June 26

The benevolent Patent Office of the United States issued on June 26, 1860 a patent to Henry Harger of Delhi, Iowa for an invention which “consists in the arrangement of machinery in connection with the type case by which the typesare fed to the composing-stick, and of an arrangement of fingers and levers in connection with the composingstick, by which the types may be taken from the case and set in line.”

There appears to be no further mention of the Harger device in the public prints, as to whether it was ever marketed or even used commercially in any way. We can be assured that this composing stick is not of the kind that will comfortably fit in the back pocket of a compositor—a common repository for that simple tool. During the 19th century there were numerous typesetting machines evolved from the dreams and mechanical aptitudes of horny-handed compositors, who were also afflicted, presumably, with corns and bunions from long hours of standing at the case.

By 1900 the transition had taken place, and the compositor had become automated, with the aid of Watchmaker Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine and by the Monotype of Accountant Lanston. The cycle was completed when the operator of the typesetting machines found that he had merely switched the anatomical location of his bunions, and he became just as anxious to get back to the case as originally he had been to learn to operate the machine.

Many of the original ideas concerning the mechanization of typesetting evolved upon the principle of handling single types, in one way or another. Between 1840 and 1870 there were 34 patents granted in the United States for. typesetting and distributing machines and the same number in England, testifying to the ever-increasing need for such equipment. Presses had been automated early in the century. The resulting increase in the production capabilities of the printing office, particularly in newspaper and book printing, had been so astonishing that there was unquestionably fame and fortune awaiting the inventor of a successful typesetting machine.

Most of the early machines foundered on the difficulty of justification of the line of type, which the compositor accomplished by a rather laborious selection of spaces after the line had been composed. Spaces made of compressible material were tried, and even congealable fluids were attempted, along with plaster of Paris and gelatin substances, but with no practical results. By the time the most complicated of all these typesetters, the Paige Compositor, was finally perfected during the last decade of the century, the concept of assembling cast printer’s types in a machine had already been bypassed with the successful demonstration of the Mergenthaler mechanism in which the type was actually cast in the machine. At one stroke every other idea was antiquated, and no matter how unique the approach, the machine in which it was represented was headed not for the print shop, but for the museum, to serve as another example of American mechanical genius.

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