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Linotype Elektron

Any one remember working with the Linotype Elektron? I worked in a shop that used one to set books.
I would never own one, a lot of maintenace. I owned and worked many years with Intertypes C’s and one G.

Just want to see what people thought of the Linotype Elektron.

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There is general agreement that the Elektron was a very “pretty” machine, but had quirks which made it a nightmare for machinists in the long term.

I have operated an Elektron from both the keyboard and punched tape, but never had to deal with maintenance when I did.

John Henry

The newspaper i worked for got a used electron that ran off a tape, we had mostly comets, the electron was always down, finally the mechanic slowed the machine way down then it ran pretty good. i remember the machine was “pretty” but it liked to eat mats. Dick G.

dickg the mechanics did the right thing, I think the machine should have been a slow running machine that just turned out type instead of lets see how fast it will go.

I think this help kill metal typesetting, because owners and operator both spend more time working to make it work than getting type from it.

I do remember working at a daily that had them back in the 70’s. I remember now, the electron was just running at a slow speed, but it turned out line after line.

I knew if I read some input from others I would remember some good about them.

Those elektrons were “pretty”! When the Atlanta Times folded, the Chattanooga Times/Post acquired their new fancy elektrons. I was just starting my apprenticeship at the time. The machinists got plenty of overtime fighting those machines. The comets just kept on running, casting type, never ceasing.

Boy, the things I remember about the Elektron. The company I worked for had 4 — one was a mixer with a Thermex mold disk, LOU (LInotype Operating Unit), HydroQuadder, and Shaffstahl Mat Detector. My company sent me to the Linotype factory in New York to see how they were made and to learn how to maintain them. They were great machines as long as you didn’t try to run them too fast. We couldn’t anyway because most of our work was 26 picas and with 3 lines of mats in various stages of the machine (assembing, casting, distributing) we would run out of characters and the mat detector would stop the machine. It usually wasn’t e’s because we were using the double “e” channel. We were able to increase the speed of the distributor and slow down the rest of the machine for steady running. The Thermex mold disk (back-knife backed off all molds except the one that was cast) was unbelievably efficient and was one of the things I liked the best. Every slug was the same whether it was the first one cast or the 200th — never a hollow slug. I could go on and one, but I’m probably boring you all.

We have a English Electron at Gulgong Pioneers Museum it came from a trade house in Sydney. This machine is a static display as we have concentrated on the Inters C3 & C4s and the Model 15 and 78 Linotypes at the moment we have enough work to keep all these working. I worked at News Ltd. in Sydney and they had Intertype Monarchs, they did not seem to have many problems with these. We may have a go at getting the Electron up and running at a later date.
Arthur in Australia.

We had six Elektrons and two Comets at the Rocky Mtn news. A strong background in electrical, electronic and mechanical background was a must for the Elektrons.
Merg needlessly installed micro switches and relays in far too many places to replace mechanical functions that were working fine for years. Fortunately we had the skills to keep them going. Thank god for Merg’s electical diagrams. We are installing one of the last Elektrons at Palmer Lake Colorado at John Finch’s museum of hot metal days. We will have it up and running for posterity.

I have a English Elektron here in New Zealand. It is 99% going now just a small electrical problem (The send line) does not work from the key board.

The machine was stored in a shipping container for about 4 years untill I brought it south in 2004 to my print shop in Hawera where it shares a room with a 1956 Interetype that is still in daily use.
The relay has been checked and OK when the button on the key board is pushed the lights come on but the finger does on drop. Voltage check show that we are geting only 9 Volts instead of 26 anyone have any ideas before my sparky does himself a mischef.

Oh, boy for New Zealand elektron probs. I have found out most low voltage problems is due to reseatinghe plugs they used in wiring. Especially the bigger black plugs. Sparks just has to trace the path to the solenoid and work your way along. If you have one of the older Elektrons they used a revolving timer with cams that tripped micro switches and they were a beast. They are represented in the book with the original wire numbers and you will see a designator TS for timer switch. Later on this mechanical timer was replaced with an electronic timer and the big elec boards on the rh side lower were modified. Now, if you do not have the new prints to follow the new wiring through it would be tough. I have them and they are about 8 1/2” by 14” and about 6 sheets. They are great. If needed let me know. You have to work with the new and old diagrams for wire numbers.

