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Blower to Elektron

Started by Mechanic, February 20, 2009, 03:17:52 AM

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I would imagine that just about everyone who visits Metaltype knows that the first two rows down the left-hand side of the Linotype keyboard are etaoin and shrdlu, but it was not always that way. Have a look at the photo of the Blower Linotype, note the shape of the keyboard.

Compare that keyboard to the one on the new improved 1890 version of the Linotype.


Mergenthaler's first production Blower Linotype was installed at the New York Tribune in 1886. The keyboard had 107 keys, including the folding wedge (spaceband) key, arranged in four rows. I have not been able to ascertain the layout of the keyboard, but I do know from my research that a number of operators complained that some of the most used keys were difficult to reach. It is reported that Mergenthaler tore a story from the page of a newspaper and asked his assistant, Charles Letsch, to count the frequency that  each character appeared and the keyboard layout we know today was the result.

Ottmar Mergenthaler had proved beyond any doubt that he had produced a machine that was a fully functional, and commercially viable typesetting machine, with some shortcomings.  The  magazine, made up of separate tubes of decreasing size, had limited capacity of 14 down to 8 matrices. I understand that some of the more frequently used matrices characters were duplicated and occupied more than one tube. However, the capacity of the tubes was still limited and the keyboard had disadvantages.

The feedback that Mergenthaler received, and from his own observations of the Blower Linotype, resulted in the design and manufacture of the Linotype that functionally remained unchanged. Even the Elektron with its wiz bang electronics except for the elimination of the mechanical drive clutch, the assembler elevator and the second elevator transfer arm, was basically the same machine.

A good description of how the Blower Linotype operated can be found at:- The Blower Linotype

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dave Hughes

Interesting George. The "Mark 1" keyboard definitely looked a bit unwieldly.

Did you notice on the descriprion of the new Linotype, when talking about the keyboard, they said that no "special touch" was required?

Wonder what that was all about - keeping your finger on the key for a while, perhaps?
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Dave,I believe the reference is to the fact that on the Blower, the operator had to manually release the matrix by pushing down on the key, which was actually a lever that lifted a rod that operated a toggle arrangement that released the matrix. All this weight had to be overcome by the operator. On the new keyboard, the key lever only had to lift a short rod that dropped the keyboard cam onto a roller and together the cam and the roller did all the heavy work.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

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