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A Beautiful Piece of Mechanism


At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Henry Ford’s Model T and the Wright Brothers’ airplane were still in the future, but railroads and telegraph lines had already spanned the country. There was a great sense of optimism, a feeling that anything was possible.

Along with every other aspect of life, the publishing industry was undergoing great change. On this date in 1902, the Jamestown Weekly Alert announced that the newspaper had installed “a beautiful piece of mechanism.” The new typesetting machine did away with hand composition – doing all the work of setting type accurately and quickly. As a result, the paper claimed that readers would enjoy more news with fewer errors.

The Simplex Typesetting Machine cost over $2,000 and was shipped in from Chicago. Two machinists came along to set it up and teach the staff how to use it. The machinists planned to stay for a week, and the newspaper predicted that the new equipment would soon be running smoothly. Fewer errors were expected, and it would became easier for proofreaders to make changes. In the old way of doing things, an “e” might slip into the “a” box and go unnoticed. The Simplex machine would avoid that problem by replacing the proper letters in the proper boxes.

The Simplex did not do away with the need for a human operator, but it allowed the compositor to type in the words as the machine placed the letters. The compositor had to properly space each line, but the machine could set type five times faster than a human.

Linotype machines like the Simplex have been called one of the most notable inventions of the Twentieth Century. It caught on quickly with publishers of all kinds, from newspapers to books. It revolutionized the newspaper industry by allowing for faster and timelier publication. But the machine was very loud. Many publishers hired deaf people as typesetters because they were not bothered by the noise.

Today, publishing is dominated by computers, but in 1902, the Simplex typesetting machine was a major advance.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Jamestown Weekly Alert. “Our New Type-Setter.” 18 December 1902. Jamestown, ND. Page 1. “The Invention of the Linotype Machine.” "" Accessed 22 November 2017.