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The History of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG

10/06/2000


Johannes Gutenberg (1397 - 1468) is to blame for everything.

He invented moveable type and, while he was at it, letterpress printing. This first printing process involved arranging individual metal letters into words and sentences, inking them, and then pressing them against homemade paper. But for centuries following Gutenberg's revolutionary invention, the art of letterpress printing remained essentially unchanged. In 1811, Friedrich Gottlob Koenig built a mechanical platen press. Yet real progress in letter- press printing would have to wait several decades, until the use of steam engines became more common and new machining methods came in fashion.

The new technologies were particularly interesting to millers, who, in add- ition to grinding wheat into flour, were busying themselves with devel- oping better machines and ways to transmit power. It is therefore no coin- cidence that the first chapter in the history of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG features a miller's son by the name of Andreas Hamm. On March 11, 1850, Hamm, then 26, took over the ownership of the bell foundry and machine factory Hemmer, Hamm and Compagnie from his older brother, Georg, in Frankenthal in the Rhine Valley. Two years later he broke off and formed his own company.

In 1856, Hamm met Andreas Albert, his senior by three years. Albert had completed his apprenticeship in the factory of Koenig and Bauer in Oberzell on the Main River in western Germany, where he had become well-acquainted with printing presses. Albert and Hamm decided to join forces to produce, along with bells and cast metal parts, mechanical platen presses. Two years later they had already manufactured 14 such presses.

The Frankenthaler Zeitung, a German newspaper, reported in 1864: "In a remarkably short time, this business has established a reputation for itself extending far beyond Germany." Soon the new company was dispatching presses to customers as far away as the Ukrainian cities of Odessa and Kherson.

In 1873, the two partners went their separate ways, and soon afterwards were fiercely competing against each other to see who could build the better press. In any event, in October of 1875, Andreas Hamm came out with a "high-speed cylinder letterpress" for 2,400 marks, which he sold to clients as far off as Egypt. A year after Andreas Hamm's death (on June 22, 1894), his son, Carl Hamm, sold the company. Shortly thereafter, it moved from Frankenthal to Heidelberg, was converted to a joint-stock com- pany and, in 1905, gave itself the new appellation "Schnellpressenfabrik AG Heidelberg".

The main shortcoming plaguing high-speed cylinder presses at that time, namely the lack of a reliable single-sheet feeder, was solved after Karl Georg Ferdinand Gilke arrived in Heidelberg in 1912. He developed what he called the "propeller-gripper", describing it as "an automatic feeding and placing device, in which a pivoting rack picks up the sheet by applying suction to its entire surface, then uses blast air to deposit it on the platen." This meant that the sheet no longer had to be placed on the platen by hand, which had slowed the overall process considerably.

After series production of the "Express", an automatic platen press able to print 1,000 sheets per hour, began after the end of World War I, it became a sensational success virtually overnight. Its popularity was further enhanced by the new Management Board member, Hubert H.A. Sternberg, who put his heart and soul into marketing the new product.

This 29-year-old came up with the idea of mounting it onto a car so it
could be driven from one printing company to another for live demonstra- tions. Sternberg sweetened the deal by allowing the printers to pay by installments. He was the one who lent the machine its name "Original Heidelberger Tiegel", thus giving it a touch of German romanticism. He also invited one out of every five customers to visit the factory.

Because demand grew so rapidly, Sternberg installed the very first assem- bly line in a German printing press factory, permitting 100 "Tiegels" to be assembled each month. The merger of Heidelberg's high-speed press factory with the Giesling machine factory (M.A.G.) in 1929 expanded the company's metal-casting capability. In the early 1930s, various banks acquired a majority interest in the "Schnellpressenfabrik Heidelberg" before transferring their shareholdings to Rheinelektra, a subsidiary of RWE, in 1941.

In 1934, Heidelberg introduced a fully automatic high-speed cylinder press to the market, and it caught on like wild fire. At that time, 60 percent of the company's revenues came from foreign sales, which became difficult to maintain after the outbreak of WW II. Because printing presses were not essential to the war effort, production was cut back. To keep its skilled workers from being sent to the front, the company accepted orders for precision lathes and hydraulic devices. Sternberg kept his distance from the National Socialist movement, which he was always suspicious of. This explain why, when U.S. troops marched into Heidelberg on March 30, 1945, the press factory was neither occupied nor dismantled, and production there resumed on May 8 - the same day that Germany surrendered to the Allies.

In 1957, the largest printing press plant in the world, in Wiesloch near Heidelberg, began production. By 1959 it had churned out 100,000 presses. Today roughly 400,000 Heidelberg presses are running in 240,000 printing companies spanning the globe. In 1962, the Heidelberg company started building offset printing presses. Sternberg had resisted this move for decades, until some technicians were finally able to convince him of this new technology's advantages.

