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Linotype machine

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Linotype (Deutsches Museum)

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In printing, the Linotype machine uses a 90-character keyboard to create an entire line of metal type at once. This allows much faster printing than with the Gutenberg-style system, in which operators place down one letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.

First produced by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1886, the Linotype was 2.1m tall. Keystrokes retrieved letter molds from the magazines. The machine poured molten lead into the molds, producing a complete line of type in reverse, so it would read properly when used to transfer ink onto paper. The molds were then assembled by hand onto a page.

The machines are so noisy that Linotype operators are known for their bad hearing.

The "hot type" method of printing is virtually extinct today, replaced first by "cold type" in which lines of type were generated by computerized printers and pasted onto large paper "flats" by hand, and then by "pagination" systems in which the entire page is created in the computer and produced in press-ready form.

The Linotype may be best remembered for its keyboard layout. Most keyboards had letters arranged in decreasing order of frequency. The first two rows were ETAOIN SHRDLU, which occasionally appeared in print because Linotype operators who made mistakes would run their fingers down the keyboard to fill out the line with nonsense, and sometimes this incorrect slug of type would accidentally get used. This phrase is in the Oxford English Dictionary and has been used as a character name by a number of authors.