One line at a time

Ottmar Mergenthaler already had been the subject of a Cavalcade of America historical-biography radioplay in 1937, but here he is getting the Hallmark Hall of Fame treatment 16 years later… a story that includes a suspenseful beginning for anyone who doesn’t recognize his name. Perhaps in 1953 it was still familiar? (Certainly Hollywood star Lionel Barrymore, the narrator, was better known then.)

This starts as an “Everything must begin with a dream” romance-in-America immigrant drama, and then a man walks into the shop and explains how a newspaper — remember them? — was set in type, one letter at a time, a process little changed in the 400 years since Gutenberg spread the magic of movable type.

Image from a 1986 APHA centennial publication.

Mergenthaler, originally a watchmaker, went the next step… and his Linotype machines, full of cogs, levers, molten lead and matrices, fed news into the columns of daily newspapers — and more — for a century. Of course Hallmark Hall of Fame took liberties to compress his life and invention within its broadcast half hour. For more detail, see the PDF of the printing history newsletter linked beneath the illustration.

Personal perspective: My own byline was set in hot type for most of my first decade as a newspaper reporter. But then optical and digital “cold type” arrived — even before that American Printing History Association publication about the 1986 Linotype centennial — and Mergenthaler’s inventions became museum pieces.

The Old Time Radio Researchers Group has updated its Hallmark episode collection at the Internet Archive, and WordPress has updated the smartphone app I’m using to post this, and the combination made this posting painless, along with voice to text on my smartphone.

Thanks to the collectors who save, restore, digitize and freely share radio recordings, and to the Internet Archive, which hosts them in such a way that I can link to them, and also to the programmers who make WordPress. They all make it possible for me to share my search for newspaper journalism related stories from the golden years of American radio broadcasting. If only Mergenthaler could see this system at work!

— Bob Stepno

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 19th century, historical figures, History, newspapers, technology, true stories. Bookmark the permalink.

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