Talk:Linotype machine

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QWERTY vs Linotype Layout Explanation[edit]

If anyone can find an explanation on why the keyboard is layed out the way it is instead of the standard QWERTY format, I think it would be a valuable addition to the article. — Jessy Smith —Preceding undated comment added 13:27, 5 June 2012 (UTC) You need to see these marvellous machines working, and explained as they go. I did a 5-year-apprenticeship + 28 years working these machines. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:36, 20 January 2013 (UTC)

  • It's always been my understanding that the letter order is tied to letter frequencies. The first 10 (etaoin shrdlu) certainly match the standard English letter frequencies. The leftmost matrix (upper left key, i.e., the e key) travels the shortest distance both on the way out of and back into the magazine. That seems relevant somehow, but I can't figure out precisely why. So the short answer is that it matches letter frequencies, but the longer answer is "citation needed". Paul Koning (talk) 18:30, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

Etaoin Shrdlu Keyboard?[edit]

Does anybody have a picture or diagram showing the etaoin shrdlu keyboard layout? i don't know if that link works but i couldn't get the picture it self to show. hope this helps

The Etaoin Shrdlu article has a better picture.-- era (Talk | History) 07:58, 13 January 2008 (UTC)


This sounds like a great idea. Also, in my opinion, the article "Linotype Machine" gives a better description of the actual working process of the machine. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 2005-12-30

No, Linotype should be about the company and its trade, and Linotype machine talks about the machine (duh!!) 02:05, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
Let's transfer all the text about the machine from Linotype to this article Linotype machine, and write a new text dealing with the Linotype company for Linotype.
Arbo 12:34, 18 April 2006 (UTC)
The two articles should be merged to be consistent with the Monotype articles, which are merged.
Oppose. In this century, it's far more likely that people would seek information on Linotype GmbH, the type foundry, than on the relic typesetting machine of yore. Yes, Linotype and its machine share a history, but the two artcles are best kept
separate, IMHO. —Down10 TACO 00:30, 27 July 2006 (UTC)
Also oppose. They are separate topics and deserve separate entries. As long as each is prominently linked to the other, I see no reason to merge. Perhaps the Monotype articles should be unmerged (and someone could dig up a Monotype machine pic, pretty please). Rivertorch 07:44, 1 September 2006 (UTC)

Oppose merging linotronic which is a whole different kettle of fish. - DavidWBrooks 16:51, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

Oppose this also. It would be analogous to merging Mustang with Model T. Rivertorch 21:21, 9 October 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps instead of redirecting a search for "Linotype" to Mergenthaler Linotype Company, maybe it should be directed to the Linotype Machine article instead. TIE53 17:33, 1 January 2007 (UTC)


I've never seen the terms 'hot type' and 'cold type' used here in the UK. When I was at printing college in the 1970s and working in the industry later, we always called it 'hot metal' and 'coldsetting' or more normally 'photosetting' or 'phototypesetting.' Are the hot type/cold type terms recognised in other countries, or should they be changed to hot metal/coldsetting? Simoneccles 04:27, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

They are the terms in the U.S. The article needs to reflect the different terminology on either side of the pond. - DavidWBrooks 13:58, 6 January 2007 (UTC)
"Hot metal" is used in the US as well, as evidenced by an early HTML composition system that punned on the name (simultaneously punning on HTML, of course).
Atlant 16:23, 6 January 2007 (UTC)
Ahh, here we are: HoTMetaL.
Atlant 22:31, 6 January 2007 (UTC)
The only term I have ever seen is "hot metal". Not "hot type". Paul Koning 14:40, 12 April 2007 (UTC)

These paragraphs need to be rewritten and detailed photos included[edit]

I don't know anything about Linotypes so I cannot correct these sentences, but they are too technical for someone who has never seen a linotype machine to get a good idea of what is going on. Terms need to be defined, and where possible avoid using technical terms when a general description would do. Detailed images of the components would really really help.

