Earlier this morning I watched a documentary called Linotype: The Film. I didn’t know about it until this past weekend, but it touched on a topic that has been of interest to me for years: printing, along with typography.
The movie touched on a machine called the Linotype, which was a revolutionary machine that made it possible to put things to print, opposed to doing everything by hand. I’ll let Wikipedia describe it for you:
Along with letterpress printing, linotype was the industry standard for newspapers, magazines and posters from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 70s, when it was largely replaced by offset lithography printing and computer typesetting. The name of the machine comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence a line-o’-type, a significant improvement over the previous industry standard, i.e., manual, letter-by-letter typesetting using a composing stick and drawers of letters.
During elementary school, I had learned that one of the first Hawaiian newspapers was done in the old style, where it was letter-by-letter. As someone who had always looked into the history of Hawai’i and especially means of Hawaiian documentation, this was of interest to me. The article I had read at the time had to do with what I believe was the 100th anniversary of the first Hawaiian newspaper, and someone was actually going to revive the old machines and print them the old way. I never got a chance to see the final edition of that, and while I grew up in the era of photo printing (which moved into computer printing), I have always had an interest in things that are letterpressed, which to me shows a sense of quality and time put into the product. About 11 years ago, I had wanted to release a 12” single done in a letterpress cover but at the time I had lost my job and couldn’t use my finances for that. I still want to create a business card using letterpress, in fact there’s a company based out of Chicago called Starshaped Press whom I wanted to work with originally. With the help of the internet, I’ve discovered there are some letterpress printers in Portland, Oregon and I hope to have a card made up for me in 2013.
Anyway, Linotype touches on those who still run Linotype machines, a Linotype university that maintains the working parts, along with the reality that these 2-ton machines eventually become scrap metal when no one wants them around. They are heavy beasts and take up a lot of time and space, so if no one knows how to use and work them, it’s useless. With modern technology, they are very much a thing of the past, and were when the last newspaper using the Linotype went off the press in July 1978. Today, we all use computers with a wide range of fonts, typography of which originated from the Linotype people (a company that originated by a German man named Ottmar Mergenthaler). However, when you see the machine used today, as sentences and paragraphs are typed in and adjusted line by line, it’s a work of art and in many ways was genius for its time. We tend to take our modern ways for granted, but it’s great to see how the revolution started. Without the Linotype, it was said that literacy in the United States might not have gone up as they did in the early 20th century.
Eternal gratitude, Etaoin Shrdlu.