Monday, January 30, 2012

(empo-tuulwey) (empo-tymshft) Tomorrow's advance is the day after tomorrow's trash - On Linotype

Take a moment and think about the most futuristic prototype that you've seen recently.

Now think about the day when that miraculous item is a dusty relic.

On July 3, 2011, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of something that no longer exists:

On this date in 1886, the German clockmaker, Ottmar Mergenthaler demonstrated the first Linotype Type Casting Machine at the New York Tribune in New York City, USA. In front of a gathering of printers, newspaper men and reporters, the machine was first put in to production, casting lines of printable type for the Tribune.

At this demonstration, Mergenthaler sat at the machine and cast the first line of type. It is alleged that Whitelaw Reid, the owner of the Tribune, exclaimed "Ottmar! You've done it! A line of type!" A reporter asked what the new machine was called and Reid replied, "Why yes, we do have a name. We are going to call it the Linotype."

This ability to set type one line at a time revolutionized the information industry, enabling blazingly quick responses to events. This was symbolized by the boy standing on a streetcorner shouting "Extra!" to alert passersby that a new newspaper edition was available. This newspaper would recount something that happened mere hours ago!

Such a revolutionary tool had far-reaching effects.

Due to the speed and low cost of printing, literacy dramatically increased as more and more books and newspapers were published.

But a mere hundred years later:

Although these machines were revolutionary, technology began to supersede the Linotype and they were scrapped and melted-down by the thousands. Today, very few machines are still in existence.

And what of the fathers in the 1890s, or the 1920s, or the 1950s, telling their kids to become Linotype operators? Well, those jobs went away, and the knowledge is going away also.

The highly-skilled operators of the Linotype are in a battle against time. If their skills are not passed along to a new generation of operators, the machine will die completely. There is a small group of former operators that want to save the Linotype from the scrap yard, but some see this as a fruitless endeavor.

H/T Laughing Squid, which discussed the documentary Linotype: The Film.

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

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