Hot Lead: Linotype Machines at The Dallas Morning News — 1914

by Paula Bosse

dmn_linotype_belo-coll_degolyer_1914Etaoin Shrdlu not pictured (click for larger image) SMU photo

by Paula Bosse

Above, a photograph by Charles E. Arnold showing the Dallas Morning News “machine room” in 1914, in which we see several Linotype machines and their operators. I have no technological aptitude, but, for some reason, I have been fascinated by elaborate machines like these my whole life. Even though computers long ago made these “hot metal” typesetting machines obsolete, it’s still kind of thrilling to see once-revolutionary contraptions in everyday use. I’m sure it was a deafening and monotonous job, but I’d love to have had the chance to operate one of those machines just once and churn out my own slugs of hot type. I love this photo, and it has lots of interesting things to zoom in on (click for larger images).







Sources & Notes

This photo is titled “Machine room at opening of Mechanical Building,” taken by Charles Erwin Arnold in 1914; it is from the Belo Records collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University. I have had to tweak the color, because my image editor tends to turn the warm tones of the original into a harsh yellow — see a scan of the original photograph here.

See additional photos of linotype machines used at The Dallas Morning News, from the Belo/DeGolyer Library collection, here.

I lived in England for a couple of years, and while there, I was given an intensive lesson on the elaborately arcane rules of cricket. I finally understood the game perfectly! …for one day. Today I immersed myself in all-things linotype, and I completely understand how the machines worked. I’ll probably forget this by tomorrow, but today … YES! And it’s absolutely fascinating. You, too, can understand how they worked:

  • The Wikipedia entry is very clearly written — check it out here.
  • An industrial film from 1960 — viewable here — is WONDERFUL. Yes, it’s over 30 minutes long, but if you love stuff like this, the time will fly by! Seriously — it’s incredibly well-done.
  • In a video on YouTube — seen here — you can watch a retired linotype operator type on a (malfunctioning) WWII-era machine. (Imagine how loud an entire room of these machines would be.)

Another look at the linotype at work can be seen in the short film “Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu,” which documents the last issue of The New York Times using Linotype machines (in 1978) — you can watch it here.

Also worth watching is the recent entertaining documentary “Linotype: The Film” — you can watch a trailer here.

Don’t know the significance of “etaoin shrdlu”? I didn’t either until about an hour ago. Wikipedia to the rescue, here.

A very entertaining article to check out in the Dallas Morning News archives: “‘etaoin shrdlu’ The Mystic Symbol” by George Gee (DMN, April 12, 1925). In it Gee wondered what this exotic and mysterious “etaoin shrdlu” phrase could mean, going so far as to interview local “experts.” He obviously knew the secret, but he never did divulge it to his readers. Very entertaining. (As are the accompanying Jack Patton illustrations.)

All images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.