I recently watched the Linotype documentary. This feature length was released in 2012 and is essentially a film about the linotype machine. In fact, the director and producer Doug Wilson did a great job of ensuring this film was also very much about the fascinating stories of the people who know how to work this machine – the operators.
It was an education for me. The Linotype was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by Thomas Edison, it revolutionised printing and society. However, I didn’t really know what the linotype was before I watched the film, but by the end of the film I wanted to own one!
Just brilliant and I would encourage all designers to watch it. It gave a real insight into the history, the craft and the beauty of the linotyping machine.
I think watching it re-affirmed a few things for me:
It is important to collect the stories of people and things. To be able to ensure that items that had/have a massive impact on the way the world works don’t disappear from history without a reasonable record of how they existed. BUT it is important to do this in a captivating way, that excites people about the past and doesn’t bore.
Some people have incredible minds. Minds that can create incredible things. This film made me wonder in awe at the brilliance of the brains and engineers that created these incredible machines – that mechanically look like one of the most complicated machines ever.
You have to believe in your ideas. It took the inventor, the German clockmaker Ottmar Mergenthaler, 10 years of extremely hard work and a number of attempts to build a linotype machine that worked. However, it revolutionised the printing industry. Not only that, but it went on to change the literacy rates in America and change the way that people consumed information forever.
I think the most poignant scene for me was near the end. When the owner of a linotype machine, Joel, who had been a linotyper had to get rid of his machine. After failing to find a museum who wanted to house it or anyone else to take it in – he had to take it to the scrap yard. So Joel stands in front talking about the machine, whilst the brutal force of the bulldozer crunches this beautifully crafted machine in to lots of little bits behind him, until it no longer resembles the brilliance that it once was. All the importance of the machine that is built up over the course of the film, all the value of these machines is crushed before you – as their value in current day is more easily found by the mass weight of their scrap metal. Somehow you have to laugh at this scene, otherwise I think it might make you cry.
Today, very few machines are still in existence. As I write this on a computer, in Google Drive no less, I am all too aware of the reasoning behind this loss in value. The speed at which technology (and our consumption of it) is moving at such a pace – it is often incredibly hard to keep up. Let alone, to take the time to reminisce in the craft of these machines.
However, there is some incredible beauty in the industrial heaviness of these Linotype printers and the skill it took for the people to power them. People who didn’t master how to use the machines until they had worked with them for years and years. It is an impressive kind of dedication.
Farewell etaoin shrdlu