Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Linotype Operators: A Dead Occupation

Took picture of this Linotype machine on display in a front window of the Clearfield Progess Newspaper building, Clearfield Co., PA. The poster reads: "For many years, the linotype was an integral part of the newspaper business. With growth of the offset printing process and the change from hot metal type to computers and other complicated machinery, the linotype machine is, as the Model T Ford, a museum piece. The Linotype is a Comet 300 model built by Mergenthalen Linotype Company, NY.

Several of my ancestors were or became coal miners after they immigrated to America and settled in western PA. None of their descendants are coal miners today. Mining was and still is a dangerous occupation, and I can understand why my ancestors wanted to get out of the industry.

In the early 1930s, my father's biological brother, Russell Stryke, nee. Strike, was a composing room foreman at the Alexandria Gazette in Virginia. He traveled to Ramey, Clearfield Co, PA, and convinced his aunt, Martha Streich Kramp, who was fostering his younger brother, Robert, that he could apprentice him to the printing trade. So, my father, at the age of 16, learned to be a linotype operator at the Alexandria Gazette, and later at The Washington Evening Star, and finally at the Government Printing Office, Patent Section.

As a young boy, I remember going downtown in the District of Columbia (Washington, DC), to the Evening Star building and meeting my father at his job in a room full of Linotype machines. All the surfaces were black with ink and the room smelled of ink. I can understand why it is said that a printer has ink in his blood. Dad showed me how he sat at the keyboard and clinked the keys so that individual letters made out of hot lead fell into a tray at his side. Eventually a mold of the composition would be formed and taken to the presses where it was inked and pressed into the rolls of newsprint.

Incidentally, I was at the Clearfield Progress to obtain the recent obituary of Thomas H. HAAS, son of John G. Haas and Cora Mae EMIGH. Thomas died earlier this year at the age of 79 years.

Family History is where you find it.


Jeffrey Shallit said...

Interesting - my grandfather was a linotype machinist - born in Lewiston, North Carolina and later made his way to New York, where he worked for the New York Herald Tribune.

Andrew Jason said...

Hi There!

A writer I know is looking for a former Linoptype operator to interview him about some aspects regarding working on these machines. I am a former Mergenthaler employee. I am trying to help this writer find a former Linotype operator.

Is your father still alive and able to answer a few questions on the phone?

Thanks so much,

Andrew Jason
305 710 8324

Bob Kramp said...

Sorry Andrew, wish I could help you find a former linotype operator, but my Dad died 36 years ago. They were still using the outdated Linotypes at the Government Printing Office, in the 1970s, when my father passed.

hydrok said...

I am a former linotype operator. My training began in 1952 at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California at the age of 12. I opened my first typesetting shop in Van Nuys, California where I owned a Model 5 and a Model K(?) Mergenthaler linotype machines and i Intertype machine typesetting machine. My preference was always with Intertype machines as they just seemed to work better. I did 90% of the maintenance and had a roving machinist to do monthly service. Sold the business in 1973.

I now manufacture multi-focal contact lenses and have been doing so since 1974.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blog to see and read. My father was a linotype operator in Pittsburgh, PA. He was born in 1921 and raised in Pittsburgh. He attended Connelly Trade School, took part in WWII in Germany and after his return worked as a linotype operator and repairman for the rest of his life. I still remember the stories he would tell me about the machines breaking down or acting finicky. He was a wiz with any type of machinery and was always able to repair them, far better than even the union machinists who, because of their protectionist union culture didn't really want him touching the machines. He worked for William G. Johnston Company in the North Side of Pittsburgh until it closed it's doors. Sometime after that he worked for Friediani printing company and became friends with the owner and his sons. I'll always appreciate the fact that they hired my dad and kept him on, allowing him to have some dignity in his later years. Sadly he passed away in 1988. To this day I still love both of my parents and think of them often.


Bob Kramp said...

Carl, thanks for sharing your story about your Dad and his experiences with linotype machines and the printing trade. It makes our personal family histories unforgettable

Duke Harding said...

My grandfather, father, brother, and myself were all Linotype Operators...
My grandmother was the first female linotype operator at the Chicago Tribune.
For my 16th birthday, I wanted, and received a Mergenthaler, Model #16 Linotype Machine . . . It was in a de-greasing tank, and the first time I saw it, it was hanging from a contraption above a tank of chemicals. I helped re-build the machine. Took a 2-3 years.
I was thinking of the machine me to do a search on "Who or what, was a Linotype Machine Operator?"
Ended up here....

Anonymous said...

hi there - I am doing some research on the Linotype machines, it would be great if I could have the opportunity to speak with either Hydrok, or Duke Harding. If either/both of you would let me know the best way to get in touch with you I would really appreciate it. I wont take up too much of your time. Thanks so much!

Mike O'Hare said...

I was a Linotype operator during the 60s when employed by a newspaper group in the UK. You can find a picture of me at my machine on this link which is taken from my web site

Anonymous said...

I was a linotype operator in Tasmania, New Zealand and Queensland Australia in the 50s, 60s,70s and 80s

Enrique gutierrez said...

I consider myself in the group of young Linotype operators still alive. I´m 68 at the present time and started working in these machines at the age of 14, doing daily maintenance. My father taught me the principle steps and began working at 19 and kept a model 5 in beautiful working conditions until 2006 when computer finally took over. I had to move my shop to another facility and environmental zoning rules denied the use of the machine in most areas.I not only became an operator but in the process learned how to fix them. Once you operate one of these wonders, and do some mechanic work successfully, learning to operate any other printing press will not become a hard task. I operated offset presses, the Heidelberg windmill just by going over the instruction manuals. Little teaching was needed, only the conviction that once you learn the Linotype, anything else will be easy.

I truly want to share some experiences with other fellow operators of my era or maybe the older ones that are still alive.

No body else, except Linotype operators, will ever know or understand what these machines meant to us. How so many moving parts could work in such harmony and seldom times brake down, as long as they had proper daily maintenance according to the manufacturer.



Harold Sewell said...

I was a Linotype operator, mostly on small-town dailiea and weeklies in Texas in the 1950's. I am now 82 years old. Never a machinist but a decent operator. I know a lot about the culture of small newspapers of that era. I also worked in a yearbook fspublishing firm in Dallas and a company that printed law briefs and court transcripts ln Houston. There were lots of jobs for people with skills. Haeold

Harold Sewell said...

write me. a lot to tell