Christian Soerensen. The Fate of a Danish Inventor

Excerpts from the Danish book published by the Danish Typographer' Union Copenhagen 1941: In the Danish newspaper "Faedrelndet" (The Nation) January 30th 1861 one could read the following:"Today died from a breast illness Christian Soerensen, the inventor of the typesetting machine, the greatest technical invention made in Denmark, and whose merit will be acknowledges everywhere printers exist. He achieved the object of his life, and why he had lived and strived with restless perseverance to see his invention completed and its practical usefulness acknowledges. At the World Exhibition in Paris he was awarded the greatest acknowledgement, the Gold Medal of Honour, in Denmark he also had the Gold Medal of Honour. In a great country he would have died a distinguished and rich man, in Denmark he leaves his invention and his family in poverty."

   He himself in a lecture delivered 1854 in the Industry Association declared that he was well aware of the conditions and difficulties an inventor usually encounteed.He probably did not consider the probability that the words he then spoke later would apply to himself. He said:"You do not want to believe in the profitability of any new invention until you have seen how the ones who were bold and patriotic enough to start it succeeded if the inventor himself was lucky enough to have the means to further it. You do not want to extend your hand to further it when you are not perfextly sure soon to withdraw it with the advantage to put it into your pocket. You may show an interest in an invention, you praise it, it is beautiful, ingenious, but this and the other interest may soon collide, and then the outcome depends on who is the stronger. You may be willing to fell the trees the ancestors planted for us when we need them, but you are less willing oneself to plant some that the descendants may fell. You enjoy with some satisfaction all the comforts and advantages the inventors have given us, you read with regret about the fate of many of the inventors, how they were unappreciated, misunderstood by their age and - how they died in poverty. Those who did the work did not get the pay, others took it...and those may be the very people who mocked them because they were foolish enough to speculate on something which these people considered nonsense. You get angry at such contemporaries, cannot understand what kind of people it must have been, and yet - you are ready to do exactly the same thing."

   Shortly after the death of Christian Soerensen a journal half mockingly wrote to the "lat admirers" of the inventor that it would hav been nice if some of the acknowledgement and beautiful compassion that had been shown his widow and his children had included himself when he lived. "This reproach", J. R. Dein writes in "The Collector", "is as unfounded as the following statements that what Soerensen was lacking and which prevented him from making way for his person was the circumstance that he from birth and education did not belong to the "pople of culture". This - that he did not belong to "the people of culture" or the "cultured classes" - damaged him very much in England. He was not able to speak the language, he did not wear dress coat byt a modest dress and had no exquisite manners. In short: you did not get through the rough shell to the core...and exactly with him the core was everything, the shell nothig. I have had the opportunity to work with him for 7-8 year, and still after 12 years retain a fresh impression of his excellent character. He did not by clothes or manners belong to "the cultured classes" but the nobility of mind that should be the true fruit of the cultured classes he nevertheless possessed; but fortunately it can be achieved where in the heart lies a love of God and his creation; he could not write verse - also an advantage of the educated classes - and yet a stronger poetic source ran through his soul than manu s-called poets. It is perfectly true, Christian Soerensen did not belong to the "cultured classes" where dress code and way of expression is the main thing but he belonged to the great society of brothers which encompasses everything honest and good. He was  modest and unpretentious in his entire behaviour although his invention ws of genius...but he full well knew that he was just a small tool in the hand of Him who wants his light to shine brightest through a simple vessel."

   To the remark that Christian Soerensen did not belong to the "cultured classes" the editor Bille in the "Daily News" adds the follwing words: "The circumstance that Christian Soerensen did not belong to the cultured classes never stopped James Watt and Robert Stephenson; rather it could be said that he was stopped by the circumstance that he was Danish, that he in his native country could not find the funds he needed and that he abroad did not know how to further his case. But it is certainly wrong to speak of a late admiration as if there while Soerensen lived had not been given him any recognition and support."

   In Christian Soerensen there probably was no feeling of contemporary ungratefulness against him. In a letter from him dated Paris September 16th 1858 he expresses his gratitude to the Reiersen Foundation in Copenhagen which so often had helped him.

