The Future of the Linotype

Does linotype have a future? Should it? If not, why not? If so, how and why?

The 1880’s marked a revolutionary transformation in the efficiency and technique of the printing industry German émigré Ottmar Mergenthaler introduced the linotype machine. In contrast to the laborious and precise process of hand-setting typeface, the linotype machine included a 90-key keyboard that allowed typists to transfer the desired text to a sheet at a far more rapid pace. Mergenthaler’s project was lauded around the world, earning the “Grand Prix” at the 1889 World Expo in Paris, France.


A 1936 Mergenthaler Linotype Machine in the Baltimore Musuem of Industry

By 1904, there were 10,000 machines in use on a global scale and this pattern of usage continued into the mid-to-late twentieth century, as newspapers like the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle employed legions of linotypists. With the advent of computers, however, the task of operating the linotype machine grew obsolete and antiquated by comparison. Though the skills and expertise that separate a traditional printer from the average modern-day computer user is remarkable, I believe that it is much more appealing in the context of our society to “put the power of the press in the hands of the people.” Watching Ray Loomis explain and operate the nearly 80 year-old machine truly emphasized the nuance and dedication required. In essence, there is nothing a linotype can accomplish that a computer can’t, with significantly reduced time and a limited skill set.


Ray Loomis demonstrating how to operate the linotype machine, no easy feat!

What’s more, the digitization of news media, in conjunction with the rise of individual technological ownership, has left many print newspapers with declining reader bases. The chart below demonstrates how digital new sites are quickly catching up to print newspapers as primary sources of information. Thus, I don’t think a revival of the linotype would even be feasible as more and more people turn to their laptops and tablets to catch up on current events and popular culture, finding articles for free and in a matter of seconds.

The "battle" between modern and traditional news sources in the United States, through the lens of prominent newspaper corporations.

The “battle” between modern and traditional news sources in the United States, through the lens of prominent newspaper corporations.



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