Linotype machine: Wikis


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Linotype machine Model 6, built in 1965 (Deutsches Museum), with major components labeled
Type slug - Print side
Type slug, side view

The Linotype machine (pronounced /ˈlaɪnɵtaɪp/ line-o-type) is a "line casting" machine used in printing. The machine revolutionized printing and especially newspaper publishing, making it possible for a relatively small number of operators to set type for many pages on a daily basis.

The Linotype machine operator enters text on a 90-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, into a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as "hot metal" typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came. The name of the machine comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence a line-o-type. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.



Part of the series on the
History of printing
Woodblock printing 200
Movable type 1040
Printing press 1454
Lithography 1796
Laser printing 1969

In 1876, a German clock maker, Ottmar Mergenthaler[1], who had emigrated to America in 1872, was approached by James O. Clephane and his associate Charles T. Moore, who sought a quicker way of publishing legal briefs.[2] By 1884,[1] he conceived the idea of assembling metallic letter molds, called matrices, and casting molten metal into them, all within a single machine. His first attempt proved the idea feasible, and a new company was formed. Always improving his invention, Mergenthaler further developed his idea of an independent matrix machine. In July, 1886, the first commercially used Linotype was installed in the printing office of the New York Tribune. Here it was immediately used on the daily paper and a large book. The book, the first ever composed with the new Linotype method, was titled, The Tribune Book of Open-Air Sports.[3]

Initially, The Mergenthaler Linotype Company was the only company producing linecasting machines, but in time, other companies would begin manufacturing. The Intertype Company, which produced the Intertype, a machine closely resembling the Linotype, and using the same matrices as the Linotype, started production around 1914. Where Mergenthaler prided themselves on intricately formed cast-iron parts on their machine, Intertype machined many of their similar parts from steel and aluminum.

Major newspaper publishers retired Linotype and similar "hot metal" typesetting machines during the 1970s and 1980s, replacing them with phototypesetting equipment and later computerized typesetting and page composition systems. However, some Linotype machines can still be found in operation today, composing as they have done for well over 100 years, producing printing slugs for use together with handset type, in small job shops, and newspaper museums throughout the world.[citation needed]


The Linotype matrix

Each matrix contains the letter form for a single character of a font of type; i.e., a particular type design in a particular size. The letter form is engraved into one side of the matrix. For sizes up to 14 points, and in some matrices of size 16 to 24 points, the matrix has two letter forms on it, the upright (Roman) and the slanted (Italic) form of a given character. The machine operator can select which of the two will be cast by operating the auxiliary rail of the assembler, or, when setting entire lines of italics, by using the flap, which was a piece that could be turned under a portion of the first elevator column. This is the origin of the old typesetting terms upper rail for italic and lower rail for Roman characters. These terms persisted in phototypesetting technology even though the mechanics of the auxiliary rail do not exist there.

Overview of machine operation

The Linotype machine consists of four major sections[4]:

  1. Magazine
  2. Keyboard
  3. Casting mechanism
  4. Distribution mechanism

The operator interacts with the machine via the keyboard, composing lines of text. The other sections are automatic; they start as soon as a line is completely composed.

Magazine section

The magazine section is the part of the machine where the matrices are held when not in use, and released as the operator touches keys on the keyboard. The magazine is a flat box with vertical separators that form "channels", one channel for each character in the font. Most main magazines have 90 channels[5], but those for larger fonts carried only 72 or even 55 channels. The auxiliary magazines used on some machines typically contained 34 channels or, again, those carrying larger fonts contained 28 channels.

The magazine holds a particular font of type; i.e., a particular type design in a particular size. If a different size or style was needed, the operator would switch to a different magazine. Many models of the Linotype machine could keep several magazines (as many as four) available at a time. In some of these, the operator could shift to a different magazine by raising or lowering the stack of magazines with a crank.[6] Such machines would not allow mixing fonts within a single line. Others, such as the Model 9, allowed arbitrary mixing of text from up to four magazines within a single line.



Action of the escapement when delivering a matrix.
The keyboard has raised the escapement lever 22 to push against the plunger 11. This rotates the verge 8 which pulls down the front pawl 9, releasing the first matrix in the magazine channel. The rotation of the verge also raises rear pawl 8 to hold the second matrix.

