March 23

Lanston Monotype & Mergenthaler Linotype

In the year 1861 on this day, just three weeks before the guns sounded at Fort Sumter, the Kentucky-born publisher of the Indianapolis Journal, John D. Defrees, took office as the first Superintendent of Public Printing. In 1869 this title was changed to Congressional Printer, and in 1876 an Act of Congress decreed the office should be titled Public Printer, which it has remained to the present time. Regardless of the title, however, the men who have borne it have had their troubles, with the Congress and with the printers of the republic, who have always felt that the Government Printing Office produced too much printing, thereby letting the commercial printers scratch for a living.

In 1905 the GPO and the Public Printer were the center of an imbroglio that resulted in the discharge—by President Theodore Roosevelt—of Frank W. Palmer, the sixth Public Printer, who had held the office longer than any of his predecessors, a period of over thirteen years. The fuss started when the Mergenthaler Linotype charged that a purchase by the GPO of seventy-two Monotype machines had been made without giving Mergenthaler the opportunity to compete for the order.

The Lanston Monotype Company leaped to the defense of Palmer, and both companies enriched the trade periodicals by taking four page ads to inform the nation’s printers of the respective merits of their equipment to perform in the GPO as well as to castigate their rivals. The Monotype firm broke into print with their message containing this statement:

“PRINTERS! The President of the United States in the following language has officially stamped the Mergenthaler Linotype Company as a columniator, as an assassin of character; he says: ‘Second only to corruption in a public officer in point of iniquity comes making a baseless charge of corruption, and this is what the committee finds the Mergenthaler Company has done in this case. . . .’ ”

A Committee of Investigation, named the Keep Committee, for its chairman, C.H. Keep, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, was appointed and conducted a thorough investigation of the charges. The Mergenthaler Company lost no time in announcing in another advertisement, printed on pink paper, that “Linotype Charges of Unfairness Sustained/Public Printer Discharged/Recent Purchase of Type-Setting Machines ‘Improvident/Indicates Great Partiality and Bias.’ “

Monotype countered with a four-pager printed on yellow stock in which it printed a label alleged to have been attached to all proofs of type set by the Linotype machine: “Notice. Composition on this work was done on Linotype Machines. Avoid changes.” This was followed by the testimony taken at the hearings, which happened to be favorable to the Monotype.

While the Keep Committee exonerated the Lanston firm from all “aspersion as to undue influence,” it did recommend that the contract for the seventy-two machines be revoked, a suggestion which President Roosevelt did not act upon. An editorial appearing in the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin stated: ‘The commission finds that the most serious charges made against the Lanston Monotype Company are not sustained. At a time when much corruption is being uncovered, in the public service and elsewhere, it is a matter for general rejoicing that this corporation should have been able to maintain its integrity. That the Lanston Monotype Company did try, and not without success, to sell its machines to the Government; that it kept them prominently before the principal officers of the public printing establishment; that it extolled their merits in season and out of season; that it pushed them to the front with untiring persistency—these are the charges that the company’s officers may bear with equanimity. With such matters the public has no concern. . . .”

These are, after all, but the commonly accepted principles by which gentlemen conduct business in the United States!

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