History of the printing press: The nineteenth century

A few facts may appropriately be added showing the vast improvements and new inventions that have given the printing-press its tremendous power for good and ill. It is impossible to mention all the innumerable devices which have brought printing machines to their present perfection; but the wonderful typesetting contrivances demand notice. In 1875 Ottmar Mergenthaler, a Swiss mechanic and inventor, living in Baltimore, constructed a machine that has been an immeasurable revolutionizing factor in the composing-room. The linotype is a machine controlled by finger-keys, like a typewriter, which creates the type matter as demanded, ready for the press, to be used once, and then melted down. Instead of producing single type of the ordinary character, it casts type-metal bars or slugs, each line complete in one piece, and having on the upper edge type characters to print a line. These bars are called linotypes, and are assembled automatically in a galley side by side, in proper order, so that they constitute a form, answering the same purpose and used in the same manner as the ordinary forms consisting of types set singly.

After being used, the linotypes, instead of being distributed at great expense, like type forms, are simply thrown into the melting-pot attached to the machine and are recast into new linotypes. The linotype is operated by a single attendant sitting at the keyboard. The manipulation of the finger-keys by this single operator results in the production, delivery, and assemblage of the linotypes in the galley ready for use. In the hands of a skilful operator it will do the work of five men "at the case," or setting type by hand, and will make better wages for him, without half the wear and tear of bone, and blood, and muscle. Within two hours the operator on the machine is able to cast as much new type as the fastest printer can set in seven or eight hours' hard and steady work by the old method.

The only formidable rival of the linotype is the typesetting machine. While the former is a line-casting machine, the latter actually sets the type.

The first great step towards facilitating the production of the modern newspaper was made by Colonel Robert Hoe, of New York, in 1840, when the first of the type-revolving presses was built. This invention marked the beginning of an epoch in the history of the printing industry. The Hoe press embodied a new principle, the type being placed on the circumference of a cylinder which rotates about a horizontal axis. Among the first of the multiple cylinder presses erected by Robert Hoe was one for the Philadelphia Ledger, in 1846; and one for the Parisian daily paper, La Patric, in 1848. The first eight-cylinder press was built for the New York Herald, in 1857. The printed matter is cast in a solid stereotype plate, from which, bent into cylinder shape, the paper is printed.

The perfecting of the stereotyping process gave a great impetus to the development of the newspaper as we know it to-day. The type-revolving printing-presses, with their capacity of from 10,000 to 20,000 sheets an hour, were the marvel of their time, and did good service during the Civil War, from 1861 to 1865. Effective as they were, their supremacy was short-lived, and they are now only a memory. In 1863, the first web perfecting press was erected by Bullock, and the printing industry experienced another great revolution, whose ultimate results are the marvellous machines now in use, capable of turning out from 50,000 to 100,000 papers, perfected and folded, in an hour. The Hope octuple press of the present day is indeed one of the modern mechanical wonders of the world. This press prints, folds, and cuts 96,000 complete eight-page papers per hour, or 1,600 every minute, or 48,000 sixteen-page papers, the size of the page being that of the ordinary newspaper. Colored supplements are a recent feature.

These new devices have given an equal impetus to the book trade. Publishing developed to an amazing extent in the closing decade of the nineteenth century. This development has been distinctly along two lines, and represents two extremes. In the first place, there was never a time when so many fine books were made. There is absolutely no limit to the sumptuousness of the editions de luxe. The demand for costly books increases year by year. What makes it more surprising is that while the trade in fine books increases year by year the demand for cheap ones likewise grows. Within recent years the publication of books for sale by subscription only has become an important branch of the business. This kind of publication is becoming more and more popular every year, and justly so, for it is the only means whereby a large portion of the reading public are enabled to purchase books, and by the proportionately smaller cost of large editions reducing the selling price.

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