Ottmar Mergenthaler patented the linotype machine in 1894 with the intention of speeding up the printing process by removing the need to manually set each letter. Before the machine was widely adopted, people had to set each letter, space, or other character in a composing stick like we did to create our letterpress pages. This process is incredibly time consuming, which is why the linotype represented a significant revision of the printing process. The machine has a keyboard that a linotype operator can use to type out lines to be cast into “slugs” and grouped together for printing. Typing is much faster than hand selecting each letter and the machine revolutionized the printing world in the 1900s.
Unfortunately, the linotype has been replaced and no longer has a significant space in the world of printing. The computer is much more efficient, easier to use, and faster. The digitization of printing newspapers, books, and other long documents means the linotype no longer has a mass commercial use. Also, the trend toward electronic reading of both news articles and books means that the world of mass printing is in decline. The linotype is too hard to operate relative to newer technology and is used in a type of printing that has almost been completely replaced by digital innovations.
Linotype machines have a space in museums and universities as a portal into the past, but sadly have no practical use in commercialized mass printing. Like letterpress, it’s possible the linotype could be used in a boutique printing setting, but hand-setting type requires much less skill and lower startup costs so manual setting will most likely remain the most popular method of setting lines of type.