" This delivery channel would then transfer the composed line into the 'first elevator' which then positions the matrices and spacebands in front of the mold. The matrices would be aligned, then the justification levers would rise to expand the spacebands as needed, then the line would be 'locked up' against the mold and the slug is cast."

"The complexity of a Linotype machine was necessary not just so that it would place matrices in the proper place as the operator typed on the keyboard, but so it could return the matrices to the proper channels (slots) in the magazine in preparation for their next usage. This was vital, because returning letters to the proper part of a case (termed "redistribution") is the slowest and most difficult part of setting type by hand. The Linotype machine used a clever design of 7 binary-coded notches on each matrix (the notches corresponding to their position within the main 90-channel or the 34-channel 'auxiliary' magazines). Certain seldom-used characters (referred to as 'pi' matrices or simply 'sorts') had none of the teeth on the matrix notched, so they would proceed the entire length of the distribution" Cshay 23:46, 21 February 2007 (UTC)

I agree, but the machine is really quite complex and it's very difficult to do it justice in an acceptable size article. Diagrams might help. I have a source that may be old enough for its copyrights to have expired, will check.
To make matters worse, what's described in the article is the simplest variant of the Linotype machine. If you look at features like four-magazine mixed composition -- where the distribution has to separate out the different fonts first and then the different characters -- things get more complex yet. Paul Koning 14:40, 12 April 2007 (UTC)
Thanks. I don't think the length of the article is any concern. It's just a lot of work to document how this thing works in an easy to understand manner. Cshay 20:35, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
I'll give it a try when I can. I have a good reference manual. Its copyright hasn't expired yet as I understand it (it's from 1940), but I can use the text for information. And it might be that there are public domain pictures available -- perhaps in the Mergenthaler patent. Paul Koning 21:32, 25 April 2007 (UTC)
Correction: that copyright of that manual did expire, because it wasn't renewed when the renewal time came up (1968). There are also useful pictures in a number of Mergenthaler patents. Paul Koning 16:51, 27 April 2007 (UTC)
I'm working on an update. Comments welcome. See User:Paul Koning/work. Paul Koning 14:23, 8 July 2007 (UTC)
Done. There now are lots of pictures -- enough that some end up all the way at the bottom of the text, at least in my browser. I tried <gallery> but that didn't do what I wanted, at least not in some quick tests. Improvements of all kinds would be much appreciated. Paul Koning (talk) 17:21, 25 January 2008 (UTC)

Popular Culture[edit]

Any interest in one of these sections? I just found a short story by Frederic Brown. Etaoin Shrdlu. Included in The Best of Frederic Brown: Ballantine, 1977. Earlier Publication Unknown Worlds, February 1942 by Street & Smith Publications. TaoPhoenix (talk) 01:50, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

It's listed in the "popular culture" section of ETAOIN SHRDLU. I think duplicating that section here is unnecessary. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 14:05, 22 September 2008 (UTC)

where have all the mergenthalers gone?[edit]

always found their clackety-clack soothing. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:29, 15 July 2009 (UTC)

Most went to scrap, some of it during war drives. There are some still operated by small shops or by hobbyists. See for some of them. PaulRomaine (talk) 18:30, 16 May 2012 (UTC)

Alloy proportions?[edit]

The article Casting section says, The continuous heating of the molten alloy causes the tin and antimony in the mixture to slowly boil off, resulting in a softening of the alloy as the lead concentration increases. The mixture must then be assayed and tin and antimony added back to restore the original alloy toughness.

This is a good start, but what is the correct proportion of lead, tin, and antimony in the molten alloy?

