Ancestors Who Operated a Linotype Machine

You may have had ancestors who operated a ‘Linotype Machine’ for a hometown newspaper, posters or a magazine company. It was a way to have print on paper done easier and quicker.

Starting in the late 19th century, lines in newspapers and magazines were often created with a linotype machine. The linotype machine was revolutionary for its time. It was manufactured and sold by the former Mergenthaler Linotype Company. the inventor was Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1884 with financial assistance from James Clephane.

Before the machine, each letter of an article was individually set by hand into a mold for print. The linotype machine eliminated this process by having operators type each line with a special 90-key keyboard, creating a “line o’ type” set in lead, and then that stamp was used to print the text. The cost per machine was about $1,000. This technology was used for almost 100 years, eventually tapering off in the ‘60s, ‘70s and 80s.

Many people over the decades were employed to use the linotype to keep newspapers and magazines in business. A skilled Linotype operator could cast four to seven lines of type a minute. The Linotype operator’s key strokes told the machine which letter molds to retrieve from the magazines and the machine assembled a row of metal molds, or matrices, that contained imprints of those characters.

In 2020 there was one last known newspaper in U.S. using a linotype, the “Saguache Crescent”. All others are using phototypesetting and digital typesetting methods.

So if you have seen ‘linotype operator’ written about an ancestor, now you can add details about it.

Photo: Linotype operator at the machine.

Related Blogs:

Using Newspapers for other Things besides Reading

19th Century Magazines

Occupations by Another Names

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Sara N Martin 9/07/22

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