Here in Antwerp, Belgium for our growing collection we have recently we been offered a free Electron, just need to collect. It came together with a one-magazine Linotype(supposed) ‘model 1’ which was dated (according to the firm 1901).
We took the old machine withouth any doubt, although it was very hard to get out of its location, and is now in parts on 9 pallets.
But what about the electron ? It should be able to be moved in one peace, but is it worth having ? According to what i read in all the posts, its not easy to keep it going. Our local Belgian machinist (82 years) says to stay away from it, because they where nothing but trouble.
advice please ?
many thanks


Congratulations on both machines!

My own opinion is that, yes, you should take the Elektron too. Set up alongside a Model 1, you would have the perfect illustration of the beginning of an era and the end of an era.

Your machinist is speaking from the point of view of someone who had to keep these machines in production, when they were still being manufactured. He is probably right from his perspective - my understanding is that they did have a reputation for maintenance problems. But your perspective as someone putting together a historical collection is quite different. The fact that a machine might be difficult to maintain has no bearing on its position in history, and the Elektron had an important place in history.

Again, congratulations.

David M. MacMillan

I workedElektron,NorthQueensland.Slugs too hot after half hour at 15 lines/minute,back squirt. Wonder if air-cooling arranged correctly?Mohr saw fitted,setting 9 picas 6 pts on 30 pica slug.Backlash set wrongly on Mohr,caused probs till I realised mech had his own ideas,not what manufacturer advised.Spaceband probs till mod done.While it was running,OK,sometimes completed a shift.Intertype better generally.I pressed 2 Elektron mag change buttons occasionally,startling result.

Why was first model Linotype called “blower” model? Alan Nankivell Brooks.

Alan, Sorry this is so late but I lost this thread after I checked my books for the facts. From the book “The Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler inventor of the linotype” published by Oak Knoll Books. The earliest models were called “Blowers” because blasts of air were needed to push the type matrices into the assembler. Howard H

Howard H
thanks for info re blower. Alan.

arthur johnson

thanks story of English Elektron and model 15 Lino.

I was not aware that England also made Elektron;

I heard that, during 1930s, a one-man weekly here (in Mackay, North Queensland) used a model 15; I was told they had a short magazine of 15 matrices, to make the least expensive machine which was practicable.

I was told that the man who ran the weekly did the reporting, editing, typesetting, printing, and had a weekly feature

“Men about Town”

with a lino-cut caricature which was always easily recognisable. He employed boys on bicycles to distribute.


arthur johnson

thanks story of English Elektron and model 15 Lino.

I was not aware that England also made Elektron;

I heard that, during 1930s, a one-man weekly here (in Mackay, North Queensland) used a model 15; I was told they had a short magazine of 15 matrices, to make the least expensive machine which was practicable.

I was told that the man who ran the weekly did the reporting, editing, typesetting, printing, and had a weekly feature

“Men about Town”

with a lino-cut caricature which was always easily recognisable. He employed boys on bicycles to distribute.


The printing shop is dirty and hot
And the fumes are thick from the melting pot
As over the keys I bend and lean
And strike at the keys of the mad machine
That Mergenthaler made.

Are the words right, and is there another verse?

Found several reference to Intertype Fotosetter, why has it a keyboard of 120 keys plus spaceband key?


There is another verse. As printed in the Linotype Keyboard Instruction book, page 51, copyright 1930, Mergenthaler Linotype Company:

“The printing shop is dirty and hot
and the fumes are thick from the melting-pot,
And my soul is worn and frayed
As over the board I bend and lean
To strike the keys of the mad machine
That Mergenthaler made;
But my wearly memory dearly holds
A picture ever the same,
And ever the molten metal molds
The letters of your name. “

Rather an odd piece in a book marketed by Linotype….

