Save A Linotype Machine For Future Generations

The journalist’s art is now one of the computer keyboard and the internet connection, but there was a time when it involved sleepless nights over a manual typewriter followed by time spent reviewing paper proofs freshly inked from hot lead type. Newspapers in the golden age of print media once had entire floors of machinery turning text into custom metal type on the fly, mechanical masterpieces in the medium of hot lead of which Linotype were the most famous manufacturer.

Computerised desktop publishing might have banished the Linotype from the newsroom in the 1970s or 1980s, but a few have survived. One of the last working Linotypes in Europe can be found in a small print workshop in Vienna, and since its owner is about to retire there is a move to save it for posterity through a crowdfunding campaign. This will not simply place it in a museum as a dusty exhibit similar to the decommissioned Monotype your scribe once walked past every day in the foyer of the publishing company she then worked for, instead it will ensure that the machine continues to be used on a daily basis producing those hot metal slugs of type.

Fronting the project is [Florian Kaps], whose pedigree in the world of resurrecting analogue technologies was established by his role in saving the Polaroid film plant in Enschede, Netherlands. There are a variety of rewards featuring Linotype print, and at the time of writing the project is 46% funded with about four weeks remaining. If you are curious about the Linotype machine and its operation, we’ve previously brought you an account of the last day of hot metal printing at the New York Times.

38 thoughts on “Save A Linotype Machine For Future Generations

    1. There was a Linotype machine in the collection of the Bristol Industrial Museum. Presumably, it’s still there now that the museum is called M-Shed. Years ago, the museum used to run Print-N-Pack days, where they ran the old printing machines and packaging machines for people to go along and see.

  1. hmmmm.. tks Jenny for this piece of memories
    The smell of the melted lead, the very special sound of the “Heidelberg” when each block of letters (the “column”) was punched, the feeling of the fresh print under your fingers that only the lead printing press could give…. and the absolute perfection of the layout that computers and “offset printing” have never been able to reach.
    … but it was not a bed of roses everyday. Particularly after 2 O’clock in the morning, trying to fix the last problems, cutting stories to fit the pages and close the weekly edition.

  2. I can’t but wonder, how much more lead is a Linotype worker exposed to? Is it bad to just be in the room? Is it bad to handle the machine, the slugs? How toxic is that stuff in actual use?

    1. I operated a composition house that used the Intertype, a competitor of, and in my opinion, mechanically superior machine to the Linotype. There is no danger from being in contact with the lead alloy used in type metal. However, caution must be used when cleaning the plunger that forces the molten metal out of the crucible and into the mold wheel. Lead oxide collects on the plunger and it must be cleaned daily under normal operation. The process is to use a stiff wire brush to polish off the lead oxide deposits which then become airborne. That is where the danger of lead contamination can possibly occur. The safety procedure was to hold your breath while brushing. I suspect that was not an OSHA approved protocol.

      1. I accidentally reported your comment. Like all comments I reply to.

        Anyway, no that does *not* sound OSHA compliant. :)

        It sounds like that whatever should be cleaned, should be in its own air zone with filters or ventilation to the outside, and that the worker should don some kind of covers and wear a mask.

      2. I was responsible for operating a Ludlow Typograph for a hot foil stamping operation. The Ludlow is similar to the casting portion of a Linotype, but the matrices are set by hand. I was never aware of an issue with lead oxide, but the plunger did require a scheduled daily cleaning with a tar-like substance called Ludlow Lubriclean; now I’m wondering if the Lubriclean fluid was meant to keep oxide residue in suspension for disposal.

        Type metal isn’t the worst hazard associated with hot lead typecasting equipment. The metal temperature was monitored by a thermostat; one day the tube leading to the thermostat broke, and many ounces of metallic mercury spilled all over the molten type metal, the machine, and the floor. I scooped up as much as I could, and ordered a replacement thermostat. It never affected me, affected me, affected me *twitch*

        I believe foundry type metal is similar in composition to solder, mainly composed of lead, tin, and perhaps some minor percentage of copper, antimony, and other elements. Type metal for linecasting is softer, but I think it’s basically the same. As with soldering, linecasting equipment doesn’t get hot enough to vaporize the lead so there’s no lead fuming hazard. Of course dust, debris, and other pot contaminants might present their own hazards when burned.

