Rotary press built by Richard Hoe for the <i>New York Sun</i>, wood engraving, <i>Scientific American</i>, 1851 (Linda Hall Library)

Rotary press built by Richard Hoe for the New York Sun, wood engraving, Scientific American, 1851 (Linda Hall Library)

Richard March Hoe

SEPTEMBER 12, 2019

Scientist of the Day - Richard March Hoe

Richard March Hoe, an American inventor and manufacturer, was born Sep. 12, 1812.  His father had established a printing press factory in New York City, which in the 1830s started producing steam-powered presses.  Richard joined the firm just about the time his father died and ran it until his death in 1886.

Richard’s principal contribution to the success of the firm was his invention of the rotary steam-powered press in 1842, where the type was placed on a rotating cylinder instead of in a flat bed.  The advantage was that printing became much faster.  In the era that saw the rise of newspapers such as the New York Sun, which had to print tens of thousands of pages in a hurry every day, this was a considerable advantage.  In 1850, Hoe’s firm constructed a mammoth press for the Sun that had six cylinders and six separate paper feeds and could, according to Hoe’s claims, churn out 50,000 pages an hour.  Scientific American published a large engraving of that press in 1851, which we have as our first image. We also show two pages from a five-page patent application of 1847 for a four-cylinder press, the predecessor of the giant Sun press (third and fourth images).

Hoe would later (in the 1870s) invent and manufacture a steam-powered rotary press that, instead of printing from separate stacked sheets of paper, could print from single miles-long rolls of newsprint, and print on both sides at the same time.  The Newspaper Age had now fully arrived.

The American Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution has, in their vast collection of patent models, 12 models submitted by Hoe along with his patent applications.  We see here one of those (fifth image).  It sounds from the description as if the Museum also has the model for the great New York Sun rotary press – that would be a pleasure to see.

The portrait is a stunning photograph by Matthew Brady, taken perhaps in the 1860s and now in the Library of Congress (second image).  The last image is a promotional lithograph of the 1880s that shows the R. Hoe & Co. factory.  Clearly business was good.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to