Addressing machines are used to print names and addresses on newspapers, mailing labels, envelopes, form letters, and other items. The earliest addressing machines appear to have been used by publishers of periodicals, among others. These machines eventually led to a considerable savings in clerical labor for other companies with large mailing lists, such as insurance companies and companies that used direct mail advertising.
The earliest known patent for an addressing machine was awarded to a Canadian, Robert Dick, in 1859. An illustration from the 1859 patent is reproduced top right. Patents for improvements on Dick's machine were awarded to William H. Clague and Robert B. Randall in 1871, Elias Longley in 1875, and Dick in 1875, 1884, and 1889. 1894, 1899, and 1908 patent dates also appear on this type of machine. This patent history indicates that this type of machine was marketed for at least 50 years. The second photo to the right shows a machine based on the 1875 Longley patent that was made by the Mather M'F'G. Co., Philadelphia.
According to the 1859 Dick patent, a user of his addressing machine was expected to use a printing press to print columns of names and addresses on sheets of paper. In 1861, the Michigan Farmer reported that "We have procured one of the celebrated Dick's Addressing Machines in order to facilitate mailing the Farmer. By it, accuracy, as well as dispatch, is secured. Putting in type over two thousand names to be used in this machine has delayed the issue of the Farmer, but we feel confident that our readers will bear with us a little, while making these important improvements." (Michigan Farmer, Oct. 5, 1861) The individual columns of names and addresses were then cut apart and glued together end to end to form a roll. The roll was put on a spool in the back end of the addressing machine (the end to the left in the first image in the column to the right). The paper was fed through a number of rollers, which moved the paper through a tank containing liquid adhesive, and then to a cutter at the front of the machine. The machine was placed on a stack of envelops, newspapers, or other items to be addressed. When the first name and address came out of the machine, it was cut off the roll and at the same time pressed onto the top envelope. That envelope was removed, and the process continued. The patent claimed that two people with one machine could address 4,000 items per hour. Dick proposed that the same technology could be used to produce account statements that could be attached to cards and mailed.
An article in the Circular in 1867 describes an addressing machine used by the Circular. The machine was manufactured by C. M. and S. Peck, New Haven, CT, under patents issued to Wright and Peck and H. Moeser. According to the article, "The writing involved in mailing of even less than 2000 papers sent weekly from the office of the Circular was, a few months since, no easy task. Now a person sits down to a machine and, in a small proportion of the time it formerly took to write the names and post-office directions, makes sport of printing them It may interest some who have never seen the operation to learn more particularly how it is performed. The machine is furnished with a small case of steel matrices or dies, resembling common type, excepting that the letter on the die is sunk into the metal. The name of each subscriber is 'set up' with the matrices in a composing-stick, and is transferred to a wooden block by means of a small lever-press, which with a single stroke leaves all the letters of the same standing in relief upon the end of the block. The address blocks are placed upon galleys. The galleys when filled and locked up are ready to be inked and passed through the gallery-race of the addressing machine. A galley is pushed forward in the race until the first name is seen through the aperture in the shield plates, where it is firmly held by a friction-brake. The newspaper to be directed is laid over the opening between the shields, when the operator, by pressing with his foot on the treadle, brings a small platen down upon the paper, [and] forces it upon the inked block below. The return movement of the treadle brings forward another name. Of course, after all the address-blocks are once made, they may be used for a long period. Other addressing-machines have been invented which involve no transfer of the names to wooden blocks, but depend upon standing type." (Circular, June 17, 1867)
A number of other addressing machines were patented during the 1870s and 1880s, including ones by McFatrich (1870), Darling (1873), Edison (1877), Belknap (1877), and Dennis and York. Leffingwell (1926) reports that "a patent was issued to James McFatrich, of Lena, Illinois, on October 4, 1870, for a machine called the 'McFatrich Mailer' which was, so far as is known, the first addressing machine. [Evidently, Leffingwell was not aware of the Dick machines.] Securing a license from the inventor, the Shniedewend & Lee Company, of Chicago, manufactured the mailer during the full term of the patent, beginning in 1880. This company was succeeded by the Challenge Machinery Company, in 1893. The name was changed to the Mercantile Addressing Machine Company. McFatrich was not alone in this pioneering, for in 1877 Frank D. Belknap, of Wooster, Ohio, made an attempt to get away from hand addressing. He wrote the names and addresses on a sheet of parchment paper with an electrically operated pen and obtained additional addresses by passing an inked roller over several sheets of parchment containing the master addresses, the envelope or matter to be addressed being placed under the sheet. When the typewriter came into commercial use, parchment paper, instead of being used in long strips as in the earlier models, was cut into individual pieces and pasted to a cardboard frame, thus making the first addressing machine stencil. These stencils were inserted into the typewriter, one at a time, and the name and address cut into the paper by the needle-point type with which the early stencil-cutting typewriters were equipped. The stencils were then fed through the addressing machine and the envelope addressed, the outline of the letters being dotted." (W. H. Leffingwell, The Office Appliance Manual, 1926, pp. 406-07) According to a 1924 account, "The original addressing machine invented in 1878 by Frank Belknap, now the Rapid Addressing Machine Company [which was founded by Belknap in 1885], was designed as an aid in addressing envelopes. The characters were cut on a strip of paper. Perforations on the side, similar to the perforations on the film for moving pictures, afforded a means of drawing the strip through the machine. Later, separate cards made up of a piece of parchment paper pasted to a cardboard frame were used." (The American Digest of Business Machines, 1924.)
