Senefelder, Alois

Senefelder, Alois
SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
b. 6 November 1771 Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic)
d. 26 February 1834 Munich, Germany
German inventor of lithography.
Soon after his birth, Senefelder's family moved to Mannheim, where his father, an actor, had obtained a position in the state theatre. He was educated there, until he gained a scholarship to the university of Ingolstadt. The young Senefelder wanted to follow his father on to the stage, but the latter insisted that he study law. He nevertheless found time to write short pieces for the theatre. One of these, when he was 18 years old, was an encouraging success. When his father died in 1791, he gave up his studies and took to a new life as poet and actor. However, the wandering life of a repertory actor palled after two years and he settled for the more comfortable pursuit of playwriting. He had some of his work printed, which acquainted him with the art of printing, but he fell out with his bookseller. He therefore resolved to carry out his own printing, but he could not afford the equipment of a conventional letterpress printer. He began to explore other ways of printing and so set out on the path that was to lead to an entirely new method.
He tried writing in reverse on a copper plate with some acid-resisting material and etching the plate, to leave a relief image that could then be inked and printed. He knew that oily substances would resist acid, but it required many experiments to arrive at a composition of wax, soap and charcoal dust dissolved in rainwater. The plates wore down with repeated polishing, so he substituted stone plates. He continued to etch them and managed to make good prints with them, but he went on to make the surprising discovery that etching was unnecessary. If the image to be printed was made with the oily composition and the stone moistened, he found that only the oily image received the ink while the moistened part rejected it. The printing surface was neither raised (as in letterpress printing) nor incised (as in intaglio printing): Senefelder had discovered the third method of printing.
He arrived at a workable process over the years 1796 to 1799, and in 1800 he was granted an English patent. In the same year, lithography (or "writing on stone") was introduced into France and Senefelder himself took it to England, but it was some time before it became widespread; it was taken up by artists especially for high-quality printing of art works. Meanwhile, Senefelder improved his techniques, finding that other materials, even paper, could be used in place of stone. In fact, zinc plates were widely used from the 1820s, but the name "lithography" stuck. Although he won world renown and was honoured by most of the crowned heads of Europe, he never became rich because he dissipated his profits through restless experimenting.
With the later application of the offset principle, initiated by Barclay, lithography has become the most widely used method of printing.
1911, Alois Senefelder, Inventor of Lithography, trans. J.W.Muller, New York: Fuchs \& Line (Senefelder's autobiography).
Further Reading
W.Weber, 1981, Alois Senefelder, Erfinder der Lithographie, Frankfurt-am-Main: Polygraph Verlag.
M.Tyman, 1970, Lithography 1800–1950, London: Oxford University Press (describes the invention and its development; with biographical details).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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