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The Tribunes Trials and Tribulations.

Started by Mechanic, October 14, 2011, 04:57:09 AM

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On May the 19 1889 the illustration of the Blower Linotype, and heading were published in the New York Tribune. This was almost three years after the first Linotype was installed at the Tribune.

Why delay? Things didn't go as well as expected. From what I've read, Mergenthaler was not ready to release the machine as he was continuing to make modifications right up until the machine was shipped and for many months after.

Read the story:-
The story is completed on page 20 of the Tribune

The summary at the end of the story sheds some light on the earlier days of the Tribune's trials and tribulations.

This perfection has not however, been attained without great labour and expense. The story of The Tribune's experience is that of all pioneers in an untried field. The first machine was put up in its office in July, 1886. In January following five had been received, but only two remained in use. The first suffered so many breakages and was of such inferior make that it had to be taken down and rebuilt, while two others were rejected on account of defective parts. Actual operation discovered a multitude of defects which had never before been dreamed of, and, although no radical changes were made, it was found necessary to modify several details of the construction. Indeed but for the Tribune's faith in the ultimate success of the machine, the experience of the first twelve months would have insured its abandonment; for, to say nothing of breakages and failures, repeated changes in the inventors plans and delays of suppling machines, the difficulty of training compositors to a duty which they naturally regarded with aversion, was alone discouragement enough. In the instrument itself each day revealed new flaws. For a long time no suitable metal could be procured for casting nor its temperature satisfactorily controlled. The matrix moulds were untrue: the matrices themselves were warped and constantly blew out of the channel; the metal squirted between them and spoiled the cast; the air blasts were unmanageable; the tubes became clogged, and the operators were poisoned by fumes from the casting pots and, when the linotypes were finally produced they refused to stand upright in the form. The effect on the appearance of the print may be imagined. Long Blank spaces disfigured nearly every proof. Dirty streaks made the large characters illegible and obliterated the smalls ones altogether. Every line was full of blurs. In some places only one edge had taken the ink.  In others the bars were upside down, and occasionally at the most interesting part of an article a line would vanish altogether. Extraordinary pains were necessary to keep mistakes out of the paper; and even then angry letters came in from indignant readers. Its eldest friends protested against the strain on their eyes and nerves, and the men left at the cases ridiculed the whole contrivance and predicted its speedy consignment to the scrap-heap.

By the beginning of 1888 fourteen machines had been received. Industry had removed some difficulties and experience lessened others; yet serious obstacles were still to be overcome. There was no ready mode of changing measure. The headings had to be set by hand and the use of italics abandoned altogether, and the simultaneous use of two types made good results impossible. The movable types, elongated by the heat of repeated stereotyping, still took the impression off the shorter type-bars which, being new every day, retained their proper size; and The Louisville Courier-Journal and The Chicago Daily News which had begun to use the machines, threatened to throw them out on this account alone: while the pressmen to whom The Tribune Book of Open Air Sports was given for printing from linotypes declared that they never had had such a job. But perhaps the most troublesome experience of all was with the matrices. The moulds for these were at first electrotyped from ordinary type, but after repeated casting, the electrotyped deposits pull off and left them useless. A machine was then devised to cast them, but no sooner was this complete than it was found that there was no metal at once soft enough to take a good mould and hard enough to be cast from again without melting. Punching with steel dies directly into the brass was the next method tried, but this spread the mould so as to interfere with the justification and prevented impressions of uniform depth; and it was only with a specially hardened brass that satisfactory matrices were at last obtained. As to the metal, an alloy of bismuth, antimony and lead was, after much experimenting, shown to give the best results, and the pots were fitted with covers and chimneys to carry away the fumes.   

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Patrick J. Burns

Enjoyed  the article summary, having worked on these machines for over 50 years learning some of the basics of the trade from Robert P. Mergenthaler, the great-nephew of the inventor, in Baltimore. I find that most of the stories he told from his grandfather, Fritz Mergenthaler's experience to be pretty accurate. Bob once told me that when the first machines were installed the printer's threw bricks at the erectors. I have tools belonging to one of the men pictured in the Claggett and Allen Street photograph, Alec Gordon, who was first chief machinist on the "Washington Star" newspaper. Best Wishes, P.J. Burns.

Dave Hughes

Glad you enjoyed the article PJ - and welcome to the Metal Type forum  :)
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