19. William Bullock’s printing press was revolutionary – but also deadly, as he himself found out
Being a factory worker in the 19th century was no easy job. Not only was it badly paid, with long hours and horrific conditions, it was also extremely dangerous. Since health and safety were hardly a priority of the factory owners, countless workers lost limbs to machines and many even died at work. But William Bullock wasn’t a typical factory worker. He was the man who invented the web rotary printing press – the machine that made printing faster, more efficient and much more profitable. Sadly, the machine that made his fortune also cost Bullock his life.
Bullock was visiting the offices of the Philadelphia Public Ledger in the spring of 1867 when the accident happened. The newspaper had purchased one of his printing presses and he was there to make some adjustments to the machine. Bullock’s leg got caught in the driving belt. Though he escaped with the limb still attached, gangrene soon set in. Surgeons decided the leg needed to be amputated. Tragically, Bullock didn’t survive the operation and he died aged just 54. His printing press – which could print up to 30,000 sheets of paper an hour – continued to be popular for years after his death.