In 1834, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Weber and their nephew, August Hoen, carried pieces of lithographic machinery, lithographic stones, and ink powders from Coblenz, Germany, to America. Upon arriving in America in 1835, Weber founded the E. Weber and A. Hoen Lithography Company. So began 146 years of continuous business for the company, which garnered it the title of the oldest lithographic firm in the United States. After Weber’s death in 1845, August took over and renamed the business A. Hoen & Co., Lithographers and Printers.
Hoen helped create an international name for the company. He patented his litho-caustic method of printing, which required citric acid and gum Arabic to be laid over the etching in order to allow the lithographer to see the progress of his work. The company became most readily known for its maps, art reproductions, medical charts, and posters. Also, when the Civil War broke out in 1861, A. Hoen & Co. printed Confederate money.
In 1880, the firm operated from a building on Lexington Street next to City Hall. The six-floor building owned by A. Hoen & Co. held ten additional businesses aside from the lithographers. At around the same time that Hoen received patents for producing halftone prints, the Lexington Street building caught fire. The top three floors and the roof suffered severe damage. The fire cost the Hoen Company roughly $150,000 in machinery and building damage. It also cost the Southern Electric Company, occupying an office in the building, approximately $75,000.
Immediately after the fire, the firm moved to a temporary location in order to finish their government contracts, which preceded the establishment of the Government Printing Office. In 1902, A. Hoen & Co. moved to a new location on Biddle Street. The Lexington Street building was sold to the city in 1921 and after a failed renovation plan, it was torn down in 1926. During their time in operation at the Biddle Street location, the building had four different additions constructed to give the company more space. In honor of Aloys Senefelder (inventor of the lithographic process), the Senefelder symbol and the words “Sara Loquuntur” (which meant “the stones tell”) adorned the entrance. In 1969, the Maryland Historical Society and A. Hoen & Co. partnered to provide an exhibition of Hoen Lithographers’ history.
A. Hoen & Co. succumbed to bankruptcy in 1981 after the pressure of a decline in business, the failure of a merger effort, an adverse tax ruling, and a union disagreement.The building on Biddle Street, after sitting empty for years, is planned for redevelopment. A joint venture aims to turn the abandoned building into housing for nurses, office space, and a café. The building’s 85,000 square feet will cost roughly $17 million to renovate and planned for completion in 2017.