In London and Paris

  Christian Soerensen himself while he lived started with the highest hopes by going to London with his invention. But the outcome was quite different from what he had expected as the machine was not found worthy of the least recognition - in fact, no one noticed it at all. Alone in the noise of the world city and the teeming crowd he reasoned over his sad fate. He was fully aware that the machine had not been made exactly as it according to the idea of the machine ought to be - but it had been created headlong with the specific intention of being exhibited in London, and the time had been extremely brief. After all it was only the execution that was open to criticism - the most important of it which ought to attract the attention of the competent, the invention itself, was there, and the machine in fact could work in a way that showed how the operations were made - although doing regular, practical work with it was not possible. Christian Soerensen felt he was wronged by not being given any award at all. Convinced as he was that he had made a contribution in his special field above the ordinary he felt wronged. It is not difficult to understand his state of mind during those days in London where he day after day saw everything he in his youth had struggled and worked for remain unnoticed...even in a place where thousands flocked to see things of much less meaning and quality. Under these circumstances he certainly was not far from despairing. We have a small sttement about it in a letter he sent to his wife dated London October 25th 1851. Disconcerted he wrote to her:"Luckily I got your letter which has diminished the extremely bad mood I was in for several days. I have been completely ignored. The weather is rough, cold and dark, it is no longer nice in the exhibition hall."

   In spite of his disappointment as he returned to Denmark his energy and faith in the future of the setting machine had not  changed. The defeat only made him work harder on the perfection of the machine, and he was convinced that he would succeed. The machine was rebuilt and improved in a way that made it possible to use it practically. With this machine a few pamphlets were set without accidents, imprinted with the predicate:"Typeset with Soerensen's setting machine."The construction - according to what Soerensen himself said - many faults, and especially that the old rest had been preserved, was a circumstance that prevented the application of his later invention, the "Insertion tool". This second Christian Soerensen machine which after all was without the most essential faults of the first machine, did not arouse the interest he had hoped for. There were several difficulties in having it installed in a Copenhagen print shop. The failure in London had made the printers sceptical; nobody had the courage to risk the 4000 dollars that was the price of the machine.

   Then fortunately one of the two editors of "The Nation", the friend of the authors Soeren Kierkegaard andChristian Winther, J. F. Gjoevad, ordered a machine for the paper's print shop. Soerensen delivered his already built machine, and it proved to be not only workable but also a great advantage to the paper, in spite of the fact that the irregular and always forced pace connected with a newspaper, mercilessly disclosed the weaknesses it might have. But the practicality and worth in composition had clearly been proved. Two compositors with it could produce five men's work. The machine in such a degree had surpassed the boldest expectations in the print shop of "The Nation" that editor Gjoedvad decided to order still one machine.

   On the occasion of this new order the paper writes on August 10th 1854: "The Soerensen laying by and setting machine now for several months has been used in the composing room of "The Nation". We have diligently delayed telling about it because we wanted to be completely sure in our verdict, and we very well knew that at a so complicated machine requiring such accuracy in the execution of the details the practical use might give difficultires of which no one earlier had had any clear conception. We are happy to annouce that the machine has surpassed our gretest expectations and that its common use undoubtedly will form an epoch in the history of printing. It cannot be or intention here to give a description of the machine, partly because a description even with an accurate drawing would be too difficult to understand for those who have not seen it, partly because the inventor himself in the "Quarterly Records of the Industry Association", Volume 14, Part 2 has given one which we might refer to. We only want here to draw your attention to some of the advantes of the machine.

