Since the creation of metal type, there has never been such a successful machine as the Heidelberg platen.
Schnellpresse, as Heidelberg was called in the early days, built their business around this press. Platens were sold all over the world and when it was time to stop, in 1985, more than 165,000 “T” platens were delivered.
There was of course, competition. The British Thompson was a close facsimile of the Heidelberg – especially before WW II when Thompson used the same rotary gripper system. That ended abruptly after WW II.
Later, the Czechoslovak Grafopress appeared as an almost identical clone. Some suggest this is when Heidelberg started to use the term “Original Heidelberg” to disassociate themselves from an Iron Curtain country impervious to litigation.
I rather doubt that. The word “Original” was often used by German builders and Schnellpresse probably did too even before the Czech copy. We called the Grafopress the “Scrap-o-Press” as it was nowhere near as good a machine.
Grafopress did have one feature that was incorporated into the Heidelberg though. The ability to lock out the forme rollers was eventually, years later, designed into the Drupa 1967 Heidelberg.
Both the Soviet Union and China also made knock-offs of the Heidelberg, both very poor copies.
Over the years, we hauled Heidelberg platens out of and into basements, through windows, into garages, or stripped down to get through narrow doorways.
There seemed to be no place that existed where a Heidelberg could not go. Our company overhauled and sold so many – I lost track. When crash numbering was at its apex, it was not uncommon to see one operator in control of four presses.
He could hear exactly what the machine was doing while busy loading and unloading feeders and deliveries. As safety concerns increased the Heidelberg platen faced many challenges.
Some “T’s” found themselves encapsulated under plexiglas and wire mesh, just to keep the authorities at bay. Eventually, it became impossible to operate these presses in such situations. Greeting card companies that may have had 10+ machines soon started to discard the platen.
This amazing and still relevant machine was born around 1912 when Schnellpressenfabrik-Heidelberg purchased the patents from a Köln print shop owner and tinkerer – Karl Gilke.
Not much is known about Gilke, but the platen with the “propeller-gripper” changed the world.
Prior there existed essentially hand-fed platens. These machines, while labor intensive, were slow. Every sheet had to be fed and delivered by hand.
Gilke changed all that by using the favored “Boston Principle” (a platen that has a stationary bed) and incorporated both feeder and delivery into it.