Operating the linotype machine

Operating the linotype machine

Linotype Machine

Ottmar Mergenthaler

In the nineteenth century, typography developed rapidly in which process Linotype played a significant role. This machine was invented in 1884 by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant, and was firstly utilized in the operation of the newspaper The New York Tribute in 1886. Linotype, revolutionized typesetting by producing an entire line of metal type at once on a special 90-key keyboard hence a line-o’-type, which is a significant improvement over the previous industry standard of manual and letter-by-letter typesetting.

The machine highly enhanced the efficiency of newspaper and magazine publishing, making it possible for a relatively small number of operators to set type for many pages on a daily basis. Before linotype’s invention, daily newspapers were limited to eight pages. It’s said that Thomas Edison hailed this invention as the Eighth Wonder of the World, which since its birth powered productions of newspapers, ads, books and more, and dominated for nearly a hundred years until the 1970s when the tides of technology wipe it out.

Before the linotype machine’s emergence in the late nineteenth century, other printing technologies, for example, the steam-powered rotary printing press developed since the 1810s, also contributed to the prosperity of the newspaper industry. As the cost of printing and operator labor decreased and public literacy advanced, mass-circulation of cheap newspaper for one penny per piece came in to view and was accepted by wide and less-educated audiences. Penny Press flourished since the 1830s. They brought many working class people and immigrants in the cities into the political process by providing them with a source of news they could afford, as the Sun's motto, the egalitarian statement said: “It Shines for All”.

The importance of linotype and other printing technologies for journalism falls on the point that although printed news could date back to the thirteenth century, modern news that we are familiar with, in terms of content (more human-interest reporting), norms, news writing style, and price (very cheap even free), only started with the mass media’s emergence which is greatly attributed to improvements of typography. Thus, these technologies, even though have faded from industrial production, remain worth remembering and celebrating.


Hendel, John. 2011. “Celebrating Linotype, 125 Years Since Its Debut.” The Atlantic, May 20, 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/celebrating-linotype-125-years-since-its-debut/238968/.

“Invention of the Linotype (1883 – July 15, 1885): HistoryofInformation.Com.” n.d. Accessed April 14, 2018. http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=634.

“Linotype Invented and Built in Baltimore.” 2015. American Printing History Association (blog). July 20, 2015. https://printinghistory.org/linotype-baltimore/.