   Everyone with some knowledge of composing will admit that the composition of 200 of the lines of "The Nation" or 12.000 letters is very good work by one compositor in a single day; with the mchine 2 compositors (as the machine demands one compositor for the actual setting and another who forms the composed types into lines) in one day composed 800 lines and at the same time the machine has decomposed 800 lines as it decomposes as much type as it uses; 2 compositors thus with the machine have done the work of 5 compositors as one compositor cannot compose more than 800 lines in one day. It naturally demands some practice before a compositor can use the machine with advantage but it is beyond doubt that you can quicker learn composing with the machine than from a usual type case. Besie the  advantage in time which naturally makes the use of it economically viable as the saved cost of just one compositor's wage will give a rate of return of more than 15%, the machine already now yields a more correct result than handwork. The errors which during proof are the most difficult to detect, as letters standing upside down, or letters of a different type, all in all errors caused by decomposing in a wrong room or wrong case could definitely not happen in typesetting with this machine, as it alway places the letters correctly, and it never is able to decompose wrongly. Anybody who knows which work those in time first mchines usually can deliver must be surprise to see that this first and untill now only machine of its kind yields, not only as good but even better work than the best handwork. But the perfection with which the machine has been made also only has been possible because the invntor in him unites the necessary two abilities of a competent compositor and an excellent mechanic; the first gave him the knowledge of the countless amount of difficulties that had to be overcome, and the other made him able really to overcome them which he has done with a complete mastery that hs evoked the admiration in anyone who has seen the machine. The inventor has by this machine as far as it is a decomposing machine, in a just as ingenious as simple way solved the until now regarded task of creating a machine that reads, and moreover reads with an accuracy that never fails, never reads an i for an a or  a u; this quality that it also is a decomposing machine separates this typesetting machine from all earlier typesetting machines, and thus it is changed from an interesting curiosity which all the until now invented typesetting machines have been, into i practical usefulness or rather into an indispensability which in every well designed printing office within a short time will oust handwork. And it is perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this invention that, as it removes the essential handwork ennobles that part which it lets remain; it replaces the purely mechanical with itself; but the more spiritual, that part which demands reflection, it gives a hightened meaning; the machine does read the individual letters and types but it is rather in order that one may value even more what they mean in their context. As a proof of our conviction of the usefulness of the machine we ought to add that we have ordered still a specimen."

   While Soerensen was working on this third typesetting machine the information arrived from Paris that in 1855 a World Exhibition would take place in Paris.

   Gjoedvad´s orders hd of course awakened new hope i Christian Soerensen. And it is natural that he would like to obtain satisfaction for his defeat in London. By editor Gjoedvad´s good will he was allowed to exhibit the by "The Nation" ordered machine in Paris; in this way he was given an opportunity to make it as perfect in every aspect it at this time was possible for him.

   It was splendid days that now came for Christian Soerensen. At the exhibition another machine beside his was exhibited, the machine constructed by the earlier mentioned inventors Young and Delcambre for which patent already had been taken out in 1840. This machine, however, was nothing compared to the Danish inventor's ingeniously designed and arranged machine in which under control a composition amount of 50.000 types a day had been achieved. At the World Exhibition Christian Soerensen's machine did not remain unnoticed but attracted considerable and justified attention. According to "Rapport des Jurys" hewas unanimously chosen by the two jurys which were assessing his invention - the jury of the 6th and 26th class - for the highest prize for men who had deserved extreme praise in society". At the exhibition's closing Christian Soerensen was introduced to Emperor Napoleon III and received from him personally the awarded gold medal and was presented with a silk banner.. This presentattion to the Emperor by the way caused an episode very characteristic of Christian Soerensen. An in France living distinguished Dane was presenting him, and on this occasion told his simpler dressed countryman to appear in full dress. Soerensen answered that he did not own such a dress, and as he presumed it was as the inventor of the machine the Emperor wanted to greet him, he intended to appear in the clothes he actually possessed. Which proud feelings must not have appeared in Christian Soerensen? He really had reason to believe that the whole world was now open to him. And how could he believe otherwise after the judges consisting of engineers, mechanics and printers had given such a praising and unanimous declaration? But the joy lasted only briefly.

   A member of the Danish colony in Paris, master baker Fortmeyer who was one of Soerensen's closest friends, has told that he was present when Christian Soerensen from the hand of Emperor Napoleon received the gold medal. In his bright hope for the future Soerensen at once fastened the medal to his coat. But the same day the invewntor had received this very great honour, and he with a couple of impecunius friends entered a drivers' pub for luch, his friends urged him to take off the medal and put it in his pocket as they thought it would attract too much attention among the drivers. Not many days later, Fortmeyer added, conditions forced our bright countryman to pawn the medal as he lcked the necessary means for survival.

