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Elektron Experiences

Started by Mechanic, September 23, 2022, 12:43:57 AM

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These posts were originally posted in response to this article in the Site News section: German "new line" Linotype article now out - Admin

QuoteUnfortunately, the all-new Elektron in its original form had far too many faults and what I would call "under-engineered" features which very soon began to act against it and it soon gained a reputation for unreliability.

As someone who worked closely with the Elektron from day one I have to agree with the above quote. Unfortunately the promotion for the Elektron was so good many virtually prototype machines were sold into the field and had to be modified in customers plants.

In the 1960s Linotypes in newspapers and job typesetters were  serviced by mechanical service engineers, with little or no electrical or electronic experience. A fact that Mergenthaler failed to take into account. In a small job shop an operator who normally maintain the Linotype had little hope of maintaining the Elektron.

The Sydney Morning Herald had 24 Elektrons all operating at 14 Lines per minute, on TTS tape. The Elektrons were used to set all the classified advertisements' and single column  news from the 1960s up until they were made redundant with the switch to photo typesetting in 1984.

In early 1970's I had the Elektrons converted to used computer calculated fixed word spacing, eliminating the spacebands, which were a major cause of assembler problems.

In the mid 1960's I had moved onto Mergenthaler's  photo typesetting machines, which was my main job until I returned to Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald. My responsibility was for all production typesetting.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


Hi George

I totally agree with your comments re the Elektron.

While undertaking my City & Guilds Advanced Composition course at Maidstone Arts & Crafts college in the UK, back in the early 70s, we had the "pleasure" of an Elektron together with a Linotype Model 78 and a couple of Intertypes.

Needless to say, the Elektron was little used due to so many issues. My thoughts at the time were that a perfectly good mechanical beast was saddled with electronic "aids" which caused so many issues, it made it impossible to use.

Cheers David Page
Pelican Waters, Qld

Bruce Anderton

I do remember, early on in my apprenticeship with the Bradford & District Newspaper Company, going on an evening visit to the brand new premises of Yorkshire Post Newspapers in Leeds, where there was a mixture of hot metal and photosetting and hybrid web-offset/letterpress machinery in the pressroom.

In the composing room an experiment was being undertaken with Linos/Intertypes casting without spacebands, as George mentions above. I think the measure was 11½ems or thereabouts and the typeface was 8pt Royal which was nominally set with "nut each side" indentation. Though I can't now remember exactly how the machines were set up, it could have been that every line had the nut indentation to start with, then a suitable combination of en and/or thin space inter-word spacing, with the completed line then being quadded to the left.

In appearance the finished work didn't often look ragged (i.e. unjustified), aided by the fact that it was intentionally meant to carry space at start and finish. What it did to the mats, with each line being quadded, is more questionable, as the quadder jaw banging up against the end character in each line would be bound to cause above-average wear eventually.


The Linotype hydraquadder was very gentle on matrices. Harris Corp stop making Intertypes in the USA, I've forgotten when, and transferred the manufacture to England. The Intertype quadder made in England had a bad reputation, and machines imported to the USA were without quadders and StarParts quadders were fitted.

I don't know about the Monarch, Bruce, but the Elektron at high speed, was hard on matrices. Kept mechanics busy straightening them, and binning what they couldn't.   

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Bruce Anderton

It stands to reason that any machine running at 15 lines per minute is going to wear out its matrices fairly quickly, as the mats will be circulating, pro rata, that much more quickly than would be the case on a manually-operated machine, no matter how fast the operator was! Anyone who has seen the Mergenthaler film of the Elektron (available to view on this site!) will readily appreciate the effects of running at 15 lines per minute and the wear and tear on the machine mechanism and the matrices, and as George notes the difficulties regarding the dropping of the spacebands.

I do recall one of my teachers at the Regional College of Art at Bradford telling me about the time when the company he worked for put a font of 6pt Helvetica into one of its tape-operated machines as the first job of the day, and by the time the shift was over eight hours later the mats were already showing hairlines. He didn't say what the machine was, but I doubt that it was an Elektron (and Helvetica mats generally were prone to hairlining if not handled with care).

I agree with you, George, regarding the smooth action of the hydraquadder, but some of the earlier mechanical ones sometimes did close with quite some force, and when setting lines which were quadded I always tried to ensure that the end mats were either em or en quads that would better absorb the impact as the jaws came together when setting centred lines.

I believe that the Monarch was probably kinder to mats, and I worked in one office where we had three such machines which had been brought over from the US along with disc-operated drives (as opposed to tape operation). At great expense they were converted to English-depth casting and then usually worked setting 10pt slugs for hot-foil work. One machine was set up to also cast 14pt work, and this was manually keyboarded, but the other two machines only set 10pt—one casting on alternate moulds, one on consecutive moulds to try to avoid the overheating problem. All the machines usually ran very reliably and disasters were relatively few...but the monitor had to be vigilant and ready to stop the show immediately if problems arose.

If such was the case and the machine was, say, half way through a "take", it was impossible to restart the casting process at the point where the machine had halted (a situation which could be easily done on a tape-operated machine), and so one had either to start again from scratch or set the rest of the job manually—which is what we normally did. These machines all had StarParts quadders.

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