All that hot lead is gone!
In printing and typography, hot metal typesetting (also called mechanical typesetting, hot lead typesetting, hot metal, and hot type) is a technology for typesetting text in letterpress printing. This method, Linotype, injects molten type metal into a mold that has the shape of one or more glyphs. The resulting sorts or slugs are later used to press ink onto paper. Normally the typecasting machine would be controlled by a keyboard or by a paper tape.
July 1, 1978 was historic for The New York Times. It was the last time The Times was produced in hot type, principally on Linotype machines that cast one line of type at a time from molten lead.
“Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu,”
is a documentary made that night by David Loeb Weiss, a proofreader at The Times. The title is derived from the principal letters of the Linotype keyboard.
The keyboard was arranged by the frequency of the letters’ use. Row 1, from the top, was e – t – a – o – i – n. Row 2 was s – h – r – d – l – u. Often, when Linotype operators made a mistake, they would run a finger down the first two rows to produce the words “etaoin shrdlu” in the line of type; a clear warning to printers that it should be discarded.
The film, posted on Vimeo as a digital video and linked above, does more than explain the Linotype machine. “Without this film,” wrote David W. Dunlap a reporter at The Times for 39 years, “there would have been no way to convey to posterity what a big-city newspaper composing room looked and sounded like as the metal-and-muscle orchestra played its final staccato symphony.”