Linotype and Lead Poisoning.

Linotype is the “line casting” of type settings used in printing. This machine was widely used from late 19th century to the 1970s to print newspapers and magazines. Nowadays, linotype is no longer used because of the advent of computers and electronic printers. Some linotype operators continue to keep the tradition alive, and sometimes these works can be artistic and more beautiful than modern-day printing. However, linotype does not have a future because it is too old-fashioned. For example linotype requires labor and time compared to modern method of printing. Another problem with the linotype is that is uses lead-based type-metal, and lead is harmful to health. Lead easily evaporates and enters the respiratory system, which may cause lead poisoning. The lead dust from the room can also poison the linotype operator. Linotype operators handled slugs with their barehands, and they had to be careful not to touch their mouths. Many linotype operators reported that they had leadpoisoning. People in the 21st century are very sensitive to health concerns. For example, the United States had many court-cases about lead paint, so the government had to make lead-paint disclosure regulations. Lead poisoning interferes with the nervous system, and may cause mental disorders. In the book “Public Health : The Development of a Discipline”, the author raises concerns about the lead used in the linotype machine. Lead from the type-metal fumes and slugs are harmful to human health.

Even with the health disadvantages of linotype use, linotype operators could not make good money back when their skills were in demand. Linotype has two cons compared to modern day printer: it is inefficient, and bad for the health. Tradition is important. However, many people would most likely agree that efficiency and health are more important than tradition. Giving up an old tradition is sad, but it is our duty to make new efficient traditions.

Ray Loomis, Lead, Interfaces, and Linotype Machine, Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Ki Hyuck Lee

Ray Loomis, Lead, Interfaces, and Linotype Machine, Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Ki Hyuck Lee




One thought on “Linotype and Lead Poisoning.

  1. My grandfather worked and provided maintenance for a linotype machine for 38 years beginning in 1924 and then for 8 more years in a larger daily printing shop. Those initial years were in a small room, possibly little ventilation in the early years. Grandpa suffered from anxiety and depression and died of Parkinson’s Disease. I am grateful for your sources as they seem to justify my long-held belief that his daily work contributed to his state of health. Thank you.

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