Also, when the type slugs have been used for printing, and the metal is returned to be used again, it is generally melted again, and in the process burning off any ink or impurities, and tin and antimony is added, and cast into bars or pigs for use in the machines. This should be explained somewhere, perhaps in the Linotype alloy article, which should cover both the proportions and the need to remelt the used slugs. --DThomsen8 (talk) 23:51, 23 October 2009 (UTC)

The Hot metal typesetting article covers the remelting process. It does not say anything about the proportions.--DThomsen8 (talk) 00:08, 24 October 2009 (UTC)
The type metal article discusses the alloys in detail, including proportions. I found a reference to "Linotype Metal" in the Linotype Machine Principles book; it agree with the type metal article. Paul Koning (talk) 18:38, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

how is the linotype machine distinct from the older monotype machine?[edit]

The names suggest the answer: a Linotype machine casts lines (one generic name for the machine that avoids the "linotype" trademark is "linecaster"). A Monotype machine casts individual letters. They were also used in different environments: Linotype in newspapers, Monotype in book publishing. Paul Koning (talk) 18:40, 30 August 2013 (UTC)

And where does one find typesetters that use either machine in the year 2011? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:18, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

The Monotype was invented later by Tolbert Lanston. Linotype was earlier, not later. Most of the typesetters (people) are retired or in new jobs--the ITU (union) was absorbed in 1987 by the Communication Workers. Most of the typesetters (machines) were scrapped. If you want to find current users, just look around. Most of them are hobbyists or fine printers. Most commercials dropped linotype long ago. There are training sessions availble from hobbyist sponsored "Monotype University" and "Linotype University." PaulRomaine (talk) 18:32, 16 May 2012 (UTC)

pages of newspapers[edit]

Not a technical Linotype issue, but I find this sentence "Before Mergenthaler's invention of the Linotype in 1884, no newspaper in the world had more than eight pages." to be nearly impossible to believe, although I cannot prove it is wrong.

Some might say this reflects a lack of imagination on your part rather than any indication of whether the statement is correct or not. The statement does, however, need a citation. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 12:28, 27 September 2011 (UTC)
DavidWBrooks: no reason to be insulting. I think it's an absurd proposition until I see documentation from the 19th C. As a librarian who has worked in rare books and special collections, it's just not true. It's uncommon to get longer newspapers. Colonial are typically 4pp. 19thC urban before the 1850s are typically 4-8pp and usually large broadsheets (not like our modern tabloid). I recall some Civil War papers that were longer for battles, but not common, and the additional sheets were clearly add-ons and extras. The reason *might* be quantity of type and the limitations of small shops, but as demand increased it's likely that it had to do with how many times you can fold a sheet easily without it becoming too small. Printers printed on unfolded sheets which were then folded to make the "pages" of a newspaper. There's also a physical limitation with the size of paper you can make before the invention of paper machines. (A workman can dip, shake and hold a hand papermold only so large.) You need very large sheets of paper--in fact, not sheets, but *rolls* of paper. Harpers did move from 8 to 16 pp. around the time of the Linotype (memory fails me), and I think composition speed was a big part of that. I would love to see contemporary documentation from the American Printer or from the United Typothetae making the 8pp point.PaulRomaine (talk) 18:44, 16 May 2012 (UTC)
I would like to see this issue addressed, or see the offending text at least modified with "some say" or other weasel words. It's a big, bold statement, and just because someone said it (i.e., it has a citation), that doesn't mean it's correct. Wikipedia should be cautious with blanket statements like this, if only to ease the pain of teachers grading term papers. Also, the supporting quote *does not say* that no newspapers in the world were longer than 8 papers, so as a citation, it's just window-dressing. Furfish (talk) 20:52, 5 April 2013 (UTC)
Seems to me that you might get away with "rarely" instead. For a daily newspaper, it has to take less than a day to set. A weekly might be able to do more pages. Gah4 (talk) 22:25, 17 September 2016 (UTC)
I will remove the offending sentence; it doesn't have a thing to do with the operation of the Linotype machine. BeenAroundAWhile (talk) 05:24, 11 September 2019 (UTC)

Actual inventor?[edit]

I just ran across an advertisement in a 1921 Wake Forest College newspaper describing the history of the linotype. The advertisement is for The Record Publishing Co. in Zebulon, N.C., presumably the town's own newspaper. That history claims a Zebulon man invented the linotype process and sold it to Mergenthaler, a lawyer, who then developed it into a workable machine. If the story is true, it seems the man who sold the idea, one William Foster, deserves at least part of the credit. Check it out here, (scroll to page 4 and you'll see the ad): (talk) 07:27, 7 October 2011 (UTC)David Eliot Leone, Associate Editor, The Wake Forest Weekly.

