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David Gestetner

Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Csorna, Gyor-Moson-Sopron, Hungary
Death: March 8, 1939 (84)
Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Selig / Aviezer Sigmund Gestetner and Therese Gestetner
Husband of Sophie Gestetner
Father of Sidonie Charlotte Cramer; <private> Barnett (Gestetner); Theresa Buhler; Marie Phoebe Ullmann; Sigmund Gestetner and 2 others
Brother of Juliánna Salzer (Gestetner); Rosa Rausnitz and Jakob Gestetner

Occupation: Inventor, Entrepreneur
Managed by: Bryan Toepfer Rogers, Dr
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About David Gestetner

David Gestetner (March 20, 1854, Csorna, Hungary – March 8, 1939, London) was the inventor of the Gestetner stencil duplicator, the first piece of office equipment that allowed production of numerous copies of documents quickly and inexpensively. He was awarded the John Scott Medal of The Franklin Institute in 1888. On March 14th 2011, he received a Blue Plaque on his home at 124 Highbury New Park. This was presented by David's Great-Great grandchildren Harry Gestetner,12 (made a speech) & Henrietta Hodgson, 13.

At a young age, Gestetner began work at the stock market in Vienna. One of his tasks was to make copies of the activity at the end of the day by repeatedly handwriting the results. He decided to try and find a better method, and his experiments eventually led him to invent the first method of reproducing documents by use of a stencil. He went on to work in Chicago making kites out of Chinese paper. He got the idea of a Duplicator machine after an ink spill accident. There was a pile of kites next to a pot of ink, and the ink toppled over and spilled onto the kites. He found that the same ink pattern remained throughout the pile.

The device

The stencil method used a thin sheet of paper coated with wax (originally kite paper was used), which was written upon with a special stylus that left a broken line through the stencil — breaking the paper and removing the wax covering. Ink was forced through the stencil — originally by an ink roller — and it left its impression on a white sheet of paper below. This was repeated again and again until sufficient copies were produced. Until this time, any "short copy runs" which were needed for the conduct of a business (e.g., for the production of 10–50 copies of contracts, agreements, or letters) had to be copied by hand. (If more were needed, the document would have to go to the printers.) After the run had been copied, business partners had to read each one to ensure that they were all exactly the same, and that human error or tiredness had not introduced an error into one copy. The process was time consuming and frustrating for all. The stencil copy method meant that only one copy had to be read, as all copies were mechanically identical. David Gestetner eventually moved to London, England and in 1881 established the Gestetner Cyclograph Company to produce stencils, styli, ink rollers, etc. He guarded his invention through patents. He also invented other notable devices such as the nail-clipper and the ball-point pen. The Gestetner works opened in 1906 at Tottenham Hale, north London, and employed several thousand people until the 1970s.[1] His invention became an overnight international success, and he soon established an international chain of branches that sold and serviced his products. During the ensuing years he further developed his invention, with the stencil eventually being placed on a screen wrapped around a pair of revolving drums, onto which ink was placed. The drums were revolved and ink, spread evenly across the surface of the screen by a pair of cloth-covered rollers, was forced through the cuts made in the stencil and transferred onto a sheet of paper which was fed through the duplicator and pressed by pressure rollers against the lower drum. Each complete rotation of the screen fed and printed one sheet. After the first typewriter was invented, a stencil was created which could be typed on, thus creating copies similar to printed newspapers and books, instead of handwritten material.

Social effects

The stencil duplicator can be looked upon as a predecessor of the Internet, in that it provided individuals with a means to produce their own uncensored and uncontrolled ideas and distribute them in public places (near factories, churches, government offices, parks etc.). Previously, producing mass numbers of copies required the cooperation of owners of printing presses, which required a large amount of capital. Owners of presses would not agree to publish opinions contrary to their own interest. The Gestetner Company expanded quickly during the start and middle of the 20th century. Management was passed on to David Gestetner's son, Sigmund, and from him to his sons, David and Jonathan. Gestetner acquired other companies during the years: Nashua (later changed to Nashuatec), Rex Rotary, Hanimex and Savin. Eventually a holding company was set up called NRG (N=Nashuatec, R= Rex Rotary, G= Gestetner). In 1996 the international Gestetner Company was acquired by the Ricoh company of Japan. The company was renamed NRG Group, and markets and services Ricoh products under its three main brand names, primarily in Europe, South Africa and the Middle East, but also through dealers throughout the world.

Spirit duplicator, a later variation on Gestetner's design using a drum filled with solvent instead of ink.


  • • Biographical Dictionary of Management, Thoemmes Continuum (for life dates)
  • • "Before Copies", Graphic Com Central
  • Proudfoot, W.B.: The Origin of Stencil Duplicating, Hutchinson of London, 1972.
  • • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


  • ^ T.F.T. Baker, R. B. Pugh (editors), A.P. Baggs, Diane K. Bolton, Eileen P. Scarff, G.C. Tyack, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5: Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, pp. 333–339. Victoria County History, British History, 1976. Date accessed: 15 November 2007.
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David Gestetner's Timeline

March 31, 1854
Csorna, Gyor-Moson-Sopron, Hungary
March 12, 1888
Age 33
Age 36
Age 40
August 13, 1897
Age 43
August 31, 1900
Age 46
March 8, 1907
Age 52
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
March 8, 1939
Age 84
Nice, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, France