Family Story

Gestetner, the father of the copying machine

From Csorna to world fame – Remembering Dávid Gestetner

David Gestetner on horseback in front of his own house, London, circa 1905, © Wikipedia

A few months ago, I went to Csorna, 30 km from Győr, where I met the history professor of the Csorna high school that had entered two teams in the Jewish local history student contest launched by our Foundation. The professor kindly invited me for a short walk in Csorna discover the local Jewish historical sites. During the walk, he asked me if I knew the Gestetner Jewish family of Csorna. I said, not really, but that I had seen a copying machine with that brand name in an office where I worked. Well, that’s just it – my friendly casual guide confirmed – the inventor of the copier was born in Csorna!

This little recollection of Csorna inspires me to publish some details about the life and work of Dávid Gestetner. The source of the details not specifically cited is Wikipedia.

P. Krausz

From Csorna

David was born in Csorna (1854-1939), the son of Zsigmond Gestetner and Regina Gestetner.  After his primary education he worked as a butcher in his uncle’s shop. At the age of 17 he left Hungary and started working in the Vienna stock exchange. His duties included copying statements and contracts at the end of the trading day. It was a very time-consuming job. That’s when he started thinking about a faster, more efficient method of duplication.

… to London

Gestetner arrived in London in 1880, where he received a patent for his first invention, the wheeled pen. A wheel pen is a device with a wheel with tiny teeth on the tip that leaves a broken line through a thin sheet of paper coated with wax that is to be forced through by an ink roller so that the same writing pattern appears on the blank sheet of paper underneath.

Two copies of the wheeled pen © Magyar Nyomdász

This invention became the forerunner of the stencil machine. Once perfected, up to ten thousand prints could be made from a single mould without any classical printing techniques.

Plaque on the wall of Dávid Geststner’s London home © Wikipedia

With the advent of electricity and electric motors, the manual machine could now be ordered with electric drive. No special printing skills were needed to operate it.

Almost at the same time as Gestetner’s patent, Thomas Alva Edison in America also registered a patent for so-called autographic printing. This invention was then further developed and trademarked by Albert Blake Dick in 1887. An agreement was reached between the inventors’ companies. Under this agreement, Dick’s machines were marketed exclusively in the United States, while Gestetner marketed his duplicators in Europe and the rest of the world.

French-language advertisement of the Gestetner copier around 1900 © Wikipedia

Continuing to perfect his invention, in 1906 he set up a factory in Tottenham specialising in the manufacture of stencil machines, inks, rollers and wheeled pens. The stencil machine became increasingly successful and the factory grew rapidly. It soon established an international network of branches to distribute its machines.

Gestetner Rotary Cyclostyle duplicating machine, circa 1920, on display at the Technical Museum in Vienna © Wikimedia Commons

By the 1930s, the mass-produced stencil machine had dominated the market for reproduction machinery for 40 years.

Dávid Gestetner around 1930 © Magyar Nyomdász

Modern times

However, in the 1970s, photocopiers appeared on the market. From 1973 onwards, a company founded by Gestetner also marketed such machines. This was the beginning of the decline of stencil machines. At this time, Gestetner had 52 subsidiaries worldwide, selling and servicing machines in 153 countries. Management of the company was taken over by the founder’s son Sigmund Gestetner and his sons David and Jonathan. In 1996, Gestetner’s interests were acquired by the Japanese Ricoh Group. Today it is part of the NRG Group, but some of its products still bear the Gestetner brand name. Its main activity is currently the distribution of digital office reproduction machines and systems.

Social effects

The stencil duplicator provided individuals with a means to produce their own uncensored and uncontrolled ideas and distribute them in public places (near factories, churches, government offices, parks etc.). Previously, producing mass numbers of copies required the co-operation of owners of printing presses, which required a large amount of capital. Owners of presses would not agree to publish opinions contrary to their own interest. In many countries, the stencil and later the modern copier became an indispensable tool for major social movements and changes. It literally was the paper-based internet in the development of which Dávid Gestetner has made an invaluable contribution.


Wikipédia és Wikipedia


Magyar Nyomdász