The first commercial Linotype was introduced (after many years of experiment) in 1886. With this machine only 106 characters were available to the operator, as compared with 944 characters which the operator can control on a modern Linotype.
The somewhat elongated keyboard consisted of four banks of key buttons. The keys were pivoted in a supporting frame carried by a bar attached to the magazine tubes, and each had a vertical slot or opening for the passage of a matrix, which dropped by gravity as the key was depressed; at the same time another matrix descended from the magazine tube to take the place of the one discharged, and rested on the upper edge of the key. This slotted oscillating key thus served as an escapement, and received the matrices one at a time from the tube, delivering them through the corresponding openings beneath, the delivery being made as rapidly as the operator released each key. Of course, the keyboard operation of this early machine was somewhat heavier, because it was controlled by direct action as distinct from the automatic mechanism associated with modern Linotypes.
The matrices were somewhat similar to those of to-day, although they differed as regards the distributor combinations in several respects.
The magazine in which the matrices were normally housed was composed of a series of independent vertical tubes, each internally of suitable size to receive its particular set of matrices. The tubes were drawn from sheet metal, so as to make the matrix channel smooth, seamless, and a perfectly true path through which matrices could travel without fear of stoppage. The upper end of each tube was flared or slightly enlarged to permit the free entry of matrices, and any tube could be removed independently of the others should a stoppage occur.
To receive the matrices as they were delivered one at a time below the magazine, and thence to conduct them to the point at which they were assembled, a horizontal guide or channel was provided, with rails on which the ears of the matrices were supported. The matrices fitted loosely in the upright position – very much as they now are in the present-day machine.
The matrices were not, however, advanced through the channel to the point of assemblage by means of a travelling belt, but were carried by a blast of air directed longitudinally through the channel from the lowermost of the two tubes seen to be connected with the machine at the right of the operator, the other tube being connected with the casting mechanism to assist in cooling the mould. This method of conveying matrices to the assembler was in due course, when an improved Linotype came on the market, responsible for the first commercial machine being known as the “Blower” Linotype.
As the matrices came into the assembler, little fingers or followers continually pushed them forward until the line was completed. The justification of the line was effected by folding wedges, similar to present practice, but the slug was cast in a solid mould made for one measure and body size only. Thereafter the matrices were carried by an elevator direct to the distributor mechanism. As the magazine channels were arranged vertically, the one elevator served the full purpose.
The distributing mechanism consisted of an endless chain, arranged to travel horizontally above the distributor rails. This chain carried a series of blocks, each equipped with adjustable forks or fingers arranged to act between the matrices and push them forward. The rails were parallel with each other, and were sufficiently separated to admit of the matrices being carried in an upright position between them, and the inner edge of each rails had a lip designed to engage the shoulders of the matrices and hold them in suspension. The lip was divided transversely into a number of sections to engage matrices having different combinations, whereby each matrix was sustained on the rails until it was carried to the point at which it was to be released to drop into its proper tube in the magazine.
Connected with the distributor rails were wires from an electric battery, by means of which a matrix failing to enter its tube caused the closing of the electric current and the stoppage of the carrier chain.