13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

William Bullock is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

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The Web Rotary Printing Press


After being orphaned at an early age, William Bullock worked as a machinist with his older brother. (Not the creepy, ultra-thin Christian Bale kind of machinist. The normal early nineteenth century kind.) An obsessive tinkerer, he invented a lot of things with old-timey names that we still have use for today if we happen to live in Nebraska. Inventions like a grain drill for planting seeds at pre-set depths, or a lathe cutting machine used for… cutting… lathes?

Also, Bullock married a woman named Angeline Kimball and had seven kids with her before she died suddenly in 1850. He then married HER SISTER, Emily Kimball, and had six more children. That has nothing to do with his inventions or being foiled by them, but how do you write a bit about William Bullock and not mention his personal exploits! Why do we have shows about The Borgias and The Tudors and not The Bullocks, Showtime? What’s your problem?


Bullock may have been working on the words in the paper, but it was the process of printing it that really interested him. The rotary printing press (which passes papers between two large cylinders) had been invented by Richard Hoe in 1844, and was the standard way newspapers were printed, but it was a tedious process because each paper had to be hand-fed into the machine. In 1865, Bullock presented his improvement on the concept, known as the Web Rotary Press or Bullock Press. It used one continuous roll of paper that automatically fed into the machine, making the whole thing much faster and more efficient.

To defeat these guys in “BioShock Infinite,” just stand on the platform above them and use the Volley Gun.

If you just read that entire paragraph, congratulations. You have probably doubled your lifetime total for “time spent thinking about the history of newspaper printing presses.” Uh, you’re welcome.


On April 3, 1867, Bullock was helping to install one of his own presses at the Philadelphia Public Ledger. His leg, unfortunately, got caught in the machine and was completely crushed. Though Bullock was able to get out of the machine, the leg developed gangrene and required amputation. Bullock died during the surgical procedure. But his legacy lives on! Some newspapers still use the old Web Rotary system (famously depicted whenever you see those “newspapers flying at the screen telling you about breaking news” montages in movies or TV shows.) And the next time you’re drilling some grain, now you know who to thank…

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