First Rolands


Manroland has held a pre-eminent position for the last 70 years in offset

BY : Nick Howard, C.E.A., President, Howard Graphic Equipment Ltd.

A question: From 1950 to 1990, who was the largest manufacturer of commercial offset lithographic presses? If you said Heidelberg, and you wouldn’t be alone, that’s a pretty good guess. However, you’d be wrong. The answer is manroland, or as it was known back in 1950, Roland Offsetmaschinenfabrik Faber & Schleicher AG. Roland has been churning out offset technologies since 1911 when the soon legendary brand “ROLAND” would be first bolted to the side of a press. A 1966 purchase of shares by the giant M.A.N. group culminated in a 1979 takeover, and the name changed to the familiar “manroland.”

As early as the 1920s, German printers started paying attention to the new offset technology now well underway in America. In the European world of stoic letterpress, Roland was an outlier and exhibited the most interest in developing radically new offset machines that would soon displace centuries-old typographic art.

Therefore, it was a bit of a shock that in 1921 the German juggernaut Koenig & Bauer (K & B) made a deal with Roland. K & B agreed to cease production of their offset presses while Roland stopped its cylinder letterpress manufacturing. K & B mistakenly assumed letterpress would remain king. A few years on, another shocker surprise lit up the German press when the much larger Planeta aggressively pursued Roland in the hope of a merger. Later, in 1927, both called off the deal, initially orchestrated by Planeta and designed to remove a competitor (Roland) from the marketplace. If only foresight was as reliable as hindsight.

Jumping ahead to 1934, Miehle Printing Press & Manufacturing Co. had first agreed to license certain Roland features for use in their new offset program. Miehle thought so highly of Roland’s new ULTRA RZU, first shown to the public at London’s 1936 Olympia Exhibition, that they negotiated a further licensing agreement. It allowed them to use additional patents and drawings to construct their Chicago-built Miehle 60 and 76-inch offset presses. A fee of $100,000 US dollars ($2-million today) was agreed upon and paid, but later seized by the US government at the beginning of WW II.

Roland Rekord and Ultra
Top: Roland Rekord | Bottom: Roland Ultra

The Miehle and Roland relationship may have germinated during the 1930s, but you must go back to 1879 to record the first printing press (possibly a lithographic stone press). Faber & Schleicher exported to the USA, Philadelphia, to be exact.

1951 - The Break-out Year For Roland in America

New Roland offset technologies had come a long way, especially in the years after 1945. Roland now had an industry-first and well-accepted “Five-cylinder” design delivered on a stable of platforms such as the small PARVA, larger REKORD, and largest ULTRA. The MABEG feeder would prove to be the best anywhere and spawned today’s hi-technology versions. Ultimately all these attributes, along with the rare use of anti-friction-bearings plus easy operational adjustments, had the industry’s operators sit up and take notice. Great Britain and the USA, both major markets outside Germany, would be home to thousands of ROLAND offsets from early 1951 onward. Roland started conservatively in America, initially selling single-colour 29-inch, then 36-inch presses.

Brochure of the Miehle Roland 29- and 36-inch
Brochure on the Miehle 29-inch and 36-inch

Edward Stern & Co.: The first US printer to install a Roland
Perhaps it’s ironic that in 1951 the very first Roland sold into North America would be to Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love.” Whatever the situation, there is always a printer who says they bought the “very first press.” It’s rarely true and, unless proven otherwise, remains another fishing tale. For example, I could name three printers in Canada who swear they bought the first Heidelberg platen. Therefore, we decided to apply ourselves and maybe, we could find some credible facts. This time we focused on manroland (Roland/Miehle) in America.

We went back through the annals of time to research who was the very first American printer to have installed a Roland. The answer: On July 27, 1951, the first Roland PARVA RP (known in America as the Miehle-29SC for its 23 x 29-inch sheet size) went to the large and well-respected Philadelphia firm of Edward Stern & Co. The company can trace its history back to 1871- incidentally, the same year Roland was founded in Germany. Bearing the serial number 8162-2, this PARVA RP single colour caught storm quickly, and by 1954 there would be over 250 other Roland sales in America.

On November 10, 1955, the first REKORD (Miehle-38SC), a 25 x 38-inch single colour, would be sold to The Jersey City Printing Co., while a two-colour version (Miehle-38TC) would make its way to San Francisco’s illustrious James H. Barry Co. the same year. On August 6, 1959, Roland’s first REKORD RVK (Miehle- 38FC) four-colour size three press was running at Georgian Lithographers Inc. of New York City.

Roland’s first 49-inch Four Color went to Gulf States Paper
The ULTRA range of presses, with sheet sizes 41-inch to 63-inch, would soon find homes in the book and folding carton plants, but the first recorded ULTRA four-color RVU-5 (Miehle-49-FC a 36 x 49-inch sheet size) was installed on August 10, 1960, at Gulf States Paper Co. in Maplesville, Alabama. The Gulf States prospered over the following decades while remaining a loyal Roland and manroland customer for a good portion of that time. Today, after numerous mergers and acquisitions, Gulf States is part of WestRock, the country’s second-largest paper packaging producer.

Spy vs. Spy
CIA, the early purchaser of two Roland Favorits RFO1. The Favorit (Miehle Favorite) officially launched at Drupa in 1967 but was already well in development by 1964. It created a buzz around the world, America included. After the Miehle coming out party at PRINT-68 (Chicago), Favorits’ started selling briskly even though they were an expensive 19 x 25-inch press. The earliest serial number [press] – 3914/21181 was on display at Miehle’s showroom in Chicago for a few years and then sold to Bradley Printing Co. of Des Plaines, Illinois. Not far behind was the Ray Printing Co. Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri, when their Miehle Favorite (Roland Favorit RF01 serial number 3919/21257) was installed on May 14, 1968.

Perhaps the most interesting sales were to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Washington. On September 3, 1968, two Favorites, serial numbers 3934 and 3935, were powered up at the CIA’s rather large and well-equipped printing plant in Mclean, Virginia.

PRINT-68 was also the year Miehle asked Roland to change the colour of their presses from grey to blue. Roland agreed but only for North America - and it wasn’t until 1974 that all presses would follow suit.

Roland 800
A Roland 806-7+LE (1985).

In 1971 when Roland’s 100th anniversary was celebrated, over 5,000 offset presses had been delivered to countries around the world. Roland held 21% of the Japanese market, well over 40% of the American, and even higher in the United Kingdom. If experience and longevity count, then manroland has held a preeminent position in offset for the last 70 years. Always nice to be first and plenty to be proud of.