March 17

David Bruce Jr.On this day in 1838 the United States Patent Office granted to David Bruce Jr. a patent for modifications on a typecasting machine which greatly improved the original model of 1836. Although not the first American to develop a machine to free the typefounder from the dependence upon the laborious hand-casting of single types, Bruce may be credited with the first fully successful typecaster to be produced in this country.

With tongue in cheek, Thomas MacKellar described the machine in his manual, The American Printer, using “cute” terminology, which apparently amused Luther Ringwalt to such a degree that he later reprinted the description almost word for word in The American Encyclopedia of Printing.

“Look at one carefully,” wrote MacKellar. “The metal is kept fluid by a little furnace underneath, and is projected into the mould by a pump, the spout of which, you see, is in front of the metal pot. The mould is movable, and at every revolution of the crank it comes up to the spout, receives a charge of metal, and flies back with a fully formed type in its bosom; the upper half of the mould lifts, and out jumps a type as lively as a tadpole. You don’t see how the letter is formed at the end of the type? True, we had forgotten; well, this spring in front holds in loving proximity to the mould a copper matrix, such as you saw just now in the fitting room. The letter a, for instance stamped into the matrix, sits directly opposite the aperture in the mould which meets the spout of the pump; and when a due proportion of the a’s is cast, another matrix with b stamped in it takes its place; and so on throughout the alphabet. Slow work, you say, one at a time? Well, the world is peopled after that fashion; and it fills up fast enough. But just time this machine; it is making small, thin type. Count the type made in a minute. One hundred and seventy-five, you say. One hundred per minute will probably be the average of the ordinary sizes of printing type.”

At one hundred types per minute, of course, Bruce’s typecaster was far out-producing the hand-casting of types, which then enjoyed a rate of four to five hundred letters per hour. The Bruce machine, however, was similar to the hand caster in that the type needed to undergo a number of finishing steps, all of which were performed by hand. It was not until the Barth machine of 1888 was developed that a typecasting machine delivered a completely finished type. Additional increase of production also came with power operation.

Bruce attempted to sell his 1838 patent to his uncle, George Bruce, of the famous Bruce typefoundry of New York. The foundry sent its head machinist to look at the caster. He reported that it was not practical. It was instead introduced by the Boston Type and Stereotype foundry, eventually becoming the model for casting machines used by all of the American and several of the European foundries.

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