In a Linotype machine, the term escapements refers to the mechanisms at the bottom of the magazine that releases matrices one at a time as keys are pressed on the keyboard. There is an escapement for each channel in the magazine.

Maintenance and lubrication

Matrix transposition: "NOTINHG RUNS LIKE A DEERE"

In order to keep the matrices circulating smoothly throughout the machine, it is necessary that oil not be allowed anywhere near any part of the matrix path. Instead, these parts are lubricated with graphite. If oil ends up in any point of the matrix's path (whether due to careless maintenance or over-lubrication of nearby parts), it combines with dust and the graphite, forming a gummy substance that is eventually deposited in the magazine by the matrices. The most common result is that the matrix will not be released from the magazine at its usual speed and which almost always results in a letter or two arriving out of sequence in the assembler—a 'matrix transposition'. When these machines were still in heavy use, it was not uncommon for an operator to set type at the rate of over 4000 ems per hour (the fastest operators being able to exceed 10,000 ems per hour) so the need for careful lubrication and regular cleaning was essential to keep these machines operating at their full potential.

Keyboard and composing section

In the composing section, the operator enters the text for a line on the keyboard. Each keystroke releases a matrix from the magazine mounted above the keyboard. The matrix travels through channels to the assembler where the matrices are lined up side by side in the order they were released.

When a space is needed, the operator touches the spaceband lever just to the left of the keyboard. This releases a spaceband from the spaceband box. Spacebands are stored separately from the matrices because they are too big to fit in the magazine.

Once enough text has been entered for the line, the operator depresses the casting lever mounted on the front right corner of the keyboard. This lifts the completed line in the assembler into the casting section of the machine and engages the clutch that drives the casting and distribution sections. The operator is now finished with the line; the remaining processing is automatic. While the line is being cast, the operator can continue entering text for the next line.


Linotype Keyboard

The keyboard has 90 keys. There is no shift key; uppercase letters have keys separate from the lowercase letters. The arrangement of letters corresponds roughly to letter frequency, with the most frequently used letters on the left.

The first two columns of keys are: e, t, a, o, i, n; and s, h, r, d, l, u. A Linotype operator would often deal with a typing error by running the fingers down these two rows, thus filling out the line with the nonsense words etaoin shrdlu. This is known as a run down. It is often quicker to cast a bad slug than to hand-correct the line within the assembler. The slug with the run down is removed once it has been cast, or by the proofreader.

The Linotype keyboard has the same alphabet arrangement given twice, once for lower-case letters, the keys in black, on the left side of the keyboard, and once for upper-case letters, the keys in white, located on the right side of the keyboard. The blue keys in the middle are punctuation, numbers, and fixed width spaces. In proper keyboard operation, an experienced operator's left hand operates only the spaceband key and the left column of keys. The operator's right hand strokes the remaining keys on the entire keyboard.

The keys of the keyboard are connected via vertical pushrods to the escapements.[7] When a key is pressed, the corresponding escapement is actuated, which releases a matrix from the magazine. With one exception, each key corresponds directly to a channel in the standard (90 channel) magazine. The one exception is the lower-case letter e: that letter is used so often that the 90 channel magazine actually has 91 channels, with two channels (the leftmost two) both used for the letter e. Similarly, the 72 channel magazine actually has 73 channels, with the leftmost two being used for lower-case e. Consecutive keystrokes on the e key release matrices alternately from the two e channels in the magazine.[8]

On machines that support multiple magazines, there is a shifting mechanism that controls which magazine is currently connected to the keyboard. In most machines, this is done by raising or lowering the stack of magazines.[9]

Spaceband box

In justified text, the spaces are not fixed width; they expand to make all lines equal in width. In Linotype machines this is done by spacebands. A spaceband consists of two wedges, one similar in size and shape to a type matrix, one with a long tail. The wide part of the wedge is at the bottom of the tail, so pushing the tail up expands the spaceband.

Spacebands are not held in the magazine due to their size. Instead, they are held in a spaceband box[10] and released one at a time by pressing the spaceband lever at the left edge of the keyboard.


