Wonder machine changed printing

editorial image

At Todmorden Antiquarian Society’s meeting on November 19, printer David Evans presented his second lecture to the Society by showing a film - Linotype: The Eighth Wonder of the World.

This was a fascinating insight into how, in 1887, a German immigrant to the USA – watchmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler – designed and produced the machine which gave the world our modern printed word, writes Ann Anthon.

Linotype was so called because rather than the laborious method of setting one letter at a time by hand, the machine set one line of type at a time.

This revolutionised the printing industry, particularly newspapers, enabling fast production of the written word to be made available to everyone at very low cost.

Linotype was incredibly successful across the world until the 1970s when computers started to take over.

The film included interesting and informative interviews with retired Linotype operators recalling their life’s work and demonstrating exactly how this complicated and intricate contraption actually worked.

A few machines are now in American museums – most were scrapped – but there is now a resurgence of interest in use of the Linotype to produce quality hot metal letterpress using the fonts (type faces) originally designed and unique to the machine.

One man and his wife travel the USA servicing and repairing the remaining machines.

Print enthusiasts from many countries including the UK now attend the “Linotype University” in America to learn how to operate and maintain these machines.

At end of the lecture David displayed a 6pt line of type that he had hand set especially for us, reading “Todmorden Antiquarian Society.”