Linotype machines are awesome


I think I remember seeing that linotype machine in the Heritage Village area a few years ago. I know that they print a broadsheet every day, composing it on the linotype. I would love to use one for a couple of upcoming projects, just so I can print my own booklets. I wonder if there is someplace in the Twin Cities that has one available to use?

Just mostly lead. . Getting the casting alloy to have all the right properties was actually a really big deal.
I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry, but at normal casting temperatures the vapor pressure of lead is zero. Unless there was observable dust of some kind I would have stayed.


The one I saw was in the State Fair Heritage Village, at the Newspaper Museum exhibit. I’ve got to believe that there’s one being operated somewhere in the Twin Cities. Good person to check with might be Todd Thyberg at AngelBomb (, he’s a BoingBoing reader and designer who does a lot of his own printing. I don’t know if he has a linotype, though.

Pregnancy makes you skittish when people say “I’m melting lead”.

I first learned about Linotype machines earlier this year after watching the Twilight Zone episode “Printer’s Devil” . I think it’d be fun to have a lead block of text stamped from one of those machines.

An article I read here says that the Newspaper Museum may disappear, due to the fair’s plans for the Heritage Square area. Man, I hope they can find a place for the museum at the fair. It would not be the same without it.

My favourite part of Linotype machines is the justification mechanism with adjustable spaces. So clever and yet so simple.


I had a chance to watch a Linotype in operation as a kid and it was mesmerizing. Unlike the “black box” that is my computer, you can SEE everything happening. The matrices falling into line, sliding over to the rotating mold, and then being picked up by a long arm and put back to the top of the magazine, where you can hear them falling into the proper slot as they are propelled along by a long screw drive. It made a huge impression. It seems that the only thing that they’re still used for is embossed invitations, where you still need type that stands up from the surface rather than offset printing. They also made typewriters with Linotype keyboards for the operators to fill out forms and do the sort’s of tasks that you need typewriters for. EATOIN SHRDLU !


As someone who is not the neatest typer (so far this comment has had 4 corrections), this machine is giving me a panic attack.


My wife and I stumbled across a linotype machine on permanent exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Industry (the linotype was invented in Baltimore). There’s a fellow who grew up working on them who gives demonstrations. There’s a great 5 minute youtube clip from cspan about it here: If you get a chance to stop at the BMI, it is well worth it. Baltimore was a center of industry in the late 20th, early 21st centuries, and the museum is overflowing with similar mechanical wonders invented in the city.


My father taught Printing and Graphic Arts at a vocational high school in San Antonio, Texas for 30 years (1960s to 1990s). He had previously been the owner/operator of the La Grange Journal newspaper in La Grange, Texas (as in the ZZTop song).

When he started as a printing teacher he had several linotype machines that were in daily use training high school students for local printing jobs after graduation (San Antonio had two newspapers back then). As a child, I grew up around these wonderful machines that took hot bubbling metal and made type. When the printing was done, the type would be dropped back into the pot, recycled into more words, over and over again.
My father had a love of gadgets, and was an early adopter of new printing technologies. The linotypes were first replaced by a machine that used a dumb terminal to set type on photographic paper instead of lead type. This machine was eventually interfaced with an Apple II to allow editing of content before being sent to the photographic paper. By the time my father retired, that machine had been replaced by several Apple Macintoshes networked to a laser printer for desktop publishing. Yet, there was still one linotype machine in the corner that could be fired up when needed. It was still used to make raised type for embossed printing.

When my father retired the printing program was shut down, and his last linotype machine was retired as well. Not that he minded. Watch the video, see how printing used to be done, and you will understand why my father absolutely loved desktop publishing and his Macs.


Line-o-type - Linotype. I never got that connection before.

(I’m more familiar with the company than the printing process)

In other news linoleum is made with linseed oil that comes from flax plants, which are also the source of linen. (and raw linen really is about the color of blond hair, thus the term “flaxen haired”) The English language is as awesome as the machines used to put it down on paper.

@mike_robinson Typing errors are not a big deal. The matrices drop onto an assembler rail where you can read what you’re going to cast before commiting. It’s easy to pick out an incorrect character and replace it, if maybe bad for productivity. But who’s watching these days?

Ah, the real danger, or fun, if you’re like that, is the ever-present possibility of a squirt. I’ve managed to spray lead quite a distance. I’ve learned to stay out of the blast zone if I’m not confident I have absolutely everything set up correctly.

The funny thing is you just taught me that Linseed is the same thing as Flaxseed.

It’s like I don’t know anything!

Not so much the English language. It’s actually Latin:
linum = flax/linseed, oleum = oil, hence
lin-oleum = linseed oil.

I loved the eccentric cam wheels that drive the thing. I was immediately reminded of the set of eccentric cams that drive Babbage’s difference engine, to be seen in the Science Museum in London and the Computer History Museum in Menlo Park. They constitute the “machine cycle” of the difference engine. So, the set of eccentric cams in the linotype machine, and their fixed relation to each other, actually constitute the part of the machine that would be driven by a microprocessor today. They coordinate all the machine’s moving parts. The design of those cams is the computer science of the Mechanical Age!

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The distribution mechanism is also fascinating. Mergenthaler independenly (re)invented a 7-bit binary encoding for the mats, implemented as key-like teeth on the mats and distributor rail. When the pattern of ‘missing’ teeth on the mat correspond to the same gaps on the rail, the mats are above the correct channel in the magazine and drop freely back into place.