Linotype matrices production

I have read that a Linotype matrix required seventy different operations of extreme precision on its manufacture. Where can I find more information about this topic?

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From the research I’ve done there isn’t much published about the actual process of manufacturing the matrices. There is quite a bit of good information about how the matrix is mated to the different type of molds in the “Useful Matrix Information” booklets published my Mergenthaler Linotype Co.

There was a marketing video (“The Eighth Wonder”) from the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. that had several scenes showing the matrix manufaturing, but not in any great detail. I think this is one of the films available from Carl Schlesinger (He’s in the Briar Press Yellow Pages).

In the Linotype Bulletin Vol. XVIII Num. 11 there is a description of the matrix making process. Again not in detail from an engineering viewpoint, but good enough to get a sense of what was going on.

There is an Intertype display, “The 30 Stages of Life”, at the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA. This shows a matrix after each manufacturing process. From what I can tell the Intertype process was a bit different than the Mergenthaler process.

Hope this helps.


to the above names

Thank you for showing the manufacture of the matrix; did Mergenthaler have to go through all these steps before the first Blower machine produced a slug, which was then named the “linotype”? One of the miracles of the linotype is the persistence to reach the goal of a practical machine.


>did Mergenthaler have to go through all these steps before the first Blower machine produced a slug

Most of the operations shown in the IPM display are relatively straightforward machining operations which would have been within the capacity of any machine shop of his day. Mergenthaler (the firm), Intertype, and others scaled these up for mass production, of course. The Blower Linotype mats were very similar to the mats we’re familiar with (not identical, but close). The exact methods used by O. Merg. to produce matrix blanks in Baltimore are to the best of my knowledge unknown and unlikely to be precisely the same as those shown in the IPM display, but the process would have been similar in spirit.

Where the Blower mats differed from later ones is in the way in which the casting surface was created. Carl Schlesinger did the basic research on this, and presented it in his edition of “The Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler” (which was really O.M.’s autobiography told in the third person). Schlesinger discovered that initially (mid 1886) the Blower mats were electroformed. Then after Aug. 1886 Mergenthaler switched to punched mats, using hand-cut punches. He was unaware of Benton’s pantograph at that time (which had been cutting punches in steel since 1884) and began developing his own equipment for making punches by machine (details unknown).

Things were breaking down in O.M.’s relationship with his NY backers, and he left in April 1888. Some time before that, they learned of Benton’s machine, and by Feb. 1888 were ordering punches from Benton. In 1889 they received one of Benton’s machines (No. 3) under lease.

(The Square Base Linotype came out in 1889, and the Simplex/Model 1 in 1890.)

O.M.’s last matrix making efforts, in his own shop in Baltimore in the 1890s, involved making matrices in steel.

Schlesinger’s edition of Mergenthaler’s “biography” is well worth having. Oak Knoll still has it in print. Schlesinger, Carl. “Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler, Inventor of the Linotype.” (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1992). ISBN 0938768123

David M.

to anyone

This is an attempt to preserve a tiny bit of history.

How were Intertype Fotosetter “matrices” cleaned?


David M. MacMillan

Thank you for your history of Otto Mergenthaler. Many years ago, a friend told me that M had a problem making his matrices, but met a man on a train who had a helpful solution; this appeared to be after the successful first demonstration of the “Blower,” which had me puzzled, but now I deduce that the man on the train was Benton and the machine was his machine for making punches using a pantograph for changing the size of the character from the “,master” to the desired size; I knew steel punches are used for many other purposes than making lino matrices.


>the man on the train was Benton

So far as I am aware, there is no evidence that O.M. ever met Benton. Basil Kahan, in his biography of O.M. (highly recommended) proposes that O.M. was involved in the early stages of the acquisition of a Benton, Waldo pantograph, but I believe that he does so on the basis of overlapping dates: Whitelaw Reid was ordering punch material to be sent to Benton a couple of months before O.M. and the NY syndicate parted ways (for a while). But the relationship between O.M. in Baltimore and the company in NY was very bad at that time, and I’m not sure that this conclusion is warranted. The pantograph leased in 1889 was sent to Brooklyn, not to O.M. in Baltimore. In his “[auto]biography,” O.M. praises the later work of the Benton pantograph, but indicates that at the time he was unaware of it.

The early business history of the Linotype is an extraordinarily complicated story, full of painful situations, misunderstandings, lack of communication, and recriminations. It does not resolve into a simple story of progress over adversity. I would recommend Kahan’s biography and Schlesinger’s edition of O.M.’s (auto)biography. Kahan is English and also covers the startup of what became Linotype & Machinery.

David M.

Many thanks to all the above names for the shared information…