During the movie Linotype: The Film one of the linotype operators called the linotype a Rube-Goldberg machine. This is a perfect description of the way a linotype works. It’s a Rube-Goldberg extension of hand set type. The movable letters go through a whirlwind of levers, pulleys, arms, gears, and chutes until eventually a line of type pops out at the end. The experience of watching the linotype go from a combination of letters to a hard and fast sentence is fascinating and almost magical, but the basics of handset type still stand. The linotype is not a new technology as much as it is a mechanized version of hand set type. The individual letters, in the font of your choosing, reside in a case called a magazine and as opposed to manually choosing each letter and setting it into a line the operator simply touches a key and the letter is released and set into it’s proper place by the machine. Then the letters are cast into a line using melted iron and instead of setting individual letters entire lines are arranged on a page to be printed. The iron cast can be melted back into the linotype and the letters are returned to their magazine. The letters can then be recombined into another line and printed. This follows the same basic principle of hand set type where letters are recombined to form new pages of print. The difference is that the arm that sets the type in a linotype is metal.
Linotype, Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photograph by Ania Chandler.
For an depth history an workings of the linotype: