October 12

In the city of Chicago the American Newspaper Publishers Association conducted on this day in 1891 a test to determine whether or not typesetting by machine was really efficient and practicable and to find which of the machines then under development was the best for newspaper purposes. The machines pitted against one another in this match were the Linotype, the Rogers Typograph, and the McMillan.

In the report issued to its members the following January, ANPA reported that the McMillan machine produced the most type, 4,040 ems per hour, but that, “while exhibiting the highest typographical excellence in its composition, because justified by hand, nevertheless by reason of the fact that it requires three skilled workmen to produce its results, it is not to be preferred on the score of economy for use in newspaper offices under ordinary working conditions.”

The next speediest was the Linotype which turned out 3,082 ems, but the committee was not impressed. “That, so far as revealed by this test,” the report read, “the Linotype machine, while showing bursts of speed exceeding the capacity of its competitors, yet owing to the recklessness of the operator, the absence of any superintendent, and possibly to the too delicate and complicated mechanism, fell far short in the general result of accomplishing what had been claimed for its owners and others.”

Although the slowest of the machines being tested (2,684 ems per hour) the Rogers Typograph was the most highly praised. “That so far as revealed by this test, the Rogers Typograph produced the best and most economical results. Its simplicity of construction was so great that it was set up ready for running in ninety minutes. For five consecutive working days no machinist or other party than the operator had anything to do with the machine, and it ran smoothly with scarcely a moment’s interruption for the entire period of the test.”

After four hundred and fifty years of typesetting by hand, by the closing decade of the 19th century it was evident that machine composition was getting ready to take over. Perhaps the substance of the opinions of comps about the upcoming automation is contained in a paragraph appearing in the trade press a year or so before the Chicago test: “Typesetting machines are getting more numerous, but printers do not seem to be greatly alarmed as no machine has yet been devised that can think.”

As every issue of the trade periodical contained doggerel written by printers, it was natural that the typesetting machine would be the subject matter of some of the amateur rhymers. One laureate sang:

Ye printers, dear, what’s this I hear,
the news that’s going round?
A great machine, to take your place,
has surely now been found;
It’ll set the type quite neatly, at a
most tremendous speed,
And the clever printer man, they say,
we shall no longer need.”

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