Printing was one of Leeds' most important industries, both due to the amount of small and large printing houses and the local engineering companies who manufactured printing machinery and equipment. Advances by Leeds printing engineers in the early years also gave the city's industry an early advantage over the rest in colour printing.
John Hirst was the first known printer in Leeds who began printing the "Leeds Mercury" Newspaper in 1718. By 1810 there were still only eight printing companies in Leeds but in the next 10 years the number exploded, and by 1911 printing was the 4th largest employer, employing more than 8000 people in the region of Leeds
Printing engineers like Crabtree's exported printing presses all over the world, other well-known printing companies in the city were Chorley & Pickersgill, E. J. Arnold and Son, John Waddington Ltd, Alfred Cooke's Beck & Inchbolds & Polestar Petty's (which has only recently just shut down). The small town of Otley to the north-west of Leeds is famous for the wharfedale press. The wharfedale machine revolutionaised the printing industry and has been given a permenent place in the Otley Museum. The first Wharfedale was built in 1856 and thousands have been made since then, but the museum machine is still one of the originals!
At the time of the invention of the Wharfedale, engineers throughout the world were seeking ways of improving current printing presses, but little progress had been made. It was the genius of David Payne of Otley who made the real breakthrough. A stop-cylinder machine that could deliver print without having to be stopped.
One of the most notable printer in Leeds was Alfred Cooke's, it was the worlds largest printworks at the time and enjoyed Royal Patronage, Alfred Cooke's was established in 1866 and the building still stands on Hunslet Road. Alf Cooke's expanded into colour printing in 1868 and moved his operation to Hunslet in the early 1870's
John Waddington Ltd, which started their printing business printing posters for the theatre company around 1900 and then expanded into board games and packaging, even printing for Monopoly! By 1993 John Waggington Ltd employed 2700 people in Leeds and exported their printed products all over the globe. Waddingtons entered into game production in 1922 due to a massive boom in demand for playing cards. The first packs were printed by direct lithography with images transferred by hand onto stone.
Polestar Petty printing factory which recently closed down in 2014 was the first print house in the UK to install colour web offset presses, back in 1963. Supplements and magazines printed here included Private Eye, The Guardian and the Radio Times. This Leeds plant had the capacity to print 57m 32 printed pages sections per week.
E J Arnold and Son was Britains largest educational supplier employing over 1,500 staff. If you are over 20 it is likely you have used E J Arnold excercise books at school. The companies catalogue included a
wide variety of school requisities covering textbooks, stationary, equipment and furniture.