        1. A small addendum–compositors, printers, casting machine operators, and other personnel handling type metal are well advised to wash their hands before eating, smoking, or other activities which might promote ingestion of metal residue. I was taught to use Lava or other pumice-based soap. Of course the chain-smoking Linotype operator was a stereotype regardless.

  3. it was bad to be close to the fumes of the main lead boiler. And yes, the rate of saturnism was high amongst typographers, even with all the protection’s measures.
    From the first half of the XIXth century, the milk was considered as a good cure against poisoning (so much that the milk was given for free for typographers during working hours). But an abuse of milk could cause cyrrhosis… and keeping fresh milk all the day long in a workshop, at a time when refrigerators did not exist…

    in actual use, the risk are less important. Exposition times are limited, we can master more easily ventilation systems… and as long as you avoid ingest paticles (washing your hands, keep clean you closes, avoid filing lead blocks etc), you won’t have to worry a lot. It’s less dangerous than trying to smooth PLA 3D prints with acetone ;-)

    1. In the words of the homies – “dayyummm !!!!”…. talk about “steam punk” ! holy moly…. respect to the mech engineers that designed that contraption… geez…then again, you wonder if their thinking was “you know let’s make this machine as complicated as possible and use as many springs and levers everywhere we can!”….. a GM LS-3 (or LT5) V8 engine is simpler in design !

  4. When I was a child, I remember to see some of these machines working at my father’s workplace – after they got an “electronc” Linotype, I think, they get rid off these machines – nobody cared for this in the time of technical progress. I will support this project, because I think it is really important to show this “analog” machine to future generations – and it will still work without internet :-)

  5. One of my favorite things at the Minnesota state fair is to go to the press museum and watch them make their daily newspapers for the fair! It’s fun watching the Linotype and the various presses they have in there working.

  6. I have a working Linotype in my garage. I bought it from a closing print shop and moved it to my house with a pallet jack and a uhaul trailer.

    I would guess at least a dozen of us in the states have operable machines and probably 5 times that world wide.

    1. Robert, good to hear that you have saved a machine! It’s no easy task to move these machines and keep them in working order. Despite the challenges, yes, there are many of us who are currently the custodians of these wonderful Linotype and Intertype machines, as well as other hot metal typecasting machines. When I last counted, I was aware of 40 folks who are actively using and maintaining Linotype machines, and I am sure that there are many more! I applaud any effort to keep this technology alive, and plan on supporting these folks in Vienna.

    1. Nah, nothing like as complicated as a Linotype. You know it automatically justifies? Adjusts the spacing between letters per line so the edges line up, anew for each line of text. The user does nothing, just something like enables it with a lever somewhere. That’s just one of the clever things I remember from a documentary on them. It’s like three-quarters of a word processor, implemented in cogs and levers. They’re amazing. I suppose the utter heaviness increased reliability.

      1. Yes, I’m aware that hot-type machines automatically justify text. It’s a rather clever mechanism that does this. I also wasn’t saying that Wintergatan’s marble machine was anywhere near as awesome. I said “inspired by”, based on the big cam gear that’s similar in appearance, as well as the overall layout.

        1. Actually, “spaces” are pairs of wedges driven in from both sides, to expand the line until it fits its column width. This causes the word spacing for each line to be uniform. Each of the mechanisms, by itself, is simple. Even the part that sorts the matrices back into their feed slots is pretty simple and elegant. It’s just the whole machine that’s huge and complicated.

  7. As my high school print shop teacher in the 1960s would say “Squirts are hell!”. If you have run a linecasting machine you know what this means. My Linotype machine is really an Intertype Model V, a single magazine machine that is comparable to the Linotype Model 5. I purchased it in the late 1970s from a typesetting shop in Hollywood, CA. If you are in the Los Angeles area working letterpress equipment can be seen at the International Print Museum in Carson. Their annual open house is TOMORROW, October 14, 2018.
    https://www.thehistorylist.com/events/the-10th-annual-los-angeles-printers-fair-carson-california

    1. Hi Tom, just wondering if you bought your machine from Magoffin Typographers there in Hollywood? I did my Union apprenticeship at that shop and it was a great place to work. I often wonder what happened when it closed it’s doors.
      I loved the Linotypes and stayed in printing for my career. Hope your machine is in great running order.
      Take care.

