Industrial Icon Heidelberg Tiegel

Heidelberg Tiegel
Industrial Design Icon, 1921

The Heidelberg "Tiegel" (platen) press was a revolution in the printing industry. The first prototype equipped with propeller-type grippers printed 1,000 paper sheets an hour. Its performance exceeded that of conventional presses which required manual feeding and delivery of the sheets. The new Heidelberger Tiegel, which went into serial production in 1921, could print an astonishing 3,000 sheets an hour (big number at that time), and triggered a worldwide boom for Heidelberg.

In the film 'Catch Me If You Can', an FBI agent on the trail of a check counterfeiter (Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio), brings the latest piece of evidence to a pair of printers to ask for clues about its production. The experts hold the false check up to the light and conclude that because of the superb quality of the piece, it could only have been printed on a Heidelberg.

"It's a perfect one-sixteenth all the way around. Color separation is flawless - there's no bleeding," one of the printer characters said in the film, according to the script. "Where was it printed?" asked the FBI agent played by actor Tom Hanks. "It was printed on a monster - a Heidelberg…four color," answered one of the printers. "You can smell the weight - two tons without the ink."

The movie - produced by mogul Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks studio - was an adaptation of the real life story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who before the age of 21 successfully duped federal agents and made millions of dollars by counterfeiting checks. His skills at forgery improve with age and technology, so that by the end of the film, Abagnale reaches the pinnacle of his craftsmanship, working in a provincial French print shop to produce counterfeit checks of authentic production quality.

Heidelberg's appearance on the silver screen came about through no direct contribution from the company. DreamWorks screenwriters and prop masters, in an effort to retell Abagnale's real-life story as historically accurately as possible, found through their own independent research that Abagnale had used a Heidelberg press in his real-life misadventures and that its reputation for quality printing is unparalleled. DreamWorks assistant prop manager for the film, Ritchie Kremer, conducted dozens of hours of research for the press scenes, and in the process learned about Heidelberg and its industry standing. "I found that it was a really good machine and that's why Frank Abagnale used it," said Kremer, who helped recreate the look of a European pressroom in 1967.

At the time Abagnale was forging checks in the mid-1960s, Heidelberg was thriving amid a changeover from letterpress to offset, which the company entered in 1962. In 1967, the year Abagnale was nabbed by authorities, the company was renamed Heidelberger Druckmaschinen Aktiengesellschaft and was preparing for the stunning introduction of the first Speedmaster in 1974.

Thanks to Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG for their assistance with this article.