The company's financial success continued despite several setbacks, such as the slump of the mid-70s. Around 1980, more and more printers were looking to print in color, and Heidelberg presses were selling so well that a second factory was built in Amstetten, near the Black Forest. This plant, which opened in 1985, was fully computerized. In 1988, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG acquired the American web offset specialist, Harris, thus entering a completely new market segment. During the 1989/90 fiscal year, Heidelberg chalked up record sales of 760 million Deutschmark - at a profit margin of 30 percent.

At drupa 95, Heidelberg presented a completely new line of products. Today, as many as ten printing units in a row allow our customers to print both sides of the sheet in up to five colors, with coating and drying in-line.
In the Quickmaster DI, an analog printing plate is digitally imaged by laser beams right in the press.

Hartmut Mehdorn, who became our new Management Board Chairman on October 1, 1995, has set out to transform the company into a systems vendor offering everything from prepress to bindery products, thus facilitating our customers' migration to the digital age.

In 1996, Heidelberg therefore acquired the prepress specialist Linotype-Hell AG, the Dutch company Stork Contiweb - a manufacturer of web splicers and dryers - and the British-American company Sheridan Systems, a producer of bookbinding systems and mailroom equipment.

Heidelberg also underwent internal reorganization and since April 1997 has consisted of operational divisions of equal status known as Business Units. These deal with the various groups of machinery and are supported by Sales, Service and Corporate Units. On 8 December 1997, Heidelberg was listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange for the first time. The performance of Heidelberg shares since then has been very pleasing.

In the last fiscal year (April 1, 1999 to March 31, 2000), the Heidelberg Group achieved sales of 4.6 billion Euro and an annual surplus of 251 million Euro. Exports accounted for 84 percent of these results. The company employs 24,100 staff around the world, approximately half of whom are in Germany. A major factor in Heidelberg's success is its dense worldwide sales and service network with over 250 offices in 170 countries. In order to penetrate major markets more effectively, Heidelberg has taken over numerous offices from outside representatives. In 1998 the sales networks in France and Mexico were acquired from Dutch trading company KNP BT and integrated into Heidelberg's own organizational structures, and the "Heidelberg do Brasil" office was set up.

Customers in Asia, Africa and Scandinavia have also been receiving direct support since July 1998, when Heidelberg acquired all the sales companies and activities in print media products from the East Asiatic Company (EAC) of Copenhagen.

In 1998, construction of the Print Media Academy was started on a site near company headquarters in Heidelberg. The new building was officially opened in mid-April 2000, neatly coinciding with the company's 150th anniversary. The Academy is a center for communications, training and expertise through which Heidelberg offers a wide-ranging training program to the entire print media industry. Courses range from training for printers and fitters through to the "Print Manager" MBA. Visitors to the Academy also receive advice on business and marketing issues and work together on such matters as business process concepts for print shops.

In December 1998, Heidelberg acquired the Stahl Group (Germany and USA) and integrated additional finishing processes for printed products into its portfolio. The company underwent a major expansion with the acquisition of the Office Imaging division of the Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester (USA) in March 1999. This step enabled Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG to strengthen its activities in digital printing, one of the fastest growing markets in the industry. All the digital expertise of the Group was bundled together to form Heidelberg Digital, which is based in Rochester.

In September 1999, Heidelberg acquired a 30 percent share in Gallus Holding AG (St. Gallen, Switzerland). The two companies agreed to work closely in the fields of marketing, sales and technology. Gallus develops and produces rotary printing presses with a particular focus on flexographic printing and letterpress and screen printing. The group's products are mainly aimed at label printers, and it is the international market leader in this sector - not least in terms of quality. In September 1999, Heidelberg also opened its new international spare parts center in Wiesloch. Some 46 million Euro have been invested in the World Logistics Center, which offers customers an even better supply of spare parts than before. Using the latest technology and cutting-edge logistics, original Heidelberg spare parts can be delivered anywhere in Europe within 24 hours, with up to 4,000 orders being dispatched in a day.

Bernhard Schreier, previously Chief Operating Officer (COO) in Rochester, became Chairman of the Management Board of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG on 1 October 1999.

More and more frontiers are coming down within the world of printing. The traditionally separate areas of prepress, press and postpress are moving closer and closer together and are being linked by comprehensive solutions. The Heidelberg Group has developed from a traditional manufacturer of printing presses into an internationally focussed global player on the market for cutting-edge printing solutions, and is therefore playing a major role in this dynamic process. It is the aim of the company to play a leading part in shaping the future of the print media industry. And the customer is always central to everything. Whether you run a small family business or a major company, Heidelberg's modular components offer tailor-made solutions ranging from individual products to complete workflows. This enables us to provide the entire print media industry with comprehensive concepts. Heidelberg presented itself as a solutions provider for the first time at the drupa 2000 exhibition in May, the largest trade fair in the industry. There were two particular highlights making their debut at the exhibition - the Mainstream 80, Heidelberg's new newspaper press, and the NexPress 2100 digital color press, which was developed in a joint venture with Kodak.

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