The "Square Base" Linotype

1890-1892 in the US

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1. Summary

This was the first "modern" Linotype. That is, it embodied all of the basic principles of the Linotype (as did the earlier "Blower" Linotype) but it had inclined removable magazines, a Second Elevator, and a solid Distributor Bar (probably with binary counting encoded for the sorting pattern in its rails). Most importantly, it introduced the Linotype matrix in the form with which all subsequent Linotype (and Intertype) matrices were compatible. It was the first machine advertised for general sale to the public.

It was not called the "Square Base" Linotype at the time (but simply the "Linotype" or the "New Linotype"). The name "Square Base" was given to it later, after the introduction of its successor, the Model 1.

Note: Some sources call this machine the "Simplex" Linotype (other sources call the Model 1 the "Simplex," and at least one source calls both the Simplex. However, I can find no evidence that this machine was called the "Simplex" during its manufacture or at any point for several decades after (until the 1930s in German and the 1950s in English). See the Notebook on the "Simplex" Linotype for a discussion of why I do not believe that "Simplex" is a valid name for either of these machines .

The Square Base machine tends not to be listed in later Mergenthaler technical documentation (e.g., Suggestions to Linotype Machinists {MLC 1914}). Parts for it are not included in any Mergenthaler parts books from at least 1905 (which is the earliest parts book that I have). It is not included in the Mergenthaler Catalog 22, which was prepared to cover parts still supplied for all supported machines (it begins with the Model 1).

2. Features

The Square Base Linotype continued the "etaoin" keyboard layout introduced with the Blower Linotype. The technical reasons for this magazine arrangement (and consequent keyboard layout) as articulated by Mergenthaler in his US patent 378,798 were no longer present on this machine. Where the Blower Linotype had vertical magazine tubes with the consequent risk of matrix damage due to excessive free-fall, the Square Base machine introduced inclined magazines which eliminated the free-fall of matrices. However, the "etaoin" arrangement, which was an arrangement in the magazine left-to-right by order of letter frequency, had two other advantages. First, it caused the most frequently used matrices to be distributed fastest (this was true with the Blower machine as well). Second, it reduced the risk of matrix transpositions on the newly introduced Matrix Delivery Belt due to fast keyboarding (this was a new condition in this machine, not present in the Blower Linotype).

An 1890 booklet by the Mergenthaler Printing Company claims that "the matrices for any type from agate to pica will run in the same channels, so any of the included fonts may be used on one machine." ( {MPC 1890}, p. 5) This is interesting, because Leonard Spencer's Intertype competitive information claims that its successor, the Model 1, could only run matrices up to 11 point (and that 12 point was achieved only with the Model 3 of 1902).

I do not know the maximum width of the mold, although mold liners could be used to reduce it ( {MPC 1890}, p. 5) I do not know how many mold pockets were in the mold disk.

I presume that the matrices used with the Square Base machine were compatible in format and depth-of-drive with later Linotype matrices, and (width and body size limitations aside) vice versa. I have not verified this against surviving matrices, however.

I presume that the magazines used with the Square Base machine were not interchangeable with later magazines. (The magazines of its successor, the Model 1, were not compatible with those of any other Linotype model according to {Spencer}.)

The weight of a Square Base machine wass given as "about 2,000 pounds" by the Mergenthaler Printing Company in 1890 ( {MPC 1890}, p. 5). By way of comparison, the official weight for a Model 1 Linotype, set up, was given as "about 1,925" pounds by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company ( {MLC 1914}, p. 13). So the savings in weight achieved by re-engineering the frame to the "star" base of the Model 1 was about 75 pounds. The apparent heaviness of the Square Base machine is largely illusory. (Of course, collecting Linotypes tends to warp one's perspective about the weight of machinery.)

Production of Square Base style machines continued outside of the US longer than it did in Brooklyn. Kahan indicates that production of the Square Base Linotype by The Linotype Company (not yet Linotype & Machinery) in England began in 1892 and that the model made there differed in some respects from the model made in Brooklyn. ( {Kahan 2000}, p. 222.) It was also made by the Canadian Linotype Company.

3. Survivors

A Square Base Linotype survives at the International Printing Museum in California. It was designated a Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the ASME on July 23, 2005. This machine is shown in the IPM's Wayzgoose Gazette, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2005), which is online at [sic].

A Square Base Linotype of English manufacture survives at the Science Museum (London). It is object no. 1928-303/1. A photograph and collection information for it are online the Science Museum's online collections catalog:

4. Illustrations and Literature

(See also the modern photographs of surviving machines in the references to these surviving machines noted earlier.)

An 1890 booklet by the Mergenthaler Printing Company (which was not reorganized into the Mergenthler Linotype Company until 1891), The New Linotype is online on William Spurling's website. The machine it illustrates has a magazine of slightly different appearance than those shown in later illustrations. The bibliographic entry for this is at and the booklet itself is at:

Thompson, in 1904, illustrates the "Square-Base Linotype - 1890" with the cut reprinted below. As it carries the legend "The Mergenthaler Linotype Co. New York" on the magazine, it must date from after the reorganization of the company under that name in 1891.

