“DG”, the office copying pioneer and founder of Gestetner is honoured
The developer of office copying technology David Gestetner (1854-1939) is to be commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at 124 Highbury New Park, Islington, his home for forty-one years from 1898 until his death in 1939. The plaque will be unveiled by two of his great-great grandchildren and English Heritage blue plaque historian Howard Spencer, at 11am on the 15 March 2011.
Know as “DG” throughout his life, David Gestetner was born in Csorna, Hungary in 1854. His innovations in office copying machinery changed the landscape of the business and finance industries, effectively heralding the beginning of the modern office and the demise of the City clerk, whose main function was to copy documents by hand.
DG was born into a Jewish family, and remained devout throughout his life. In the 1870s, after spending a short time in the United States, he joined a firm in Vienna making hectographs – a primitive apparatus for copying documents. It was here that DG first began to develop his ideas to improve copying methods. In 1879 he moved to the London and took his talents to the stationery firm Fairholme & Co. DG applied for the first of his many patents later that year.
DG’s single most important breakthrough came in 1881 with the invention of the 'Cyclostyle'; a pen with a tiny sharp-toothed rotating wheel that was used to make a perforated stencil, through which ink was forced to make copies. A trained operator could produce a good-quality copy every ten seconds, and the innovation soon transformed clerical work. Gestetner started production in the same year initially under the name 'The Cyclostyle Company'. Further patents followed – including, crucially, the application of ‘cyclostyling’ to typewriter technology – and by 1900 Gestetner was employing a hundred people at a factory in Cross Street, Islington. As the company grew and employed more people the factory moved to Tottenham in 1907 and remained open until the 1980s. In 1922 Gestetner went public with a share capital of £750,000.
DG made London his home and spent most of his life in the city. The imposing villa on Highbury New Park which will bear his plaque dates from around 1860, and was his family home from 1898 until his death in 1939. Known as Norselands during his period of residence, DG lived there with his wife Sophie, née Lazarus, and their seven children, of whom his only son Sigmund succeeded him. DG also lived for at least a dozen years in nearby Ferntower Road. His forty-one years at 124 Highbury New Park encompassed many key moments in the development of his business, including the important twin rotary patent of 1901 and the incorporation and public flotation of his company. At the time of DG’s death in 1939, the firm employed 6,000 people and it remained in family ownership until the 1980s, based latterly at Tottenham Hale.
Sigmund Gestetner’s son Jonathan said: “I am very proud to see this blue plaque installed in honour of my grandfather, he was a pioneer in his industry and built a family business that saw my father work alongside him. It is wonderful to see his legacy linked to this house where he spent so many happy years.”
English Heritage blue plaque historian Howard Spencer said: “David Gestetner is an outstanding example of a London immigrant success story, having built up an internationally successful business from nothing more than a sharp idea. The advances he made in mechanised copying revolutionised office life all over the world and this blue plaque bears testament to this achievement.”