Composed line with matrices and spacebands

Matrices released from the magazine, and spacebands released from the spaceband box, drop down into the assembler. This is a rail that holds the matrices and spacebands, with a jaw on the left end set to the desired line width. When the operator judges that the line is close enough to full, he raises the casting lever on the bottom of the keyboard to send the line to the casting section of the Linotype machine. The remaining processing for that line is automatic; as soon as the finished line has been transferred to the casting section, the operator can begin composing the next line of text.

Casting section

The casting section receives completed lines from the assembler, and uses these to cast the type slugs that are the product of the Linotype machine. The casting section is automatic: once it is activated by the operator sending a completed line by raising the casting lever, a series of cams and levers move the matrices through the casting section and control the sequence of steps that produce the slug.

The casting material is an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, and produces a one-piece casting slug capable of 300,000 impressions before the casting begins to develop deformities and imperfections, and the type must be cast again.

The continuous heating of the molten alloy causes the tin and antimony in the mixture to rise to the top and oxidize along with other impurities into a substance called "dross" which has to be skimmed off. Excessive dross formation leads to the alloy softening as the proportion of lead increases. The mixture must then be assayed and tin and antimony added back (in the form of a specially proportioned alloy) to restore the original strength and properties of the alloy.


Diagram of the justification process. The composed line is locked up between the jaws (1 and 2) of the vise. The justification ram (5) then moves up to expand the spacebands to fill the space between the vise jaws.

From the assembler, the assembled line moves via the first elevator to the justification vise. The vise has two jaws (1 and 2 in the illustration) which are set to the desired line width. The spacebands are now expanded to justify the line. When the line is justified, the matrices fit tightly between the vise jaws, forming a tight seal which will prevent the molten type metal from escaping when the line is cast.

Justification is done by a spring loaded ram (5) which raises the tails of the spacebands.

If the operator did not assemble enough characters, the line will not justify correctly: even with the spacebands expanded all the way, the matrices are not tight. A safety mechanism in the justification vise detects this and blocks the casting operation. Without such a mechanism, the result would be a squirt of molten type metal spraying out through the gaps between the matrices, creating a time consuming mess and a possible hazard to the operator.[11] If a squirt did occur, it was generally up to the operator to grab the hell bucket and catch the flowing lead. It was so called because the bucket would often "go to hell", or melt, while holding the molten lead that was still extremely hot. Also, in conjunction with possible hazards facing an operator, toxic lead fumes should be noted as they were the result of melting the lead ingots for casting.

Mold disk and pot

Linotype mold disk, with a complete line of matrices and spacebands ready to be cast

The justification vise holds the assembled line against the face of the mold disk. The mold disk has rectangular openings which correspond to the width and thickness of the slugs (cast lines) to be made. Mold liners fit into these openings for specific slug dimensions.

Linotype mold disk, cut away to show the type metal pot

Behind the mold disk is the type metal pot, which contains molten type metal. A piston in the pot pushes the molten metal down into the pot, which forces the metal through the pot throat and into the mold, forcing it against the faces of the matrices.[12] These have character shapes cut into them, so the result is a cast slug with the character shapes of the line on its front face. The mold disk is water-cooled to carry away the heat of the molten type metal and allow the cast slugs to solidify quickly.[13]

When casting is complete, the mold disk turns a quarter turn to the ejector[14] and knife block assembly.[15] The ejector is a rectangular rod that pushes the completed slug from the mold aperture in the mold disk. As it emerges from the mold disk, the slug passes a set of knife edges in the knife block, which trims off any small irregularities in the casting and produces a slug of exactly the desired width and height. From there, the slug drops into the galley tray which holds the lines in the order in which they were cast.[16]

Distribution mechanism

The Linotype distributor rail with a matrix hanging from it. The three screws move the matrix along the rail until it drops into the correct magazine channel

The most significant innovation in the Linotype machine was that it automated the distribution step; i.e., returning the matrices and space bands back to the correct place in their respective magazines. This is done by the distributor.

After casting is completed, the matrices are pushed to the second elevator which raises them to the distributor at the top of the magazine. The space bands are separated out at this point and are returned to the spaceband box.[17]

The matrices have a pattern of teeth at the top, by which they hang from the distributor bar. Some of the teeth are cut away; which pattern of teeth is cut away depends on the character on the matrix; i.e., which channel in the magazine it belongs in. Similarly, teeth are cut away along portions of the distributor bar. The bar on the elevator has all teeth, so it will hold any matrix (but not the space bands, which have no teeth at all).

