Sunday, June 20, 2010

Learn to Operate a Linotype!

You gotta be pretty old to even remember the Linotype machine. It was invented about 1885 and revolutionized the printing trade, allowing an operator to do the work of several compositors setting type by hand. For a century-old ad in the LATimes offering Linotype instruction, look here. I was lucky enough to catch the end of the age of hot-metal printing. It was hot metal because it used a molten alloy of lead, tin, and antimony to cast slugs – the line o' type – that were used to print. It mostly replaced handset type, done by putting one piece of type after another in a composing stick, a little adjustable gadget, held in the left hand. When I started in the trade in 1962, handset was still in use for some big display work and top-quality ad work, where the compositor made aesthetic judgments about spacing between letters.
Benjamin Franklin could have walked into the Stilwell, Okla., Democrat-Journal, put on an apron, picked up a stick, and gone to work pegging type. The Linotype would have been exotic to him, but he would've loved it for its mechanical ingenuity, and the big press, powered by an electric motor, would have delighted him. We even had a little job press powered by a treadle, and on that Ben would've been right at home. Printing was a beautiful way to earn your daily bread back when it was a skilled trade instead of an office occupation. I wish I could do it all over; it was a very well paid, respected trade, and you could do it anywhere that printing was done.


Truth Ferret said...

Not as many "typos" back then either, because people put their time, energy, and brains in high gear to do this demanding chore. Nowadays, people are lazy-minded when it comes to printed word, I am afraid.

Truth Ferret said...

Not for nothing, but when I go to your recommended site, I always find something else that catches my attention. It's like a bonus with your posts.

I loved the story about the man trapped inside the grocery store and resorted to breaking out using a LARGE bunch of bananas. Those must have been very large and very green to be able to bust out a window. Funny, stupid crook; too bad it was before they had cameras in the stores. Would have made that program about stupid attempted robberies.

Larry said...


Sugar Magnolia said...

I love reading reminisces like this. The kind of hands-on, manual work you speak of is something I'm afraid is being lost with the newer generation.

I keep uncovering OLD instrumentation and lab equipment as I go through the cabinets and drawers of the the former lab manager's remnants in my lab. The things I have run into are no longer used or appreciated properly by the newer techs. The old ways of doing things have never been included in their instruction. I had a tech ask me the other day what a certain object was. "A pipette shaker", I replied, explaining before we had all these fancy instruments to measure blood cells in 30 seconds on, we would draw blood up in a glass pipette with a chemical solution to dilute the blood, and shake the pipettes for a good 3-5 minutes, then drain off some of the mixture into a hemacytometer and count the cells in the hemacytometer grid under the scope. She couldn't believe it. We were taught to do this in school, and I am not THAT old. But the new generation has no concept.

I asked the other day in the lab if we had an emery board (I had a rough nail edge), and a young phlebotomist didn't know what an emery board was.

I could go on and on, believe me. The one thing I would like to do when they remodel the lab (soon, hopefully) is get a display case built for some of this old museum-quality equipment to have a proper home. I have a lot of old medical things at home, too, in my library, and would gladly donate to the hospital for display. The hospital already has things on display in the front lobby such as old doctor's bags and surgical equipment. Also the history of the hospital; it's the lab's turn now.

Going to work every day has been like an archaeological dig, I tell you. I can definitely appreciate the "old way" of doing things, and understand the affection you have for the old linotypes. I feel the same way about my old bunsen burner, fibrometer, flame photometer, hemacytometer, Van Slyke CO2 liberator, chloridometer...these are the tools of the trade that I hope are never forgotten.

The Loon said...

TF: All the old-timers were great spellers and held in their heads the correct divisions for hundreds or words. One of the things that runs me nuts about computerized typesetting is the odd divisions such as De-whurst and Lon-ghorns. Computers aren't so damn smart.
Larry: I've been know to use that as a pseudonym for comments.

The Loon said...

And Shug: Yeah, the old tools of a trade are nice to see, even when you don't know what they are.
From a beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Hopkins knew a thing or two about poetry.

Sugar Magnolia said...

That's a nice piece of poetry, Mr. Loon.

A very happy father's day to you, sir.

Pilot said...

Well, you find yourself at a point of being able to reminisce about your early career, and do so safe in the knowledge that were you to be thrust back into the workforce today, that your computer skills along with your vast printer's and writer's background, would qualify for a second career. So have you sent in those job applications yet?.............I didn't think so