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About the Linotype

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The Linotype sped up printing production by mechanizing the process of setting type that is printed for newspapers and books. Before Mergenthaler's invention, typesetting was a time-consuming process that was done by hand and was the major bottleneck in the production of printing.

The Linotype casts an entire line of type at one time (hence the name "Line o' Type"). It produces printable type six times faster than a person. With the invention of the Linotype, the printing of newspapers and books skyrocketed. This dramatically changed journalism and society as a whole.

Ottmar Mergenthaler emigrated from Germany to Baltimore, Maryland in 1872. While employed by his cousin, he began working on the complex challenge of mechanical typesetting. Although many people were competing to invent a machine that could set type mechanically, it was Mergenthaler's mechanical genius that eventually found the solution. His first working machine was put into service at the New York Tribune in 1886.

The Linotype was the machine everyone was waiting for. Even a syndicate of investors that tried to control the Linotype could not stop the almost instantaneous popularity of the machine. Sadly, Mergenthaler never saw the full impact of his invention as he died of tuberculosis in 1899 at the age of 45.

The Linotype quickly became an indispensable part of the printing industry. By the early 20th century, there were tens of thousands of machines in service all over the world in many different languages. The explosion of printing created jobs for highly-skilled workers that became specialists in the Linotype.

Photo typesetting technology began to overtake the Linotype in the early 1950s. By the 1970s, the Linotype was no longer state-of-the-art, and printers started scrapping the machines because they were thought to be obsolete. Today, very few machines exist. Even fewer are in operation.