USPS Honors Mergenthaler p.16

By: JIM ROSENBERG MORE THAN A century after his invention first set newspaper type, Ottmar Mergenthaler and his machine appear this month on a U.S. postage stamp.
Called the greatest advance in printing in the centuries since Gutenberg's movable type, the Linotype replaced manual assembly of type into text and the tedious return of each leaden letter to its proper place in a type case.
From its keyboard, operators created entire lines of type on bars that could be melted for reuse because the brass matrices that formed the characters could be automatically stored and reused.
Thomas Edison may have hailed it as the eighth wonder of the world, but a newspaperman is credited with naming the machine. "You've cast a line o' type!" exclaimed editor and publisher Whitelaw Reid, when Mergenthaler set much of the New York Tribune's July 3, 1886 editorial page.
Reid was president of the company that made the Linotype. Its headquarters was the Tribune Building ? a technology test-bed, with the first Hoe press in its basement, Hoe's first machine to make curved stereotype plates and, later, one of the larger Goss Straightline presses, which enabled economical high-volume printing.
In fact, the Linotype's invention in 1884 coincided with that of the first Goss newspaper press and launch of this magazine's predecessor, the Journalist. Figures for the earliest years are hard to come by. By about 1890, however, Linotypes were leased for $500 per year. Five years later, Goss proposed selling an early three-deck Straightline for $30,000. (Subscriptions to our weekly cost $2.)
Though Mergenthaler died from tuberculosis at age 45 in 1899, he lived to see 700 Linotype machines in use. Eventually, more than 100,000 would be manufactured.
They quickly cast characters in various typefaces and sizes, allowing publishers to print larger works in greater numbers at lower cost. Newspapers, which had consumed large amounts of lead type, could become a truly mass medium, delivering more news to more people more affordably. Most of the first 200 machines went to the dailies whose owners financed the start-up company.
Mergenthaler left the company after a falling out with Reid and the other publisher-shareholders, accusing them of publicly discrediting the Linotype to discourage competitors from buying
it, while at the same time charging themselves bargain-basement prices for new machines (The Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler, edited and researched by Carl Schlesinger).
The technology, however, could not be hidden. By 1913, the International Typesetting Machine Co., based at Pulitzer's competing New York World, was selling Intertype two-letter linecasters for $2150 ? a price its ads said would save buyers $1,000. Intertype parts could be used on Linotypes. Noting that two-letter Linotypes were still patent-protected, Linotype ads soon threatened to sue anyone "counterfeiting or imitating our machinery or using such goods."
The new stamp is the second to honor Mergenthaler. The first appeared in West Germany in 1954, the centennial of the inventor's birth in Hachtel, W?rttemburg. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1872.
Mergenthaler is one of four communications technology pioneers shown on the block of four stamps. Another, Frederick E. Ives, developed halftone printing.
Since Linotype's 1991 merger with German imaging systems maker Dr. Hell Co., it has produced machines that are electronic heirs to the work of both Mergenthaler and Ives. At the stamps' dedication in New York, Linotype-Hell Co. vice president Dani Herzka remarked that the Linotype fostered mass communication on a timely basis. Linotype moved to paper tape output in the 1930s, film in the 1950s, electronic typesetting in the '60s, digital imagesetting in the '80s and direct output of plates last year.
More than a century after his invention first set newspaper type, Ottmar Mergenthaler and his machine appear this month on a U.S. postage stamp


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