An Overview of the History of the Linotype Machine
By Rick Brown, Editor-in-Chief
Both the typewriter and the Linotype have keyboards and both make alphabets. Both were used constantly by people with ink on their fingers. And both share the same Godfather.
James Ogilvie Clephane played a major role in the bringing about of these two monumental inventions.
Born in Washington in 1842 of Scottish descent, he was a highly competent shorthand writer in that day. He was Private Secretary to Secretary of State Seward during the Civil War and then was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court. But his legal activities were concentrated on court reporting -- transcribing of court testimony.
Wanting to improve his lot, Clephane sought a way to transcribe his notes quickly and in multiple forms that cases in the highest tribunal demanded. The answer was not quick to come.
The typewriter was patented in 1867. It has been invented in Milwaukee by Christopher Sholes and two associates and built commercially in 1874. Clephane is reputed to have worn out the first two typewriters himself.
The typewriter had solved part of Clephane's problems. He could transcribe his shorthand rapidly, but it still took as long for the printer to deliver copies. Clephane thought it would save time if somehow a machine could make metal type and lay it down in strips in the rack rather than directly onto paper. He sought the aid of Charles Moore to build such a machine.
Running into trouble, Moore went to a print shop in Baltimore by the name of August Hahl's seeking advice. By all chances, Ottmar Mergenthaler was in Hahl's shop when Moore brought his primitive machine in. Mergenthaler felt he could improve upon the machine. The next summer Ottmar delivered what he felt was a perfect machine to Moore and Clephane.
Mergenthaler's machine produced sharp characters, properly spaced on an endless narrow strip ready for transfer to a lithographer's stone. Problems arose, however, in that sometimes a line of type would slip in the printing process. After much experimentation, it was decided that the solution lie in making a stereotype plate for final production.
From this prototype, Mergenthaler got the much needed financial backing. With this money, he was able to establish test printing facilities in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
At an exhibition in Washington, D.C. in 1885, Mergenthaler was offered $300,000 for the rights to his machine. For this sum, a group of publishers headed by Whiteclaw Reid bought controlling interest in the National Typographic Company which later was renamed the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. The company still exists today and produces typesetting equipment.
The arrival of the first Linotype in each state was an event heralded with awe and excitement. To the composing room involved, it was a source of towering pride. Considering that vast areas of the United States were still truly a Wild West, it is amazing at what early intervals after Mergenthaler's invention reached remote areas.