Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harrild, Robert

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HARRILD, ROBERT (1780–1853), inventor, was born in Bermondsey, London, on 1 Jan. 1780. He commenced life as a printer, and in 1809 began business as manufacturer of printers' materials and 'printers' engineer.' From that date he is mainly identified with an important improvement in the inking of types an invention indispensable to good and rapid printing by introducing 'composition' rollers instead of the ancient method by 'balls,' which had continued from the days of Caxton. This improvement was only effected by dint of combined energy and tact on the part of Harrild, so persistent was the opposition of the workmen and others till they began to understand their proper interests. After 1810, when he first began to manufacture the composition rollers and balls for the trade, his method speedily became widely known, and was at last adopted universally. Before those inking rollers were introduced only from one hundred and fifty to two hundred copies of a newspaper were printed in an hour. Harrild's factories in London were visited by printers and compositors from all parts of England, and he came to be considered one of the heads of the trade, the more so that his character as an energetic and philanthropic citizen gained him much esteem. Antiquaries have to thank Harrild for the preservation of the Benjamin Franklin printing-press, which is still to be seen in the patent office at Washington, U.S.A. Rendered obsolete by the introduction of the Blaew press, which itself was soon superseded by the Stanhope, the machine which Franklin when an unknown journeyman had worked in London in 1725-6 was kept by Harrild till 1841, when he presented it to Mr. J. B. Murray, an American, who removed it to the United States. Before being shipped from England it was exhibited in public, and the money accruing was handed over to Harrild for the London Printers' Pension Society, in which he took an active interest. He was one of the first parish guardians appointed after the passing of the Poor Law Act, and retained that office for many years. At Sydenham, where his last years were spent, he largely contributed towards the conversion of what had previously been a wild common into a populous and wealthy neighbourhood. Harrild died at Sydenham on 28 July 1853, leaving 1,000l. by his will to the Printers' Society to endow a 'Franklin pension.'

[Gent. Mag. 1853, pfc. ii. p. 320; Preface (by J. R. Murray) to a Lecture on B. Franklin by the Rev. H. W. Neile (17 Nov. 1841), p. 48; information from Mr. Harrild's family; Bigmore and Wyman's Bibl. of Printing, i. 206, 232, 234.]

R. E. A.