All Tech Considered
1:01 pm
Mon May 28, 2012

Long Before The Internet, The Linotype Sped Up The News

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 7:17 am

As part of a new tech segment, we're occasionally going to be looking at a concept, invention or tool that's altered the way the world works. To start things off, we asked Doug Wilson, director of Linotype: The Film, to tell us about — what else? — the linotype.

The linotype is this massive machine that produced printable type for newspapers. Before the linotype, you had to use people standing at cases, grabbing pieces of type one at a time ... and this machine created an entire line of type at once — that's why it was called the linotype. And it just exploded printing and exploded ... communication in a way that we can only now kind of understand through the Internet or through Twitter or Facebook or things like that.

The linotype is a combination between a typewriter, a pop machine and a backhoe. [It] was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant. He invented the machine in 1886 and it immediately exploded. There were thousands of people that were trying to invent a mechanical typesetting machine but Mergenthaler was the genius that actually made it work.

The linotype works ... [by] moving these small, brass pieces around the machine. And these pieces are molds of a letter and they're about the size of a postage stamp ... These molds are made into printable type because the machine pumps molten metal into [them] and thus creates a line of type.

The linotype allowed for a daily newspaper. Before the linotype, most small towns only had a weekly newspaper, so you were getting week-old news. And then, all of a sudden, you're getting day-old or sometimes even hour-old news. That's a massive change.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And we end All Tech Considered with a new idea we call Game Changer. We'll hear about the innovators behind one concept, one invention, one tool that altered or may alter the way the world works.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINES)

DOUG WILSON, BYLINE: My name is Doug Wilson, and I'm the director of "Linotype: The Film." The linotype is this massive machine that produced printable type for newspapers. Before the linotype, you had to use people standing at cases, grabbing pieces of type one at a time out of a case. And this machine created an entire line of type at once - that's why it was called the linotype - and it just exploded printing and exploded communication in a way that we can only now kind of understand through the Internet or through Twitter or Facebook or things like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINOTYPE)

WILSON: The linotype is a combination between a typewriter, a pop machine and a backhoe. The linotype was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant. He invented the machine in 1886, and it immediately exploded. There were thousands of people that were trying to invent a mechanical typesetting machine, but Mergenthaler was the genius that actually made it work.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINOTYPE)

WILSON: The linotype works from the process of moving these small brass pieces around the machine. And these pieces are molds of a letter, and they're about the size of a postage stamp, and the entire machine is to move these brass matrices around the machine. These molds are made into printable type because the machine pumps molten metal into these molds and thus creates a line of type.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINOTYPE)

WILSON: The linotype allowed for a daily newspaper. Before the linotype, most small towns only had a weekly newspaper. So you were getting week-old news. And then, all of a sudden, you're getting day-old or sometimes even hour-old news. That's a massive change in how we receive and communicate with each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF LINOTYPE)

BLOCK: That's Doug Wilson on the game-changing invention of linotype. Wilson is director of "Linotype: The Film." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.