That's very cool (I love the editorial cartoon "Coeds-Bah!" on page 2) but as history it is incredibly dubious. Typesetting machines were the computers of their day, and everybody was inventing versions ... Mark Twain lost a fortune on one, IIRC ... so the ad smacks of local boosterism / revisionism. - DavidWBrooks (talk) 16:47, 7 October 2011 (UTC)
Interesting but very unlikely. There's just too much documentation pointing to Ottmar Mergenthaler as the original inventor. And Mergenthaler was a machinist from Germany. The article is probably conflating Mergenthaler with James O. Clephane, a lawyer and stenographer in Washington who was an early backer, who came to Mergenthaler with an idea for a machine that would print using a typewriter keyboard--but it was NOT the machine Mergenthaler devised. Previous incarnations included a typewriter that would create text suitable for printing via offset lithography. The weird thing with the Linotype machine was that instead of thinking about metal type as something to be used and re-used (as with most of the early composing machines), it just made fresh type each time. (I'm editing a book right now for a university press on the Linotype Company, so I'm immersed in this right now. There are legal documents up the wazoo protecting the company from lawsuits--so where's the lawsuit, or where's the deed of sale?) PaulRomaine (talk) 18:27, 16 May 2012 (UTC)
Seems to me that this is a legal question. If you buy a patent, not just license, but buy it completely, are you then the inventor? And most inventions build off existing inventions. For comparison, see who first came up with L'Hôpital's_rule. Gah4 (talk) 22:31, 17 September 2016 (UTC)
No. The metadata for patents has made this clear for centuries. There are inventor(s), who retain inalienable moral rights, and there are assignee(s), often their employers, who gain the beneficial commercial rights. Andy Dingley (talk) 22:36, 17 September 2016 (UTC)
OK, I didn't say it right. For one, even though as you note people are the inventors and companies the assignees, inventions are often claimed by companies. If one says that Mergenthaler invented something, is that the person or company? And if a company buys a patent, such that they are the new assignee, can the company claim the invention? (Though they are not the inventor.) Gah4 (talk) 03:05, 18 September 2016 (UTC)
Companies do not invent things. The inventor is always a person (or persons), and never changes even if the patent is re-assigned. If Mergenthaler invented something, then that's the person, not the company. Kendall-K1 (talk) 03:30, 18 September 2016 (UTC)
Yes, but companies take credit for inventions, and people commonly assign them to companies, as long as the inventor is not so famous. If you go down the street, and ask who invented the copier (and pretty much no-one now counts wet copiers), people will say Xerox, and not Chester Carlson. On the other hand, Edison is popularly credited with the incandescent light bulb, not GE, his company (or successor company). There is probably more than one patent in the Linotype machine, too. Gah4 (talk) 04:57, 18 September 2016 (UTC)
You need to distinguish sloppy or casual terminology with precise legal terminology. It may be that people refer to companies inventing stuff. As has been pointed out, this is obviously wrong, since only people have brains capable of creating inventions. In any case, it's legally wrong. Patents have inventors, and there is a specific legal definition of what makes an inventor. Patents also have owners (assignees). The two are entirely separate. Normally, when company employees invent, the patent owner (assignee) is the company. The owner can practice the patent (make what the patent covers), prevent others from practicing it, or license the right to practice it. But having a patent assigned to you (as employer, or by purchasing the rights) does not make you an inventor. Similarly, the fact that someone is the inventor's boss does not legally make the boss an inventor. Only people who make a sufficient intellectual contribution to the invention are inventors. Paul Koning (talk) 15:52, 13 July 2017 (UTC)


I suggest that the wording in the first paragraph of the phrase

"when it was largely replaced by offset lithography printing and computer typesetting"

be changed to

"when it was largely replaced by offset lithography printing and, later, computer typesetting"

to indicate that there was a significant gap between the beginning of the decline of metal type and the advent of digital typesetting. (At least, that is my impression. If I am wrong, feel free to ignore or correct me. My only claim to being in the industry is that I once worked as a temp on a web press.)