      1. Hello Robert –
        Magoffin Typographers was most likely before my time. Their address in the attached link shows that they were near Hollywood and Vine. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bustbright/4982315218
        I knew of most of the typographic shops in the area starting from 1968. The reason I purchased a single magazine machine is because Frank at Trend Typographers (Highland Avenue in Hollywood in the early 1970s) advised me that parts availability for multiple magazine machines might be a problem in the near future. He got that right.
        Next to the Model V Intertype is a nice Heidelberg Cylinder, a 100 year old Chandler and Price, several Heidelberg Windmills and a bunch of composing room stuff.
        Yes, all are operable but not often used.

        1. Hey Tom, thanks for writing back and with the info on your Intertype. I operated a couple of the V’s and Lino 5 as well. Mag- offin was right next to the Capitol Records building, 6230 Yucca St. I was told that previously the Magoffin building was used as a filming site for the old “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon” show, early-mid 50’s. Which High School did you attend? I graduated in ‘65 from Huntington Park HS. They had a great Vocational Print Shop, loved it. Take care.

  8. I used to work for a guy who had adapted a Linotype to be a high speed bullet casting machine.

    His name was Jim Biebow, from Michigan. He was a retired police officer. The only thing he told me about that part of his life was when he and his partner stumbled onto an FBI drug sting operation. The bad guys, realizing they were gonna get pinched by the FBI, decided to shoot and by the time the lead quit flying Jim was the only one standing. Stupid of the FBI to not inform the local PD about their sting.

    Years later, late 1990’s some lawyer out to make a name for himself decided to dredge it all up again. Jim had to go back there to give his testimony all over again – but only on the condition they flew him and his wife first class and put them up in the best hotel. They did. While he was back there he closed out the rest of any ties he had financially to there then vowed to never go back. The reason he moved to Idaho was after building an underground shooting range with a friend, they were never able to open it due to a bunch of idiots complaining it’d be “noisy and dangerous”. Nevermind it was all underground and completely surrounded by 12″ of reinforced concrete. He died a few years ago, never did go back east. He was a tough guy, twice drove over 70 miles while having heart attacks so he could get to the hospital faster than waiting on an ambulance.

  9. That’s amazing. Currently the only one I know of, lives at the museum in DC. (Not running of course.) And maybe a press in White Plains NY.

    My family ran a plant for many years from the late 1940s all the way to the early 1970s. Using Intertype machines. not superior just better designed. Output was then made on the letterpress.

    And I believe there is a specialty printshop in Oakland CA of all places which does do all of that.

    Jenny if you want to see a Monotype again, visit the Bowne shop at the South Street Seaport here in NYC.

    1. We’ve got two at Woodside Press in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. A Model 31 and a Blue Streak Comet. I just spent the day showing them off for Open House New York. There are many more out there, running, than people seem to think. Michael Babcock of Interrobang Press and John Christensen of Firefly press are just two I know of the top of my head that have working machines. Dave Seat of Hot Metal Services travels the United States teaching and repairing people’s machines. I know he runs three or four Blue Streak Comets, all with the automatic setting mechanism, out in New Jersey somewhere.

  10. We have two fully operational machines at Woodside Press in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a Blue Streak Comet and a Model 31. Anyone is welcome to get in touch and stop out for a visit. I know of a dozen people or more throughout the United States with machines in regular use. Dave Seat from Hot Metal Services has enough business to travel the country fixing and maintaining machines while teaching people how to keep them running when he’s not around. He actually travels to New Jersey once a year to run four or five Comets all set up with the automatic casting mechanism simultaneously. I’d like to believe the machines aren’t as rare as people seem to think.

    1. For the record, I’m only 42 years old and learned to operate and repair the machine over the last ten years or so. Larry Raid used to run Linotype University out in Denmark Iowa. He’s got a dozen operations machines plus over a hundred other machines in various states of repair.

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