John F Crosfield, a pioneer in the application of electronics to all aspects of colour printing, passed away on 25 March 2012, aged 96.
As one of the band of inspired entrepreneurs who ushered the printing industry into the age of electronics after the Second World War, Crosfield, a Cambridge educated engineer, founded his own company in 1947. He initially designed and manufactured printing press automatic control equipment to ensure that the four printing colours registered accurately on top of one another. This improved print quality and greatly reduced material waste. The revolutionary Autotron, as it was known, was rapidly adopted by printers around the world.
Following the success of the Autotron and its derivatives, the company played a leading role in the introduction of colour scanning, phototypesetting and later the automated composition of pages incorporating pictures and text. As Chief Executive of Crosfield Electronics Ltd, John spearheaded the development of the first colour scanner, the Scanatron, launched in 1959. This machine analysed original colour pictures into their four printing colours and exposed a single colour image onto glass photographic plates for the later production of the four colour printing plates. With the arrival of polyester based photographic film a new and improved version was produced, the Diascan.
The company went on, in 1969, to introduce the world’s first enlarging and reducing drum scanner, the Magnascan 450. This had the ability to make full colour adjusted, corrected screened, or continuous tone colour separations, to a required size, in a single step. These early scanners used analogue and valve electronics. In 1975 Crosfield Electronics launched the Magnascan 550. This was the world’s first digital scanner controlled by computer with all the separation and correction process performed in the computer followed closely by the first electronic page composition system.
The prosperity achieved with those products for the printing and packaging industries enabled the company’s engineering talents to be applied to the development of machines for automatic document handling. A spin-off company was formed, Crosfield Business Machines Ltd, which produced and sold banknote inspection, counting and sorting machines. These were sold to many of the state printing works around the world, including the Bank of England.
These innovative products generated considerable business success for Crosfield Electronics. As a consequence, Crosfield and his Company’s efforts were recognised by several Queens Awards for both Exports and Technology, totaling four in all.
Crosfield was born with printer’s ink in his blood. His father, Bertram Crosfield, was at one time Managing Director of The Star and the New Chronicle newspapers. From his Crosfield and Cadbury ancestors John inherited their fervent principles: diligence, assiduousness, integrity and enthusiasm. Those families cared about people and their welfare as demonstrated by the Bourneville village built by his maternal grandfather, George Cadbury, for his employees. This was a social revolution in its day and that ethos kindled a family spirit in his company that is still enjoyed by the ex-employees today.
For his services to British industry, Crosfield was honoured with the CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1971. In 1973 he received the Annual Gold Medal of the Institute of Printing and was elected to the ‘Champions of Print’ at IPEX 2010 at the age of 94.
In 1974, Crosfield sold Crosfield Electronics to The De La Rue Company, who were keen to acquire the bank note handling machines and to understand the colour scanning technology that they feared could threaten the integrity of printed bank notes. John continued for many years as a non-executive board member of De La Rue and maintained a keen interest in the continued development of Crosfield Electronics.
To ensure that the company’s pioneering work in so many sectors of the printing and packaging industries continues to be remembered and recognised today, its former senior employees established the John Crosfield Foundation in order to keep its name alive. The charitable trust assists underprivileged young people with bursaries in furthering their education in the Graphic Arts and, to that end, also receives support from a number of major companies in the printing industry.
John was educated at Leighton Park School and then went on to read Mechanical Sciences at Trinity College Cambridge. After a student engineering apprenticeship with British Thomson-Houston John moved on to ASEA in Sweden working on electric lifts. When war was declared John moved back to England and found himself working in Portsmouth for the Admiralty on acoustic mines. After the war John went back to ASEA for a couple of years before starting his own company.
Outside his life as a talented engineer and successful entrepreneur, he was a very gifted painter and author. In addition to many paintings of landscapes and portraits he branched out into a new field for a time. John installed an electron-microscope in his studio, using it to scan microscopic insect and plant life. He used these images as the inspiration for surreal but fascinating paintings. In addition to his book ‘Recollection of Crosfield Electronics 1947-1975, John researched and wrote a history of ‘The Crosfield Family’. He then went on to research the Cadbury family and wrote another book for which he received the Gold Medal of the National Genealogical Society.
John married Edie Bertinet in 1945 and together they had three children. Edie predeceased him in 2010. John is survived by his three children Richard, Jamie and Ellie, and Robin from his first marriage.