Thomas Edison called the Linotype machine the “Eighth Wonder of the World” because of the way it revolutionized the printing industry and therefore the dissemination of information to the general public. Linotype, a hot metal typecasting machine that was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, allowed entire lines of metal type (line o’ type) to be cast for printing. This meant that whole pages could be set up line by line rather than letter by letter (a tedious and time-consuming task); books and newspapers could therefore be printed much quicker and on a much larger scale with less manpower. However, as technology continued to grow and change, less than 100 years after its invention Linotype machines became obsolete and worth only what someone would pay for the scrap metal. And yet they are and will always be an integral part of the history of print communication.
Despite technological advances in printing, some people are still trying to save the few remaining Linotype machines from the scrap yard and keep its outdated printing methods alive. A full-feature documentary called Linotype: The Film focuses on some of these people and their stories. These people, however, are not Luddites afraid of new technology. Rather, they see the value in preserving not only Mergenthaler’s ingenious machine, but also print communication history and the art of letterpress printing.
I’ve never had the honour of using a Linotype machine (although I saw a similar typecasting machine called an Intertype at Gaspereau Press’ Wayzgoose last fall) but as a letterpress enthusiast and hobby printer I look forward to watching Linotype: The Film and learning more about these complicated machines, their place in our history, and their place in our future.
The DVD of Linotype: The Film is set to be released this summer. Screenings are currently happening around the globe but, alas, so far nothing has been scheduled in Canada, let alone Halifax, Nova Scotia (I’ve contacted the director about it, but don’t get too excited yet).
Tags: books, communication, Facebook, Gaspereau Press, Halifax, hobby printer, hot metal, Intertype, letterpress, letterpress printing, line casting, Linotype, Linotype: The Film, newspapers, Nova Scotia, Ottmar Mergenthaler, print communication, print history, printing, scrap metal, technology, Thomas Edison, Twitter, typecasting, Wayzgoose