The year 2017 held a special significance to the Koenig & Bauer-Albert Group, which was known simply as KBA for decades. For it was 200 years previous, in 1817, Friedrich Koenig and his trusted partner Andreas Bauer formed Koenig & Bauer in the Bavarian town of Oberzell after returning from England.
While in England, the partners designed and then constructed a breakthrough printing press for the Times of London newspaper. A cylinder printing press that could produce in one day what a battery of hand presses took weeks to do ushered in a dramatic change that vaulted K & B to a leadership position in developing and manufacturing printing machines.
Koenig & Bauer never looked back, designing and building ever more complex web presses while expanding into other print areas, including sheetfed cylinder presses, offset machines, security presses and today, a firm footing into digital transformative printing systems. No printing press supplier has such a rich and varied history.
Oberzell would also employ a young Andreas Albert. First, as an apprentice, then master craftsman, Albert would eventually leave K & B to work for the Reichenbach Mashinenfabrik firm started by Koenig’s nephew and today continues as M.A.N. (manroland).
An 1890 Albert - Frankenthal Cylinder Press
In 1861, Albert yearned to become an owner and joined forces with a cast iron foundry run by Andreas Hamm. Hamm’s firm has been in business, notably casting bells for churches, since 1850 and today is known as Heidelberger Druckmaschinen (Heidelberg). It wasn’t long before stop-cylinder presses left picturesque Frankenthal with both names emblazoned on the side frames.
But all was not well with the partners, and by 1873, Albert terminated the partnership with Hamm and set up his company, Schnellpressenfabrik Albert & Cie. Albert never looked back. Soon there were new machines and radically improved technologies under the Albert name. In short order, web-fed presses for both commercial and newspapers were reaching customers all over Europe.
Albert Frankenthal dominated rotogravure and photogravure for almost a century
Koenig & Bauer soon realized this young company was elbowing its way onto their home turf. As Albert grew more powerful, reaching over 1.200 employees and entering the gravure and offset business, the Frankenthal company soon became a significant threat to K & B and M.A.N with seemingly no roadblocks to the growth.
In the 1920’s, Albert already had the world’s fastest web press, known as the “Red Devil.” Soon Albert web speeds of 30,000 revolutions were being installed by the early 1930s. Meanwhile, a very successful sheetfed letterpress business was dominant in Germany. But web, specifically rotogravure, placed Albert in the top position, holding a whopping 60% worldwide market share by the late 1980s. Many web offset platforms designed by Albert during the 1970s and 1980s would become “Compacta” presses a K & B trademark.
This medallion was affixed to Albert presses during Albert’s centenary year of 1961.
Koenig & Bauer decided to take action. In 1978 K & B orchestrated a purchase of 49% of Albert from the owners Rhineland Palatinate Ministry of Finance (local state government) and, in 1988, further increased their ownership to 74.99%. While 1990 brought about new opportunities with the re-establishment of East and West Germany, K & B purchased the final shares of Albert and, in so doing, launched a new trade moniker, “KBA,” unveiled at the Drupa 1990 trade show. The printing industry got used to using the new acronym KBA as it was simple and much shorter than Koenig & Bauer or, as often used, “Koebau.”
This is how things remained until 2017, when KBA celebrated a significant 200th anniversary with a refreshed tagline of “We’re on It.”
As we look back into history, new generations of people have yet to learn of the importance of Albert Frankenthal or its role in shaping our industry. Senior management of Koenig & Bauer knew only too well and jumped at the chance to add an arsenal of press design and progress to its growing conglomerate. In 2017, to mark the extraordinary history of K & B, the brand “KBA” was retired, and Albert would finally be relegated to the past. Koenig & Bauer and the “&” ampersand would henceforth be the refreshed face of the world’s oldest printing press company.
The Albert purchase by K & B is one of the most monumental print-related acquisitions of the 20th century. Although, perhaps, only a few of us remember when the “A” in KBA stood for much more than just Albert.
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