Online Exhibits

Embossing presses at APH. 

The first challenge facing the newly formed American Printing House in the Blind was mastering the technology of using traditional printing machines to “emboss” raised characters readable for people who were blind. This exhibit explores the different press designs used on the production floor at APH.

A man wearing an apron stands behind a bulky printing press watching braille pages stack up on the right in a printshop

January 1858

The American Printing House for the Blind is chartered by the Commonwealth of Kentucky “to print and circulate books in raised letters for the blind.”


APH Superintendent Bryce Patten orders a press from famed Boston printing press designer Stephen P. Ruggles. A prolific inventor, Ruggles (1808-1880) had worked with educator Samuel Gridley Howe in the 1830s at the Perkins School for the Blind to develop the most popular American raised letter type font, Boston Line Letter, and machines to emboss it.

  • Engraving of a large black printing press with its parts labeled by letters

December 1863

Ruggles exhibits the press he had built for APH at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

December 1865

Ruggles’ press had been delivered to Louisville and set up in a basement shop at the Kentucky Institution for the Education of the Blind on Frankfort Avenue, at a total cost of $756.49.


APH embosses its first book, Fables and Stories for Children, by John Gay, in raised letters. The first press run is 400 copies. The Ruggles press will remain in use at least into the 1920s.

  • Grainy and slightly unfocused image of a large metal printing press with only a large flywheel and cogs visible. Parts of a different printing press are in the left foreground.


The company builds its first building on land adjacent to the Kentucky Institution for the Education of the Blind on Frankfort Avenue, and moves operations to 1839 Frankfort Avenue.


APH adds a second press, built in Chicago by John Spencer, and designed by Superintendent Benjamin B. Huntoon (1836-1919). Huntoon described his press as a “double cylinder press, made from special designs, prints four pages at every revolution, and will make thirty or more revolutions a minute.” It was the first press of its type in the world used to produce tactile books.

  • Image of a man wearing a work apron over a vest and necktie, standing behind a large metal printing press and examining sheets of paper on the output tray. A flywheel on the press is connected to unseen machinery on the ceiling by a wide leather belt. The background is filled with a clutter of other machinery, racks of paper, and other overhead belts and power distribution pulleys.


New superintendent Susan Merwin (1874-1923) orders a double cylinder press from the Hall Printing Press Company in Dunellen, NJ as part of moves to modernize the plant. Philip W. Hall (1877-1952) was a prolific printing press designer who had introduced a rotary press designed for embossing braille and New York Point in the early 20th century. His braille presses were used at the Michigan School for the Blind and Matilda Ziegler Magazine, among others.


As part of Superintendent E.E. Bramlette’s efforts to begin interpointing—embossing braille on both sides of a page—he works with Louisville machine tool company W.R. Martin Company to develop a new rotary press called the Bramlette double cylinder press. “We also found it necessary to devise a new press for the rapid printing of the interpoint or two-side printing. The great speed of this press is most important for printing of magazines, as well as books, for it will print more than 9,000 pages an hour.” E.E. Bramlette, 1928.


APH purchases a modern Kelly B automatic cylinder press and adapts it to both emboss braille and conventional letterpress.


By this date, APH has adapted at least three Universal/Colt’s Armory type platen presses. The Universal/Colt’s Armory platen presses manufactured by Thomson-National became known at APH as “clamshell presses,” and were adapted for braille use by removing all their inking mechanisms.


Severe overcrowding at APH forces the braille department to move its presses off site, first to 116 South Brook Street, and in 1940 to 825-827 West Broadway.


The double cylinder press designed by APH Superintendent B.B. Huntoon in the 1880s is sold for scrap to aid the American effort in World War II.


By this date, photographs of the braille print shop at APH, feature the Kelly B press bought in 1934, a Bobst Cylinder Press, and a Universal/Colt’s Armory type platen press. The Bobst Cylinder Press was designed and built by Henry Bobst in 1915 in Switzerland, specifically to emboss braille for blind readers.

  • Large green metal printing press frame with four stout legs, a rotary drum on the left, and an output tray on the right. Cast into the frame of the press is "Bobst." Written on a guard on the right in red is "Mr. Swiss."


APH builds a major factory expansion on the rear of its building. The “clamshell” presses have proven so effective for braille that the company begins buying additional Thomson-National Laureates, Universals, and Colt’s Armory presses on the used market as the print industry moves away from letterpress. By 1965, APH has at least nineteen “clamshell” presses. Many remain in production until well into the 1990s. APH designs and builds a copy of the Bobst Rotary Cylinder Press for braille magazine work.


A second Kelly B press is added to emboss braille magazines.


APH builds a small hand-fed rotary press to emboss braille music scores. A similar simple device has been used for years to prepare proof copies of braille publications.

  • Young woman, with short curly hair and wearing a plaid skirt and white blouse, stands over a small embossing press running paper under a cylinder


A second copy of the Bobst Press is constructed. The original Bobst is painted institutional green and renamed by its operators “Mr. Swiss.” The copies are simply dubbed the APH rotary presses.


The Printing House acquires a Heidelberg 10×15″ Windmill Press for embossing and die cutting alphabet cards, calendar pages, and other odd-sized braille publications.

  • Man wearing brown t-shirt and blue jeans loads paper into the input tray of a large black press. He wears fingerless gloves. A shiny metal plate is visible in the open jaws of the press. A table loaded with stacks of paper is in the background.


A TED-600 embosser from Florida-based Scientific Capital Corporation is installed. Designed by Guy Charbonneau—one of the original founders of Triformation Systems—it is the first digital embossing press used in braille production at APH. Although a technological failure—it generated so much heat that it had to be retro-fitted with internal air conditioning to keep the embossing head from sticking—it pointed the way to the electronic transformation of braille embossing that would occur over the next 25 years. APH acquires a second TED-600 in 1990.


APH installs its first Norwegian-made Braillo-200 high speed digital braille embosser in July, and continues the process of moving away from the use of zinc plates in the production of braille. A second Braillo 200 is purchased in 1995.

  • Sheets of perforated braille paper flows from a rectangular embossing machine labeled "Braillo 200"


In an article in Southern Graphics, the APH braille embossing equipment includes two Braillo 200 digital embossers, two APH rotary magazine presses, fifteen Thomson-National Laureates, Universals, and Colt’s Armory presses, and a Heidelberg Windmill.


APH installs its first Braillo-400 braille embosser; eventually APH has six of the higher-speed Braillo 400 models in production.


APH purchases a used Heidelberg 18×23″ Original Cylinder Press and begins experiments to use it to emboss braille magazines. The Heidelberg can produce braille at the rate of 25,000 pages per day. The machine’s design dates to 1935, and became one of the best regarded models from the famed German press manufacturer. The company buys two more in 2012.

  • Large black printing press with sign on side "Original Heidelberg Cylinder"


APH installs the first of three NV Interpoint 55 braille embossers. Made in Belgium, the Interpoint 55 is the fastest Braille embosser in the world, capable of embossing up to 2,000 pages in an hour.

  • Boxy blue and white machine with a large roll of paper on a stand beside it. There are racks of paper and two other identical machines in the background.


APH reorganizes its braille department. The floor plan includes two Thomson-National Laureate “clamshell” presses, three Heidelberg Original Cylinder presses, one Heidelberg Windmill platen press, two Braillo-200 digital braille embossers, six Braillo-400 digital braille embossers, and three N.V. Interpoint 55 digital braille embossers.