The Linotype Machine: An Evolutionary Cornerstone of Printing Technology

Few machines contributed more to the spread of printing than the Linotype Machine, invented in 1884 by Baltimore watchmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler.


Mergenthaler set out to dramatically reduce the time it took to set type by hand, one letter at a time, as it had been done since Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1452 B.C.E. A single page of newspaper could take 2-3 days to compose by hand, whereas the Linotype could complete this task in a matter of one hour.


Likewise, this invention revolutionized book publishing by reducing the time spent on compositions from months to weeks. Linotypes feature a ninety-character keypad that activates matrices (brass units with letters indented in them) to drop into a form where molten lead fills a small chamber.


When finished with a given sentence or paragraph, the operator discharges the newly cast “line of type” from which the machine gets its name.


In 1886, the New York Tribune became the first newspaper to use the Linotype, and other newspapers around the world quickly followed suit.

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