The History of the Machine Press
Historically, metal was shaped by hand using a hammer. Later, larger hammers were constructed to press more metal at once, or to press thicker materials. Often a smith would employ a helper or apprentice to swing the hammer while the smith concentrated on positioning the work-piece. Drop hammers and trip hammers utilize a mechanism to lift the hammer, which then falls by gravity onto the work.
In the mid 19th century, manual and rotary-cam hammers began to be replaced in industry by the steam hammer, which was first described in 1784 by James Watt, a Scottish inventor and Mechanical Engineer who also contributed to the earliest steam engines and condensers, but not built until 1840 by British Inventor James Nasmyth. By the late 19th century, steam hammers had increased greatly in size; in 1891 the Bethlehem Iron Company made an enhancement allowing a steam hammer to deliver a 125-ton blow.
Most modern machine presses typically use a combination of electric motors and hydraulics to achieve the necessary pressure. Along with the evolution of presses came the evolution of the dies used within them.