A Press with History

Birmingham Printing and Publishing has enjoyed a long tenure in the Magic City, and because of this rich 100+ year impact, the business has borne witness to huge milestones in American society and learned to adapt to stand the test of time. In touring the offices and production facility, it quickly becomes apparent what an important role that the lessons learned and experiences had along the company’s journey play in the day to day operation. The business has impacted a lot of lives throughout the years, but a visualization of just how much time has passed is most apparent in the accumulation of printing and production equipment that has grown throughout the years. One such item that always draws much attention is the Original Heidelberg Cylinder Press (pictured above).

Manufactured between 1914 and 1983, the Original Heidelberg Cylinder Press was a feat of innovation and engineering for its time. Designed to be used as a letterpress, the Heidelberg includes a windmill -like mechanism that cut production time of printed materials in half from other similar presses used around the time of its creation. Two arms are used simultaneously on the press, one for positioning the paper to be printed on, and one that removes printed pieces from the inking area. The design also includes an air pump to provide suction for placement of blank paper from the feed pile, an electric motor to run the arms and rotors, and self inking rollers. The German-engineered press is both efficient and beautiful, making it the holy grail of steampunk aesthetic.

An Original Heidelberg Cylinder Press was acquired by Birmingham Printing in the 70s by our current President, Arthur Henley’s, father. The press is no longer used for letterpress printing, but it is utilized regularly for the die-cutting needed to complete various projects for our customers. This piece of equipment is one that is deeply loved by the Birmingham Printing family not only for what it’s able to do, but also for the interesting tale that’s known to be associated with the piece.

The story goes that some time ago, the Birmingham Printing Heidelberg had fallen into disrepair and needed attention from a specialist. Management at the time called Heidelberger Druckmaschinen’s US headquarters in Atlanta to schedule an expert to perform the needed repairs. Once the repairman arrived at Birmingham Printing, he evaluated the machine and called back to the facilities department in Atlanta to discuss the replacement parts needed to get the press back in working order. The repairman provided the serial number from the press to the parent company in the discussion. However, during the phone call, the H.D. representative stated that it was impossible for the press to have the serial number that was communicated. The repairman repeated the number several times, took a picture of the number, and was unable to gain insight into the machine during his visit. He left the inspection at Birmingham Printing noting that Heidelberger Druckmaschinen would have to do some digging and follow up with the status of the parts once they were able to identify the machine.

The press sat in disrepair while research was done by Heidelberger Druckmaschinen. A member of the Birmingham Printing team finally heard back some time later from the H.D. location in Germany where new, modern printing equipment is still being developed to this day. In the correspondence that was received, the representative from H.D. explained that the serial number the specialist originally provided was not incorrect, it was just one that the US headquarters was unfamiliar with. They explained that the serial number had come from the metal used to manufacture the machine which had been scrapped from a WWII era panzer tank after the war’s end. The serial number was in a different format than the US headquarters had seen previously, but the press was able to be repaired based on the insight that the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen’s headquarters in Germany provided.

While none of the story above has been completely verified, the Birmingham Printing team still loves the idea that the press is not only special for the role it played in the business’ journey, but also for its historical significance that dates back to WWII.

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