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Alois Senefelder

AKA Aloys Johann Nepomuk Franz Senefelder

Born: 6-Nov-1771
Birthplace: Prague, Bohemia
Died: 26-Feb-1834
Location of death: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Alter Südfriedhof, Munich, Germany

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Inventor, Playwright

Nationality: Austria
Executive summary: Inventor of lithography

Owing to the death of his father, Alois Senefelder was unable to continue his legal studies at the University of Ingolstadt, and tried to support himself as a performer and author, but without success. In order to accelerate the publication of one of his plays, he frequently spent whole days in the printing office. Finding the process of printing so simple, he conceived the idea of purchasing a small printing press, thus enabling himself to print and publish his own compositions.

Unable to pay for engraving, he attempted to engrave plates himself. He made numerous experiments with little success; tools and skill were alike wanting. Copperplates were expensive, and the want of a sufficient number entailed the tedious process of grinding and polishing afresh those he had used. About this period his attention was accidentally directed to a fine piece of Kellheim stone which he had purchased for the purpose of grinding his ink. His first idea was to use it merely for practice in his exercises in writing backwards, yet but he was soon encouraged by the ease with which the stone could be ground and polished afresh.

While he was engaged one day in polishing a stone slab on which to continue his exercises, his mother entered the room and desired him to write her a bill for the washer-woman, who was waiting for the linen. Neither paper nor ink being at hand, the bill was written on the stone he had just polished. The ink used was a basic solution, composed of wax, soap and soot. Some time afterwards, when about to wipe the writing from the stone, the idea all at once struck him to try the effect of biting the stone with acid. Surrounding the stone with a border of parrafin, he covered its surface with a mixture one part acid and ten parts water. After five minutes, the unwritten part of the stone was slightly eaten away, leaving the waxy writing modestly elevated. He then applied printing ink to the stone, and was able to take satisfactory impressions.

The method of printing being new, he hoped to obtain a patent for it, or even some assistance from the government. For years he continued his experiments, until the art not only became simplified, but reached a high degree of excellence in his hands. In later years the king of Bavaria settled a handsome pension on Senefelder. He died at Munich in 1834, having lived to see his invention brought to comparative perfection.

Father: Peter Senefelder (actor, d. 1791)

    Law School: University of Ingolstadt (until 1791)

Author of books:
Vollstandiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerei (1818, A Complete Course of Lithography)

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