Gestetner, David

Gestetner, David
SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
b. March 1854 Csorna, Hungary
d. 8 March 1939 Nice, France
Hungarian/British pioneer of stencil duplicating.
For the first twenty-five years of his life, Gestetner was a rolling stone and accordingly gathered no moss. Leaving school in 1867, he began working for an uncle in Sopron, making sausages. Four years later he apprenticed himself to another uncle, a stockbroker, in Vienna. The financial crisis of 1873 prompted a move to a restaurant, also in the family, but tiring of a menial existence, he emigrated to the USA, travelling steerage. He began to earn a living by selling Japanese kites: these were made of strong Japanese paper coated with lacquer, and he noted their long fibres and great strength, an observation that was later to prove useful when he was searching for a suitable medium for stencil duplicating. However, he did not prosper in the USA and he returned to Europe, first to Vienna and finally to London in 1879. He took a job with Fairholme \& Co., stationers in Shoe Lane, off Holborn; at last Gestetner found an outlet for his inventive genius and he began his life's work in developing stencil duplicating. His first patent was in 1879 for an application of the hectograph, an early method of duplicating documents. In 1881, he patented the toothed-wheel pen, or Cyclostyle, which made good ink-passing perforations in the stencil paper, with which he was able to pioneer the first practicable form of stencil duplicating. He then adopted a better stencil tissue of Japanese paper coated with wax, and later an improved form of pen. This assured the success of Gestetner's form of stencil duplicating and it became established practice in offices in the late 1880s. Gestetner began to manufacture the apparatus in premises in Sun Street, at first under the name of Fairholme, since they had defrayed the patent expenses and otherwise supported him financially, in return for which Gestetner assigned them his patent rights. In 1882 he patented the wheel pen in the USA and appointed an agent to sell the equipment there. In 1884 he moved to larger premises, and three years later to still larger premises. The introduction of the typewriter prompted modifications that enabled stencil duplicating to become both the standard means of printing short runs of copy and an essential piece of equipment in offices. Before the First World War, Gestetner's products were being sold around the world; in fact he created one of the first truly international distribution networks. He finally moved to a large factory to the north-east of London: when his company went public in 1929, it had a share capital of nearly £750,000. It was only with the development of electrostatic photocopying and small office offset litho machines that stencil duplicating began to decline in the 1960s. The firm David Gestetner had founded adapted to the new conditions and prospers still, under the direction of his grandson and namesake.
Further Reading
W.B.Proudfoot, 1972, The Origin of Stencil Duplicating London: Hutchinson (gives a good account of the method and the development of the Gestetner process, together with some details of his life).
H.V.Culpan, 1951, "The House of Gestetner", in Gestetner 70th Anniversary Celebration Brochure, London: Gestetner.

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

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