December 15

Alexander Duguid, who proved himself to be the fastest compositor in the United States, was born this day in 1856 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. A little more than twenty-nine years later, in the second National Typesetting Tournament, staged in Philadelphia in 1886, Duguid matched himself against the great professional speed typesetters and beat them all, with an average of 2,277 ems of 6-point per hour. Duguid was described in a short biographical note written a year after the famous contest:

“He is about five feet seven inches in height, and weighs 135 pounds. When he was three months old his parents left Scotland and settled on a farm in Waterloo County, Ontario, where they remained until 1868. In 1872 Alexander, tired of the hard work of the farm, entered the Toledo Blade job pressroom, in which he remained a year and then began to set type. In 1883 he went to Cincinnati, and is now employed on the Enquirer. In six days on the Enquirer he set off the hook 101,800 ems. Inheriting a good constitution, which was strengthened and developed by the exercise and pure air of the farm, and being a total abstainer of intoxicants, and not using tobacco in any form, Mr. Duguid has successfully resisted the debilitating influence of a printer’s occupation, and to-day enjoys almost perfect health. He has made a study of the philosophy of setting type and put his theories into practice. He sets type with about the same speed the year round. He was engaged to enter the Chicago tournament, but withdrew when the management insisted upon Sunday work. The Philadelphia contest was his first and only match.

“His best private record previous to this time was 2,093 ems solid minion in an hour. His best score in the last trial of the Philadelphia contest, was 3,416 ems in 1 hour, 30 minutes, an average of 2,277⅓ems per hour. Total gross score for the last day’s work (3 hours) 6,804 ems; 6,635¼ ems net [deductions were made for errors]. Total for 33 hours, 71,119 ems gross; 69,200¼ ems net. As Mr. Duguid will not set type on a wager, he will probably not engage in any more matches.”

Duguid wrote for his contemporaries the procedures which enabled him to pick up three pieces of 6-point type each two seconds:

“There is no royal road to fast typesetting. All must climb alike by hard, persevering work. A man must have a quick eye, steady nerves, ready, retentive mind and good health and physical strength. Moderate speed can be acquired by a slow, steady motion; about the same with a quick, stumbling motion; but to reach 2,000 ems an hour a quick, steady motion is required.

“In holding the stick incline it so that the type in it is almost horizontal. Let the arms do the work, do not move the body, except from side to side of the case. Pick up the type by the head, using the thumb and first finger. Get a type every time, bring it directly to the stick, hold it steadily with the left thumb and go for another.”

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