   If Christian Soerensen had been a businessman - but you could hardly rely on that together with a way of thinking in which everything had to do with his invention - h might have sold the machine to some Americans who soon after the exhibition made him an offer, but his honesty forbid him to accept it as the machine still lacked some improvements. Moreover Christian Soerensen who was born in the old Royal Copenhagen could not quite make himself familiar with the thought of going to America. He probably had an undefinable fear of that great country so far away.

   Christian Soerensen decided to stay in Paris. He went back to Denmark to take care of his situation; his wife and daughter had already come down there, and it was the intention that he on his return would be accompanied by his mother-in-law who in Copenhagen hhad lived with them. However, it did not happen as planned; for some reason Soerensen after all went back alone - and his mother-in-law then had later to make the long trip herself. He later amused himself telling how it went. As his mother-in-law had never been outside Copenhagen and for that reason was rather unfmiliar with traveling and linguistically only had her native language to support her, she had been provided with a notice in which the address with the word "Paris" in large letters was seen, By means of this notice she succeeded in reaching Paris and by the way, acccording to Soerensen, quickly became familiar with conditions in the great city.

   Christian Soerensen's stay in Paris which lasted through the years 1855-59 marks the zenith of his life but at the same time the most tragic years in the so richly changing existence of this inventor. On his arrival in France he was unable to make himself understood in French but with iron dilignce he rather quickly succeeded in starting negotiations on the creation of a company for the exploitation of the invention. Preceding these negatiations the above mentioned rich Americans had presented their offer which he then declined

  In December 1855 contract was signed with two Frenchmen, the compositor Charles Groubenthal and the bookseller Coulon-Pinau. In the contract a stpipulation was made that the company should exist for 15 years reckoned from December 15th 1855, and that the partners provisionally were to invest 30.000 Francs for the construction of type-setting machines. Later the intention was to start a print shop in which type-setting exclusively was to be by machine, and to the printing office a major bookshop was going to be connected. Everything seemed promising but in reality the situation during the coming years was quite different. The conditions Christian Soerensen had agreed to were far from suited to guarantee his situation and give him peace to work - let alone create.better living conditions for him and his family. It soon became obvious that it was a couple of common crooks whose clutches Soerensen had gotten into, and after a few months the scarce money at his disposal had been used.

   Among the men with whom Christian Soerensen through his diligent life for a shorter or longer period was in contact was the founder of the earlier mentioned "Daily Mail", editor C. St. A. Bille who in 1898 died as prefect at Holbaek in Denmark. This man came to mean a lot to Christian Soerensen. It was after the completion of the first type-setting machine that Bille got ackwainted with him and heard of his invention. We know that Bille during the summer of 1856 travels to Paris and here in the Metropolis visits Christian Soerensen who just then had signed the contract with the two Frenchmen. Bille reports that he met Soerensen in a small damp workshop at Rue Vaugiard; beside French workers also a young Dane was present, and here under the most primitive circumstances Bille from the mouth of the inventor himself received a halfway downhearted, halfway humourous description of all the complications he had had to endure. On his return to Denmark the thought of Christian Soerensen and his tragic fate time after time makes itself felt in his mind, and in a few issues of the "Daily Mail" in spring 1858 he mentions Christian Soerensen and his machine.

   This series of articles caused quite a correspondence between them The inventor at this time of his life experienced serious crises. The point is that he to a large extent had no sense for the practical business aspect of his invention. He lacked, as Bille expressed it, the quickness and practical business spirit which is necessary for those who make way for new inventions and overcome any resistance, "and at some point in the year 1858 he almost gives up...he feels that he needs all his will power, and a new great effort must be made to start again with new strength. And in his distress he contacts editor Bille who also at once starts getting help; he succeeds; from the Reiersen Foundation, the National Treasury and some wealthy private people a sum of 1200 Rix Dollars is provided. According to Christian Soerensen this amount saved him.

