Inventor of the web rotary press
William Bullock was an American inventor who held numerous patents at the time of his death in 1867. Born in 1813, Bullock’s mother died when he was young and he was raised by an older brother who worked as a machinist. He was born and raised in South Carolina but moved frequently. Wherever he went, however, he continued experimenting, inventing a variety of machines for cutting lathes, cutting shingles and planting seeds.
In 1860, Bullock and his family moved to Allegheny City where Bullock created the invention for which he is best known, The Web Rotary Press. Before moving to Pittsburgh, a brief stint as a newspaper editor familiarized Bullock with the slow and labor intensive Rotary Press in use at the time. Bullock used his mechanical prowess to improve the Rotary Press, eliminating the need to handfeed paper into the press while simultaneously enabling two sided printing. The resulting machine could print over 10,000 pages per hour, all cut by the machine from a continuous feed off a huge roll of paper.
On April 3, 1867, Bullock was installing a Web Rotary Press for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. In an attempt to fix the temperamental machine, Bullock kicked at one of the drivebelts and his foot became trapped in the gears. He died April 12, 1867 during an operation to amputate the gangrenous foot. In 1964, George Putnam of the Pittsburgh Press arranged to have a headstone placed on Bullock’s previously unmarked grave in recognition of Bullock’s lasting impact on newspapers specifically and publishing in general.