February 8

The Central Offices of the American Type Founders Company, Jersey CIty, New Jersey.

“It was born of compromise and courage, but grew and prospered through the faith of men who believed in its destiny.” These were not the resounding words of one of the founding fathers of our nation, but instead represent the opinion of a president of the American Type Founders Company, which was incorporated this day in 1892, to the tune of a concerted babel of voices raised in both praise and protest by most of the nations printers.

From the establishment in 1796 of the earliest American typefoundry to be fully successful, that of Binny & Ronaldson in Philadelphia, competition among typefounders had grown to such a point that by the middle of the 19th century there were some two dozen firms, all striving for the printer’s business. Price cutting, especially in the period immediately following the Civil War, became ruinous. Since these founders were also in the printer’s supply trade, anxious to sell everything from em quads to shooting sticks, the competition for business was fierce, resulting in costly and unbusinesslike practices.

The price war reached its peak in the late eighties. Middlemen, or jobbers, who sold directly to the printer were increasing in number and were in a position to pressure the typefoundries individually to such an extent that production standards deteriorated and the foundries themselves were placed in an unstable financial position. Another factor which had frightening aspects to the harassed founders was the development of the Mergenthaler Linotype machine at about the same period. There had been many other devices constructed for the composition of printer’s types, all of which had employed foundry type, but the linotype actually cast its own type from self-contained matrices. Since this machine was immediately successful in newspaper offices, the principal source of income to the foundries was irretrievably lost. It became obvious that in order to survive, the typefounders would have to cooperate with one another.

The first overture in this direction was made by John Marder of the Chicago Type Foundry, in company with Arthur Brower of the Union Type Foundry, also of Chicago. Marder and Brower first sought to persuade the most reknowned of American typefounders, Thomas B. MacKellar, head of the Philadelphia firm of MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, to join with them in the formation of a combined firm. When MacKellar was won over to the idea, its success was almost assured. For the first year or so, however, many of the twentythree foundries which joined the association could not rid themselves of their old competitive urges and insisted on keeping their original names. In 1894 the dynamic new general manager of American Type Founders, Robert W. Nelson, convinced them of the effectiveness of the new title, and as a result the old signboards came down one by one.

The four large foundries which did not join ATF attempted to rally printers to their own cause, representing the new firm as a combine and as a trust, words which had distinct red-flag potentialities in the nineties. But that they were fighting in a lost cause became even more evident in 1896 when the Lanston Monotype machine was introduced, enabling printers to cast their own single types and freeing them from dependence upon the foundries.

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