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.”

Enjoy this rare look into the past. The video is only 29 min­utes but it cap­tures all that David Dun­lop promis­es. You can read his com­plete col­umn HERE