   During the years Christian Soerensen stayed in Paris it was of course his type-setting machine that more than nything required his thinking and his time, but in between he has been working with ideas and plans for new very different inventions. Only few of the inventions he was working on were made available to the public interest in the lifetime of theinventor; this applies to a control watch, a device which could be placed on the wheel of a carriage to exactly measure the length the carriage had driven...tht is, the taximeter which later became of such importance. He construed a portable frame for silvering, an improved printing machine, a simple, manageable hand press, an envelope machine - and finally still one invention which interested him very much, his type founding machine. This second great invention of his which for some time required much of his time and energy demands some special attention.

   The first serviceable type casting was construed in 1843 by the Dane Lauritz Brandt who in 1840 emigrated to merica. The machine invented by him is is the basis of all later type casting machines. Before Brandt's time the types were cast in a hand instrument; by using it you could at most cast 3-4000 types per day whereas Brandt's machine managed to produce 10-13.000 in the same amount of time. For both processes an additional large work had to be done before the types were ready for delivering. This work was called finishing. First the so-called casting pin must be broken off; after that the types had to be rubbed off, and they were then stashed in long rows to have the final treatment. In order to make these 10-12.000 types ready in one day a work force of 3-4 men was needed. As described here the type casting when Christian Soerensen in 1856 began thinking of building a machine which was created in a way that all processes during finishing could be avoided, and the type as it left the machine was ready for use.

   The reason why Christian Soerensen during his demanding work with his type-setting machine considered building a casting machine was that the types he used for his machine often had more and larger bubbles than those which were cast in the earlier used hand instrument, and as the types by the many incisions already were severly weakened, it then was up to him to make them as strong and full as possible. The machine had been finished before the death of Christian Soerensen and was working satisfactorily. It was then taken apart to make the journey from Paris to Copenhagen but was never later assembled.

   A very interesting comparison can be made between this by Christian Soerennsen invented type casting machine and the many years later by the Parisian Foucher invented machine which had all the qualities which Christian Soerensen had united in his machine. But types cast in Soerensen-s machine was completely without bubbles; besides, the machine in a way tended to itself - was something wrong it did go on functioning but no type was cast on it, the ringing of a bell announced that there was an error. Foucher's machine cast 10-12.000 types per day, Christian Soerensen-s 3000 per hour. About his type casting machine Christian Soerensen says in a letter:"It worked fine, everything was as it should be; in 20-25 minutes I cast 1100 types". As the widow Christine Soerensen many years later at an industry exhibition in Copenhagen saw Foucher's machine at an industry exhibition in Copenhagen she exclaimed without knowing which machine she saw in front of her:"This is the way Soerensen worked with his lovely machine."

   We mention this to show how far ahead of his time Christian Soerensen has been. And had Death not caught up with him so early he undoubtedly also in this field had reached the completely right result and once more reflected credit on his native country. But the thought that dominated him day and night, after all was the type-setting machine.

 

Excerpt from "Geschichte der Setzmaschinen":

   "Einen Wendepunkt in dr Lösung des Problems der Setzmaschinen bedeutet die Erfinding des Da¨nen Christian Sörensen, dem es gelang, die erste Satz- und Ablegemaschine, in einem Apparat zusammenfasst, zu konstruiren, die den Namen Tacheotyp fu¨hrte...Die Idee So¨rensen's ist jedenfalls die sinnreichste und vollkommenste, die auf dem Gebiet der Setzmaschinen bis dahin erdacht worden ist...Die von So¨rensen erdachte signierung der Buchstben kehrt bei den Matrizen der späteren Zeilengiessmaschinen in vollendeter Form wieder, auch die zwangläufige Führung der Buchstaben an Stäben weist heute noch der Typograph als besonderen Vorzug auf."

   "A turning point in the solving of the problem of the type-setting machine is the invention of the Dane Christian Soerensen who succeeded in constructing the first type-setting and de-composing machine put together in one device, by the name of Tacheotyp. Soerensen's idea at any rate is the most ingenious and perfect which in the field of type-setting machines so far has been thought...The by Soernsen designed signing of the types returns in the matrices of the later line casting machines in perfect form, also the forcible feeding of the letters into sticks even today shows the typographer as a special forerunner."

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30.11 | 14:02

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