseded all others, the Napier included.

Thus was steam at last harnessed to the press, but the demand of the daily papers for their increasing editions spurred the press makers to devise machines that could be worked at higher speed than was found possible with the presses, in which the type was secured to a flat bed, which was moved backward and forward under a revolving cylinder. It was seen, then, that if type could be secured to the surface of a cylinder, great speed could be attained. In Sir Rowland Hill’s device the type was cast wedge-shape; that is, narrower at the bottom. A broad “nick” was cut into its side, into which a “lead” fitted. The ends of the “lead” in turn fitted into a slot in the column rules, and these latter were bolted into the cylinder. The inventor, Sir Rowland Hill, the father of penny postage in England, sunk, it is said, £80,000 in the endeavor to introduce this method.

In the meantime Richard M. had succeeded to his father’s business, and was giving his attention largely to solving this problem of holding type on a revolving cylinder. It was not until 1846 that he hit on the method of doing it. After a dozen years of thought the idea came upon him unexpectedly, and was startling in its simplicity. It was to make the column rules wedge-shape instead of the type. It was this simple device, by the introduction of the “lightning press,” that revolutionized the newspaper business of the world, and made the press the power it is. It brought Hoe fame and put him at the head of press makers. His business grew to such dimensions that he has in his employ in his New York factory from 800 to 1,500 hands, varying with the state of trade. His London factory employes from 150 to 250 hands.

Yet the great daily cravings demanded still faster presses. The result was the development of the Web press, in which the paper is drawn into the press from a continuous roll, at a speed of twelve miles an hour. The very latest is a machine called the supplement press, capable of printing complete a paper of from eight to twelve pages, depending on the demand of the day, so that the papers slide out of the machine with the supplements gummed in and the paper folded ready for delivery. Of late years many other remarkably ingenious presses of other makers have come into the market, but still the genius of R. M. Hoe has left an indelible mark in the development of the printing-press. He died June 6th, 1886.