In 1889, small manual printing presses, such as the Patent Lever Self-Inker Press No. 2 pictured to the right, were promoted as envelope addressing machines. According to Scientific American (May 4, 1889), Smith's Patent Lever Self-Inker No. 3, made by the R. H. Smith Mfg. Co., Springfield, MA, is "especially designed for printing the addresses on envelopes, postal cards, and shipping tags, which it does rapidly and in a most perfect manner, using metal-bodied rubber-faced type, and the office boy can in his leisure moments set up the addresses and print a complement of envelopes for each of the firm's regular correspondents."
"In 1890, another inventor, Walter E. Crane, brought out a keyboard machine which embossed names and addresses on paper and metal. Thin brass was used. The thin brass was in continuous long strips. To print the addresses, the continuous strips of brass were run over a drum on high-speed addressing machines." (Leffingwell, pp. 407-09.)
"In 1892, Joseph S. Duncan, now President of the Addressograph Company, invented a machine that imprinted names and addresses from rubber type glued on a block of wood. He later designed a metal frame in which might be set individual pieces of rubber type. Later came the Graphotype, a machine for embossing type on metal plates." The earliest advertisement that we have found for an Addressograph machine dates from 1896. The ad states that the machine could address 2,000 envelopes per hour. The ad shows the machine (left, with enlarged detail to right), which bears an 1896 patent date. The address plates, which were connected to form endless chains, appear to use rubber type.
The preceding is consistent with the fact that the earliest patent date observed on a Graphotype machine is 1899. On a standard Graphotype, a letter was dialed and then a handle was pulled to emboss that letter on a metal plate.
In 1899, Addressograph advertised the foot-powered No. 2 addressing machine, which was similar in appearance to the 1896 machine pictured to the left, for use with metal plates connected to form continuous chains. The price was $40. Until at least 1910, Addressograph offered two types of address printing machines, ones that used plates with sliding rubber type and others that used embossed metal plates.
In 1907, Addressograph offered Card Index Addressographs that printed addresses using separate plates that were loaded in a vertical hopper. These machines, one of which is pictured to the left, were $73 including an oak cabinet. Immediately to the right is a picture of one of the metal plates.
In 1907, the Addressograph Co. advertised "30,000 Addressographs in Use."
While the first Graphotype patent dates from 1899, initially customers using metal address plates may have been required to have the addresses embossed on the plates by the Addressograph Co. However, by 1910, Addressograph was selling its Office Graphotype. According to a 1910 ad, "The Office Graphotype is an electric motor driven machine for stamping addresses on metal plates. It was designed especially for users of the Metal Card Index System." The machine was $350. An illustration is provided below. An Addressograph machine is pictured in the 1911 catalog of Hesser Business College, Manchester, NH.
Eventually, Addressograph offered hand and electric-powered addressing machines to print addresses, as well as foot-powered models. In 1924, Addressograph printing machines ranged from $37.50 for a hand-operated model that could print about 1,000 addresses per hour, and $190 for a foot-operated machine, to $1,500 for a large automatic-feed electric machine that could print 9,600 addresses per hour. Hand operated Graphotypes were $145 to $260, electric models were $395 to $460, and the keyboard model was $850.
Graphotype and Addressograph Machines, c. 1910-1924