Starling2001 (talk) 03:53, 16 December 2013 (UTC)

I don't know the answer at all, but it seems to me that offset printing is much older than digital typesetting, but is a convenient process for doing the actual printing. As well as I know it, offset printing started to get popular soon after xerography, which is a convenient way to make masters. You can, and I presume they do, make metal masters from digital data. Offset works well for smaller runs, metal for bigger ones. I suggest keeping the current form, not because they happened at the same time, but because the transition was gradual enough not to give a specific time to either of them. Gah4 (talk) 22:37, 17 September 2016 (UTC)
Since offset printing goes back to 1875, it doesn't seem right to say that it replaced the Linotype. Gah4 (talk) 22:39, 17 September 2016 (UTC)
It would be appropriate to say that offset lithography and computer typesetting replaced the linotype in widespread use or as the printing technology of choice for commercial printing, or words to that effect. It is entirely possible for a technology invented long ago to eclipse another, even a newer, technology, if it is (or when it becomes) more efficient or cost-effective. Xerography as we know it now was invented during the late 1930s and early '40s, but the first practical xerographic copier did not appear until the '60s and the mimeograph remained in use for many years after that.General Ization Talk 00:13, 18 September 2016 (UTC)
I would disagree with the original suggestion. I suppose it's possible in principle to make offset plates from page layouts set in metal with Linotype machines, but I don't know that this was done. Sheet printing can go straight from assembled cast lines; web printing would be done by converting an assembled page into a printing cylinder with the stereotype process. Once phototypesetting appeared (first without computers, soon with), pages were made up from photographic paper, and the finished page would then be turned into a printing page with another optical process. That could still be done by stereotype but this was not common. More often, the negative of the finished page would be exposed onto a printing plate that could be etched -- producing a letterpress printing plate -- or a photosensitive offset plate, for use in an offset press. Both were common in newspapers where I encountered all this in the late 1970. So while phototypesetting enabled the widespread use of offset printing, it isn't the case that all phototypeset material was then printed using offset. Paul Koning (talk) 15:45, 13 July 2017 (UTC)

Health problems[edit]

I took out the section on health problems. It was unsourced and doesn't seem to be true. The CDC Material Safety Data Sheet (from 1969, the latest I could find with "Linotyper" listed as an occupation) says there is no incidence of plumbism among Linotypers, and the concentration of lead in the air around a Linotype is low. You don't get significant fumes below 500° C,[1] which is above the temperature of a Linotype pot. Kendall-K1 (talk) 18:51, 1 April 2015 (UTC)

Missing History[edit]

Simply linking to Ottmar Mergenthaler for the history section is a very bad idea.

Ottmar Mergenthaler's article is about more than just Linotype history. And conversely, Linotype history is not simply the story of Ottmar Mergenthaler. Battling McGook (talk) 19:35, 8 December 2015 (UTC)

Yes, the history is a mess. We've got this article, Mergenthaler Linotype Company, and Ottmar Mergenthaler but none of them have much to say about the history of this machine. Which is odd considering the machine is mostly an historic curiousity at this point. For example, when did production of the machine begin, how many were made, when did production end? Very basic questions, but not answered anywhere on WP. Kendall-K1 (talk) 00:08, 8 November 2016 (UTC)

In media[edit]

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Type is read from left to right[edit]

Just a note that the images showing hot-metal type are upside down. Such type is read from left to right. BeenAroundAWhile (talk) 05:30, 11 September 2019 (UTC)

History section needs summery[edit]

As others have already stated some 4 years ago, the history section should have at least a summery of the history of the Linotype machine. We especially should point out the Linotype machine was being phased out in the 1970's and mentioned what replaced it. --Notcharliechaplin (talk) 14:51, 16 October 2019 (UTC)