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July 1: Mergenthaler’s Linotype Machine

July 1, 2014

Ottmar_Mergenthaler-Technology_and_Society-01.jpgThe Linotype machine, invented and patented by Ottmar Mergenthaler (1854-1899), a German-born Jew [but there are doubts about this -- see comments below --Editor], was put into commercial use in the U.S. for the first time at the New York Tribune on this date in 1886. Its success was immediate: Within a decade, seven thousand of the machines, with which one typesetter at a keyboard could do the work of three hand-setters, were in use around the world, a number that grew to 100,000 by mid-century. Thomas Edison called the Linotype “the eighth wonder of the world” — but the invention also meant the end of a job for thousands of typesetters, who were replaced by many fewer and lesser-paid typists. Nevertheless, Mergenthaler’s machine ushered in the modern era of publishing by allowing newspapers to expand their page count and book publishers to expand their output economically. By 1914, the Mergenthaler Linotype Company had competition in the Intertype Company, with machines that used steel and aluminum instead of Mergenthaler’s cast-iron parts. In the 1970s and ’80s, Linotype and other “hot type” machines were replaced by phototypesetting equipment and then computers. Mergenthaler, who died of tuberculosis, was inducted posthumously into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1982.

“When Tribune publisher Whitelaw Reid (later U.S. ambassador to England) saw Ottmar type on the keyboard and shortly after a thin metal slug bearing several words slid down into a tray, he exclaimed, ‘Ottmar, you’ve done it! A line o’ type!’ Thus the Linotype machine was born.” —Herman Mergenthaler (Otto’s son)