Linotype: A Forgotten Baltimore Institution?

Linotype, that immensely influential and powerful invention that graced Baltimore 125 years ago, has held a monumental amount of importance to how modern publishing has developed. The linotype machine allowed for a jump in journalistic output in the United States and abroad, to the extent that newspapers were able to create and set type at six times the rate of hand-setting, the previous mode of preparing newspapers for publication.

Today, Linotype is a seldom-mentioned piece of American journalistic history. Much like Old Bay seasoning, the Linotype machine was the product of a German immigrant in Baltimore, and it truly is something that all Baltimoreans should be proud of. Nowadays, however, Linotype does not enjoy the same place in modern culture as Old Bay – few people would be able to tell you what it is if asked. I doubt one Hopkins student attending class in Mergenthaler Hall would be able to tell you who the father of Linotype, the namesake of that building, is.

Despite the seemingly archaic nature of the Linotype machine, it has undeniably held a strong role in the evolution of the printed word. Through the production of this highly complex machine, an era of increasingly mechanized publishing methods was set into motion – later forms of printing, including the monotype machine, would closely resemble computers. The marching on of technological innovations is a fact of life, and all things become obsolete as the years go on. What we can do, however, is honor the memory of the Linotype by learning about its rich history, and how it made publishing a Baltimore institution. An incredible feat of modern engineering, the Linotype should not be relegated to the past and treated as a means of generating scrap metal, but as a cultural artifact that exemplifies what publishing used to look like.

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