Distributor bar and matrix teeth coding

Diagram of Linotype matrix teeth. In the drawing on the left, the matrix is about to drop because the only teeth on the rail (shown in black) correspond to tooth positions that are cut away on the matrix. The drawing in the middle shows a matrix with all teeth present—a pi matrix

As the matrices are carried along the distributor bar by the distributor screws, they will hang on only so long as there are teeth to hold them. As soon as the matrix reaches the point where each of its teeth corresponds to a cut-away tooth on the distributor bar, it is no longer supported and will drop into the matrix channel below that point.

Diagram of tooth coding of the distributor rail, showing the first few positions of the rail. The coding is basically straight binary. Note that there are two positions for "e"; there are two magazine channels for that letter because of its high frequency

The pattern of teeth is essentially a binary code, counting up from the left side of the main magazine. Code 0 (no teeth) is for space bars, which are not carried up to the distributor. Code 1 is skipped (no reason for this is given in the Linotype manual). Codes 2 through 92 are for the 91-channel main magazine, and the codes above that are for the auxiliary magazine, if one is installed on the machine. The widest auxiliary magazine has 34 channels, so its rightmost channel is code 125. Code 126 is unused.[18]

Pi matrices

A Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) matrix, cut for code 127.

In typesetting, it is sometimes necessary to use characters which are uncommon or obscure enough that it does not make sense to assign them to a magazine channel. These characters are referred to as pi characters or sorts ('pi' in this case refers to an obscure printer's term relating to loose or spilled type). Footnote marks, rarely used fractions, and mathematical symbols are examples of pi characters. In the Linotype machine, a pi matrix has all teeth present (code 127, no teeth cut away) so it will not drop from the distributor bar and will not be released into either the main or the auxiliary magazine. Instead, it travels all the way to the end and into the flexible metal tube called the pi chute and is then lined up in the sorts stacker. From the sorts stacker, the machine operator can (manually) pick pi matrices and insert them into the line being assembled as needed.[19]

Paper tape operation

Some Linotype machines included a paper tape reader; for example, the machine at the Deutsches Museum shown in the photograph at the top of this article has that option. In that photo, to the right, the yellow tape is in a tape dispenser, a circular tray which rotates, and a cone made of strap metal. To the left, the top of the teletypesetter unit reads the tape and in the photo you can see the end of the tape sticking up as it was allowed to fall to the floor or into a cardboard box if it was to be saved. Mechanisms in the unit pull the appropriate linotype keys from below. This allowed the text to be typeset to be supplied over a telegraph line (TeleTypeSetter). It also allowed for several tape perforator operators to prepare paper tape to be processed by a single Linotype machine, essentially decoupling the typing speed of the operators from the operating speed of the Linotype machine.


In the Twilight Zone episode entitled, "The Printer's Devil," Burgess Meredith portrays a demonic figure who is able to manipulate an infernal Linotype machine at incredible speed, using it to accurately predict and influence future events. Following the events of the episode, the protagonist destroys the devilish Linotype machine, and returns to using a normal Linotype machine.

See also


  1. ^ a b The World Book Encyclopedia, 1972 edition.
  2. ^ "Linotype at 50", Time, July 13, 1936,,9171,756432,00.html, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  3. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 286. ISBN 086576008X
  4. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 1, page 3.
  5. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 4,page 57.
  6. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 4,page 62.
  7. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 3,page 48.
  8. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 4,page 59.
  9. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 4,page 64.
  10. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 6,page 85.
  11. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 11, pages 123-130.
  12. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 13, pages 152-212.
  13. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 12, page 134.
  14. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 14, pages 213-218.
  15. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 15, pages 219-225.
  16. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 16, pages 226-231.
  17. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 17, pages 232-249.
  18. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 20, pages 269-275.
  19. ^ Linotype Machine Principles, chapter 1,page 36.


Basil Kahan: Ottmar Mergenthaler – The Man and his Machine; Oak Knoll Press, New Castle (DE), 2000 – ISBN 1-58456-007-X

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