Alois Senefelder

Portrait: Alois Senefelder
Alois Senefelder, portrait lithography by Franz Hanfstaengl, 1834
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Alois Senefelder

Inventor of lithography

A piece of exceptionally poorly printed musical notes from an old songbook inspired the idea that I could, with my new type of printing, print sheet music much more beautifully than with lead type.

Alois Senefelder, Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerei, second edition, 1821

Alois Senefelder, son of a Munich court actor, had enjoyed piano and singing lessons as a pupil before studying law in Ingolstadt. In search of a means of reproducing his own literary works, he carried out trials for years. His Vollstaendiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (A Complete Course of Lithography), which was published in Munich in 1818, was written to provide information about the method. A natural observation – a leaf had impressed itself on a rock while it rained – provided the spark of inspiration.

Senefelder's planographic printing method, lithography, was referred to as “chemical printing” because the printing plate, depending on the preparation, either absorbed or repelled the ink. A special rack and pinion press enabled quick work. In 1799 his patent for the “... secret of being able to print notes and pictures on stone...” was first used commercially. An artistically-minded person had developed a method that continues to appeal to artists today.