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Here is the machine as shown in {Pearson 1935}, p. 48.

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5. Threats in the Trade Press

The earliest advertisement by the Mergenthaler firm in The Inland Printer appeared in Vol. 7, No. 9 (July 1890), p. 848. In it, the Mergenthaler Printing Company warned the public that they controlled the patents on "All known Linotype Machines." The patents listed are 362,987 (Moore's patent on the slug-line), 313,224 (Mergenthaler's Second Band Machine), 317,828 (Mergenthaler's first recirculating matrix prototype machine), and 345,525 (Mergenthaler's improvements in double-wedge spacebands). (Schucker's double-wedge spaceband patent, 474,306, although filed 1885-02-27, was not issued until nearly two years after this ad, on 1892-05-02.) It is likely that this ad, referring to a suite of patents securing for the Mergenthaler company the right to all slug-line composing machinery, was an attack on the Rogers Typograph.

The list of patents in this ad does not necessarily go beyond the Blower Linotype (which makes sense, both because the basic patents for composing linecasters were in place for the Blower and because the patent for the Square Base Linotype (436,532) was not issued until September 16, 1890). Also, this ad appeared first in July 1890, two months before the first Square Base machine shipped. But nevertheless it must be referring to the Square Base machine, not the Blower, because it says "Any size of type from agate to pica can be produced upon the same machine." The Blower Linotype was restricted to a single body size, while these limits match those for "The New Linotype" ( {MPC 1890}, p. 5). This ad was repeated a total of three times:

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I am unaware of any advertisements in The Inland Printer which actually illustrate the Square Base machine.

6. A Quick Look at Transitional Machines

(For a more complete discussion of the place of this machine in the evolution of the Linotype, see the Timeline of Composing Linecaster Development.)

The engineering transition from the Blower machine to the Square Base was not instantaneous. The primary innovation of the Square Base machine was the inclined magazine. This eliminated the vertical drop of matrices in the magazine and consequent potential damage to them. But an inclined magazine puts the distributor at the rear of the machine. In the Blower Linotype it was directly over the assembling and casting mechanisms, and therefore the "first elevator" (if we may call it such) could lift the matrices directly up to the distributor. With the inclined magazine, some method had to be found to get the matrices to the top rear of the machine.

Mergenthaler's first attempt, as shown in US patent 436,532 filed 1889-03-15 as application serial number 303,396 and issued 1890-08-16, kept the "first elevator" of the Blower Linotype almost intact. It raised the matrices straight up to the distributor level, just as it did in the Blower. Distribution occurred at the front of the machine, directly above the assembling mechanism. But the magazine into which they were distributed was unlike that of any production machine ever built. It was an inclined 'U' shape (as viewed from the side, see Fig. 2 of the patent). Distributed matrices were swept into it and travelled first upward and backward and then, having passed the bend in the 'U' at the top back of the machine, downward and forward to the escapement. It can't be called an elegant solution, but it is without question a fascinating example of the evolution of machinery.

(Click on the image below for a PDF of the entire patent.)

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7. Square Base Linotype Patent

With Mergenthaler's US patent 436,532, filed 1889-11-11 as application serial number 329,908 and issued 1890-09-16 we finally have something which is recognizably a Linotype in all of its features (if not in the shape of its pedestal).

(Click on the image below for a PDF of the entire patent.)

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8. Notes and References

{Goble 1984} Goble, George Corban. The Obituary of a Machine: The Rise and Fall of Ottmar Mergenthaler's Linotype at U.S. Newspapers . Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 1984.

{Kahan 2000} Kahan, Basil. Ottmar Mergenthaler: The Man and His Machine. (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2000)

{Mergenthaler 1989} Mergenthaler, Ottmar and Carl Schlesinger, ed. The Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler, Inventor of the Linotype. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1989.

In 1898, Mergenthaler dictated his autobiography in the third person and published it anonymously as Biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler and History of the Linotype, Its Invention and Development . This present volume is Carl Schlesinger's edition of Mergenthaler's (auto)biography. It contains substantial additional material by Schlesinger, including his analysis of the electroformed matrices used for the first six months of operation of the "Blower" Linotype in 1886.

{MLC 1914} Suggestions to Linotype Machinists Brooklyn, NY: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1914.

{MPC 1890} The New Linotype. NY: Mergenthaler Printing Company, [n.d., but 1890 on internal evidence]

{Pearson 1936} Pearson, Frank. Ottmar Mergenthaler. [a "special historical number of"] The Business Printer. (July-August, 1935). Salt Lake City, UT: Porte Publishing Company, 1935.

{Romano 1986} Romano, Frank J. Machine Writing and Typesetting. Salem, NH: GAMA, 1986.

{Spencer} Spencer, Leonard. "Linotype Models." This is a compendium of Linotype model information compiled by the Intertype Corporation in the 1940s. Online at

{Thompson 1904} Thompson, John S. History of Composing Mchines. Chicago: The Inland Printer Company, 1904.