A snappier verse from the same page:

“Ah, the click of the flint-locks is not half so divine
As the click of the types as they fall into line,
The audible step of unfaltering feet
To a mightier tune than our bosoms can beat.”

to mikiefrommontana

thanks re

the printing shop is dirty and hot


Hi there. I was a linotype operator from 1963 to 1985, being one of the last 2 lino operators at the Sydney Morning Herald. I have worked just about every model lino made. My first was a Model 48, then a model 8, then at the training centre they had a model 5 high base machine. At a trade typesetter I worked at they had a battery of Model 78s with 25 and 26 mixer machines. It was here that I worked an Elektron Mixer. Later I was employed at the Sydney morning Herald where there was roughly 150 linos. There was all models, including a large battery of 72-channel display machines and a battery of about 30 Elektrons working on tape. I know from working the mixer Elektron that they were troublesome in the electrics and electronics. There was also some problems with the timing circuits in the tape readers. Elektrons were a great concept but they were at the end of an era where machine typesetting was being replaced by computerised typesetting. I know that all the Elektrons at the SMH went for scrap while some of the older machines were sold to printers and typesetters. I have a makers plate from an English Elektron mixer, one from a model 33 and a model 5R. I am led to believe that the R stands for rebuilt.

I started the last (4th Year) of my apprenticeship in the Main Lino Section at the GPO in 1970. Main Lino had 100 machines (combination of Lino, Intertype and about 10 Elecktrons) as I remember they were down alot. I mostly set on a Lino, as you need to set 4,250 ems an hour. I made it 17 weeks and got to between 3900 and 4000 ems an hour average. We were the first apprentice class in 5 years and the first to start our last year in the Lino Section. They/Management didn’t want to waste time to see if we would reach quota. I saw many a journeyman come and go within their first week. Same thing in the Mono Section, saw quite a few that said they had mono experience and didn’t. The Foreman at the time was Joe Wilder, everyone was a little scared of Joe. We were young and didn’t know any better, it was all a great adventure.

to Winston and others

At one place I worked, training of apprentices on linotype eliminated many, because it was insufficient. [But I remember the apprentices who were put on heading machines and were discomforted when they forgot which ones had self-locking magazines (and which were not) when production was hectic. Very embarrassing.]

Where I served my apprenticeship1945-50, I started practical work on lino in second year, although apparently some decades previous to that, only last-year apprentices were allowed near a lino. We had a 90-channel magazine which had a slight fault, the locking bar would not go home fully till the magazine was lifted slightly, so that sometimes when it was changed, the locking bar moved off, and the matrices poured out. It was quite easy to lock WHILE being lifted, but most forgot that, the magazine was moved only occasionally.

One of the older men put a copy of his apprenticeship indentures up for display: Not the precise wording, but he was forbidden to play at games of chance, and “Matrimony he shall not contract.”

I was astonished to learn that there were so many variations of Mergenthaler Linotype machines which were given the same model number. [I would have liked to have seen the Model 15 which was used by a weekly newspaper at a time when I was at primary school. Dunno what happened to it after the owner (one-man shop) died.]

I liked the Elektron while it was working, which usually was most of a shift. One problem was overheating of the mould, and now I think there may have been a solution, but there is no chance of proving that.

One fellow thought he was pretty good on the lino, but when the keyboard was serviced, someone interchanged the ! and the ? key-buttons, which gave him a problem.


I worked on Lineotype machines from 1960 till hot metal
went out in about the mid 70’s. Worked on comets,model
5’s and the mixers. Most of all can’t forget those blue
machines. Oh yes, the Elektron, you never could operate
them at the speed you should have. They could be an
electrical nightmare. The tape operated ones we ran water to the mold disc, had to the blower wasn’t enough type was to hot, alot of back squits. This was a book shop
most line lengths were 24 picas at least, mats wern’t returning to the mag soon enough. We installed a micro
switch off the distributer box so mats would clear the
second elevator bar or the machine would stop reading
tape until it did. Guess that was the begining of the end!

Puzzle for old typesetters:

I have not found a place where the following would be more appropriate, so here goes:

I heard that people using machines running from tape overcame a problem with spacebands by doing away with the spacebands. Yes, there is a way, though it would suit only rough work (like newspaper) for text, unless a modification was applied. I have deliberately left the method out, so as to make people think.

