Adolph Liesenfeld’s printing press

Bob Mullen

When Adolph Liesenfeld began his printing business as a young man in 1905, he probably wasn’t thinking about future owners of his new Chandler and Price printing press.

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

He set up shop at 209 Main St. that year, after learning the trade in several other printing offices in La Crosse. His new press weighed 1,200 pounds and was operated with a foot treadle propelling a 36-inch flywheel, and it was likely his only press at the time. Fifty years later, Liesenfeld’s business was still in the same location, and he was still printing on his 1905 Chandler and Price press.

During those 50 years, Liesenfeld purchased other presses and other equipment, and he hired several employees to assist him in the designing and printing of business forms, posters, flyers, invitations, business cards, newspapers, books and booklets using hand-set metal and wood type.

Liesenfeld advertised himself as an “art printer,” someone who spiced up orders with artistic flare. When old typefaces (now called fonts in computer jargon) went out of style, he purchased the latest type styles. He had a successful business, but Liesenfeld was an old-time printer, and he always loved his old Chandler and Price press.

His health began failing him in the mid-1950s, so he decided, reluctantly, to sell his shop. The new owner would be Gary Hantke, a Trane Co. engineer who loved printing as a hobby. He convinced Liesenfeld that he would take good care of the press, type and other equipment. He even brought his young daughter Carole to meet the aging printer and said that she would someday use the press.

Perhaps that was the argument that convinced Liesenfeld to sell to Hantke.

Now, 60 years later, the old machine is still pressing inked type onto paper. Gary Hantke died in 1990, but Carole and her husband, Bob, continue as hobby printers, creating cards, posters, booklets and other printed items using Liesenfeld’s press and some of his type in their basement studio in La Crosse.

The old cast-iron press shows no signs of ending its career, and it still turns out creative letterpress printed items regularly.

In 1905, Liesenfeld likely never thought about who would be using his new press 112 years later, but he would certainly be pleased to know that his beloved machine is still producing printed gems in 2017.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 17, 2017.