Little Bits of History

New-Fangled Printing

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 3, 2014


July 3, 1886: The New York Tribune becomes the first newspaper to use a linotype machine for printing. Prior to this, typesetting was done by hand. Linotype became the industry standard for decades until it, too, was replaced by offset lithography. The machine made setting print for daily newspapers possible to complete by just a few people. The onerous task of hand typesetting meant that no newspaper in the world was ever more than eight pages. After this technique became popular, it was possible to increase the news disseminated daily.

The machine itself consists of four major sections – the magazine, the keyboard, the casting mechanism, and the distribution mechanism. The operator composes lines of text at the keyboard and then the other sections come into play automatically. Using a 90-character keyboard, the machines produces matrices from the text entered. These matrices are molds for the letters formed into a line. The line is then put together as one piece to be cast into what is called a slug or “not metal” typesetting. After the slug is created, the type is returned to the magazine to be reused. The speed is limited by how fast the operator can type rather than how fast the operator can grab and place pre-cast metal letters, punctuation marks, or spaces.

Each matrix contains one character depicted in the font used by the machine. It is also possible to have the letter in normal or Roman form and also an auxiliary form which is usually italic, but could be boldface or a different font entirely. As the matrices are chosen via the keyboard, they are pulled from the magazine which stored unused letters in channels. For normal fonts, there were 90 channels but some larger fonts only held 72 or even just 55 channels. The letters exit the magazine via an escapement located at the mouth of each channel. While it may seem counterintuitive, this works only if all oil is kept away from the channels. Oil allows dust to stick and become gummy, making the letters stick. Therefore, it was necessary to carefully oil nearby areas in need of the lubricant while assiduously avoiding the channels.

Text was entered line-by-line, hence the name of the linotype machine. Once a line was entered, the operator depressed the casting lever mounted near the keyboard. The completed line would be lifted from the assembler which sent the line to the casting section and the operator was then finished with that line of text and could begin work on the next. The keyboard was unlike the QWERTY keyboard we are used to. There was no shift key but each lower and upper case letter had its own key. The left side of the keyboard held black keys for the lower case letters while the right side had white keys with uppercase letters arranged identically. In the center were blue keys with numbers, punctuation, and special characters.

It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper. -Jerry Seinfeld

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier. – H. L. Mencken

Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day’s insolence. – Elias Canetti

Editor: a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed. – Elbert Hubbard

Also on this day: Lady of the Harbor – In 1986, the Statue of Liberty’s newly designed torch was lit.
Great Auks – In 1844, the last two Great Auks were killed.
Speed Record – In 1938, the Mallard steam locomotive reached 126 mph.
Great Reunion of 1913 – In 1913, survivors of the Battle of Gettysburg met there to reenact the events of the battle.

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