Further, when (if) I do make known how to operate a linotype without spacebands for justified lines of text, was there anyone who did so? What was their experience in the practical world?
Clue: This method would have possibly (maybe) eliminated one of the problems with Elektrons running from tape, in that the delivery belt needed to be cleaned [actually, replaced by a previously-cleaned (exchange) belt] at intervals of two or three hours. Further clue: I think it would have needed a pass of the captured keystrokes through a computer.

Since tradesmen have been removed from the path which leads to newspaper production, there are some pretty horrible methods used to make the “grey stuff” fit the pages. However, one newspaper, The Australian, produces its text with very narrow space between words, and I suspect that it modifies the space between characters and (perhaps) can even modify the set-width of characters so that a reasonably-good-looking result is seen; all done by using a computer and some form of cold type, of course.


i never heard of no spacebands, i just can’t figure out how you could justify without them.

to dickg

Sorry, I have just found this; I dropped in the explanation of how to work a linotype without spacebands at another location, I am not a good navigator at finding what I want in this method of communication.

I mentioned Elektron to one of my former workmates, he responded, “Yes, the dreaded Elektron.” ‘nuff sed.


P.S. I found the Elektron entertaining, but then I did not have to total the numbers of $ used for producing the newspaper. It gave us something to think about (exercised the bored brain) trying to overcome its idiosyncracies. We had only one Elektron. — A.

To Walt Willey

I remember the Elektron I worked had a set of cams in a metal box down on the right-hand side of the keyboard-operator. My memory fails me as to what they did, but I have a suspicion that it had something to do with quadding; also (as a separate function) something to do with introducing a delay into the spaceband delivery, and that caused a great deal of trouble till someone realised that if the rotary solenoid which dropped the spaceband was slightly altered, the delay took place there; from memory (it’s a long time, and the mechanic did the work) the action of the (relatively small) rotating cams [in the box] was no longer a factor in the timing of delivery of the spaceband.

Could it have been that, during the pre-release development of the Elektron, it was found lthe spacebands arrived at the assembler too early unless there was a delay, and the cam set-up was a “fix” for that? I wonder how long it took to design/develop the Elektron to the stage where the first machine was offered for sale?

Like a lot of machinery, if the bugs had been removed, the Elektron could have been a good machine.


alan nankivell …
on 12 Feb 13 (17:38)

Linotype without spacebands

Can’t find the post for the following explanation, so it is dropped here.

The way to run a linotype (usually on tape and computer-assisted) without spacebands is to use the other spaces: the matrices which are usually an em space, an en and a thin; it would help if a space of width between the thin and the en is available; I can think of at least one way, but needs a slight re-programming of the computer.

The computer divides the text into lines, allotting the thin space as inter-word space. Hyphenation if needed, and on short measures is essential. Then the width of the characters in each line is totalled and each line is expanded to the desired measure of the line by increasing the space between words; this spacing will be nearly always non-uniform, but one old-time compositor argued that spacing should not be uniform throughout the line. The reason for calling for a space equal in width to something between the en and the thin is to allow of some equalisation, or near-equalisation. The line is then cast, with the linotype machine having centred quadding engaged. Of course, at the end of each paragraph, or for other demands, other quadding is engaged for that line. The tiny amount of white space which will appear at the ends (both ends) of some lines is tolerated.

At the newspaper where I worked, we tried Fairchild keyboards, with the keyboard operator inserting the end-of-line breaks manually; the operators thought it a waste of expensive manhours. The Fairchild keyboards produced paper perforated tape, which was then taken to an Intertype fitted to read tape. At least we learned to read tape, which came in useful when we later went to cold type with “idiot” keyboards and typesetting machines (VIP) which had a relatively-simple computer in to divide the lines.

Doing away with spacebands overcame some problems of tape-fed linos.

Hyphenation is another ball game, one which needs some skill, and most computer machines lack what can be called foresight and hindsight, resulting in some horrendous hyphenations.