November 25

The irrepressible inventive spirit of the American male during the 19th century is evident in the hundreds of patents filed in the Patent Office describing devices by which the laborious operation of setting type by hand might be automated, and as a byproduct the pockets of the inventor might be suitably garnished. One such patent, granted to O.L. Brown of Boston on this day in 1862, stated:

“This invention consists in placing the type in a case formed of cells of such a width as to admit of a single row of type, and using in connection therewith a sliding stick, together with a mechanism arranged in such a manner that the stick may be shoved along below the case, and brought to a proper relative position with any of the rows of type in the case, the type to be discharged from the case and properly deposited in the stick.”

In a similar vein was the invention of Henry Harger, of Delhi, Iowa, for which a patent was granted in 1860, which consisted “in the arrangement of machinery in connection with the type case by which the types are fed to the composing-stick, and of an arrangement of fingers and levers in connection with the composing-stick, by which the lines may be taken from the case and set in line.”

An even more wonderful and complicated mechanism is portrayed by the patent secured by D.B. Ray, of Circleville, Ohio, for a machine in which “tubes are so constructed that the type, as they are being distributed into hoppers by hand, shall be made to arrange themselves in passing through the tubes with the notched edges all turned the same way. The arm is twisted for the purpose of reversing the position of the type as it passes down. Catches are placed at the bottom of each tube to prevent the type from sliding out, which tubes are operated, when necessary, by a key. The composing-stick is so constructed, with a spring and slide attached, as to bring the type into a perpendicular position at whatever angle they may be dropped into the stick.”

William H. Mitchell, of New York City, received a patent in 1853 for a device which “consists of means for distributing types from the form, and setting them up in rows, within grooves, a given letter in each groove or row, with the faces of the types upwards, and in a line. From these grooves the types are removed, each row of a given letter at a time, and placed within slides or conductors which supply them to an apparatus connected with finger-keys. The striking of any given finger-key drops one of the types upon a series of belts, which are moved by pulleys; the belts conduct the type to a composing wheel or conductor, in the order in which the keys drop them.”

The following year Mr. Mitchell patented an improvement in his machine which “applies to the parts for dropping the types from the conductors on to the belt which carries it to the composing apparatus, and also comprises the invention of the wheel for setting up or composing type in a line.”

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