A linotype is a massive machine that, when turned on, confronts its user with hissing, whirring, and clanking made by the various pulleys, bars, and levers that make up the machine. And if the noise and the complex parts aren’t daunting enough, the linotype also has a hidden compartment of molten hot lead prepared to squirt at the pull of a lever. To the average person today, the linotype looks like a terrifying appliance not to play around with; however, during its prime years, it was an incredibly powerful tool that increased the efficiency and accuracy of the letterpress. The linotype is, in actuality, very similar to the original method of hand-setting type; however, the linotype contains features that assure its dominance over previous methods of hand set type.
In hand-setting type, a worker would place individual letters, or movable type, into a bed on which the type would be pressed. While the actual printing was quick, the process of hand setting was incredibly time consuming. The letters were small, placed in individual boxes, and required being spelled backwards and upside down.
The linotype greatly eased the process of hand setting in many ways. First, a keyboard was introduced to the machine, so instead of searching through a box of letters, all a worker had to do was press the keys on the board and the letter would be placed on a bar in the order in which they were typed. The linotype further arranged the letters in the order they were typed in, leaving no room for errors such as misplacements or upside down letters. Similarly, when a line was complete, the machine would make a cast of the entire line in the hot lead from the machine. This prevented any further mistakes that could occur in the printing process, such as pieces popping out, falling down, or becoming jumbled. The linotype allowed a worker to type multiple lines a minute, where previously, speed was measured in how many minutes it took to set a line.
While the linotype can be considered to be an extension of hand-set type, it should not be thought of as an equal. The linotype is more accurate and much faster than previous methods of hand-set typing, and should be considered a great advancement in the history of printing.