Passion for the Linotype

What the name “Mergenthaler” first meant to me was the hall I had to take my dreaded Chemistry Lab Course. It was the name of the building where I worked on labs with several dozen other dispassionate students. After learning about the man named Otto Mergenthaler, his invention of the linotype, and the legacy of his invention, I felt that something was ironic.

When I had the opportunity to see an actual working linotype machine at the Museum of Industry, I was blown away by how beautiful it was, which is weird to say because it was covered in dust and rust. Unlike a computer, the linotype did not hide its inner workings. With a push of a letter on the keyboard, gears and levers would start moving to create slugs of type. It was something like a Rube Goldberg Machine, really intricate and complicated

Today we have a more efficient machine than the linotype, which is the computer. Not only is it more efficient, but also it is also safer to use and a lot more versatile and now even cheaper to produce than a linotype machine. Nowadays a company doesn’t need to invest in training people how to use a computer. Economically speaking, there is hardly and demand for the service of linotype machines.

This doesn’t mean that all linotype machines should be thrown away. Linotype machines should be preserved to cherish the one of the greatest human innovations that has revolutionized the way people keep and exchange scholarship.

I was very impressed by the tremendous passion people had for the linotype machine, and it’s painful to see fewer and fewer carry this passion. Perhaps this passion is taking on a new form. The passion for innovating the way people receive information, the passion for beautiful typography, and the passion for the history of the industry, are what survives the linotype.

Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photography by Eric Chen

Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photography by Eric Chen

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