The picture above was taken not in a printing museum but in the letterpress department of Taylor Corporation’s Tatex subsidiary in Waco, TX. Somewhere in the room is what’s currently believed to be the oldest Heidelberg press still in operation in the U.S.
Here’s a closeup of the veteran piece of printing iron: a 10" x 15" Heidelberg Windmill platen letterpress, Serial No. 35345E, built in 1951, acquired by Taylor Corp. in 1996, and running to this day.
It’s just one of many Windmills currently owned and operated by Taylor Corp., a global print network with 70 subsidiaries and 9,000 employees. Heidelberg recently located the press through a contest in myHeidelbergONLINE, its web newsletter. It reported that the press, equipped for foil stamping, stays busy imprinting napkins, Christmas cards, wedding invitations, and related products. Taylor Corp. now has about 220 Windmill presses in its plants across the U.S., down from a peak of 500 Windmills in the late 1980s.
The Windmill press, so called because of the revolving blades that feed, position, and deliver the paper, is based on a platen press design introduced by Heidelberg in 1913. By 1967, according to this article, Heidelberg had built over 175,000 platen presses—one press every 14 minutes. “Still the most versatile presses on the market, they can print, imprint, number, perforate, punch, slit, emboss, die-cut, score and hot foil stamp,” the article says of the Windmills.
Heidelberg thinks that there may be even older presses bearing its brand still hard at it out there, and the search continues for the oldest working example in the U.S. Printers in the 50 states who believe they have Heidelberg press equipment that predates No. 35345E are invited to send the serial numbers to firstname.lastname@example.org.