Before the emergence of the linotype, a mechanized machine used to create single line casts, printers relied on hand-picking each letter to create a single line of text. While both essentially produce identical single line casts using similar processes and principles, the linotype was more than just an extension of the hand-set type. Mergenthaler, the inventor of the linotype machine, revolutionized the printing industry albeit for a relatively short amount of time.
I was exposed to both of these two different techniques first with hand setting lead type at MICA’s letterpress studio and then with the linotype machine at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The tedious process of picking out individual letters to fit correctly onto the slug was incredibly time-consuming and frustrating. For someone so accustomed to simply tapping keys on a user-friendly computer keyboard, hand-set type was a difficult transition. Even as I tried to ignore the advantages of modern type I was so used to, the tiny type blocks and the spacing issues were enough of a challenge to know I could certainly not make it as a printer in the 1950’s. But when Ray demonstrated the linotype at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, I felt much more comfortable even with the slight learning curve. Assembling text was much more doable with the linotype, and certainly more efficient.
While printers back then, may not have had such different experiences with hand-set type and with the linotype as I had, printers were definitely more productive with Mergenthaler’s invention. The linotype machines didn’t necessarily replace printer jobs but created a more specialized workforce in the printing industry allowing for a growth of creativity in typography and design.