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Manufacturers Index - Ott. Mergenthaler Co.
Last Modified: Aug 7 2018 11:51AM by Jeff_Joslin
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Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the Linotype machine, an important innovation for the printing industry that casts a line of type from a line of female letter-molds. Prior to this invention, newspapers were limited to a few pages because that was all that could be typeset in the time available. Mergenthaler conceived his machine in the late 1870s and perfected it over the next decade. He was granted 50 patents on his invention before he had his first fully working prototype, which occurred in late 1886. His company, the Ott. Mergenthaler Co., was established in the mid-1880s (1886, according to some sources) to develop and manufacture the Linotype machines. Please note that the Linotype machine, though of considerable historical interest, is outside the scope of the VintageMachinery website, which focuses on woodworking and metalworking machinery plus the engines and motors that power them. All of the above is background to the Ott. Mergenthaler's manufacture of a milling machine.

Patent drawing for Mergenthaler's universal milling machine

In 1891 another company was formed, the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. of New Jersey, to take over the rights to the Linotype machine. After the successful introduction of the machine, Mergenthaler applied his inventive genius to developing a series of machinery for making the matrices, which are the type-molds, one per character, that are assembled to create the mold for a line of type. While developing these machines he also developed and patented a milling machine adapted for more general production use. Beginning about 1898 the Ott. Mergenthaler Co. began manufacturing and selling his innovative universal milling machine with geared feed. Production continued for only a short time before ceasing in favor of milling cutters, adjustable reamers, and taps that we suspect were developed by Mergenthaler in the course of working out the manufacturing process for his Linotype machine and the matrices.

On November 25, 1891, the Mergenthaler Linotype Company of New Jersey assumed all American rights of the National Typographic Company and its licensee, the Mergenthaler Printing Company of New York. Philip T. Dodge, formerly the patent attorney for Remington, was elected president. Early manufacture and sale of Linotype machines grew dramatically: from ninety-seven machines during the ten months of the first fiscal year to 690 by 1894. Within three years, the company boasted one hundred daily newspapers as customers. In December 1895, the company reincorporated as the Mergenthaler Linotype Company of New York, and assumed all the properties and franchises of the previous Mergenthaler Company. Despite its shared name, the Mergenthaler Linotype Company emerged as a distinct corporate entity from inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler.

Meanwhile, Mergenthaler had contracted tuberculosis. Moving to a dryer climate failed to halt the progression of the disease and he died, age 45, in October of 1899. A couple of weeks later, he was posthumously granted a series of patents for his universal milling machine and the other machinery for producing matrices. Those machines included a bar-stock-straightening machine, punch press, stamping press, and automatic milling machines for mass-producing small parts.

Information Sources

  • There were both predecessor and successor companies to the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. of New Jersey, respectively the Mergenthaler Printing Co. of New York and the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. of Brooklyn. Various secondary information sources do not do a good job of differentiating between the various Mergenthaler companies and in any event we are only interested in the one company that manufactured general-purpose milling machines.
  • The 1903 book, History of the Composing Machine, by John S. Thompson, is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the development of the Linotype machine and related machinery. Of Mergenthaler's invention he says, "The Linotype was the culmination of seven years of fruitless struggling to produce a machine to displace hand composition by various means. Transfer processes, impression letter by letter and line by line into papier-mach√©, all had their place and use in developing the inventor's mind and preparing it for his crowning success..."
  • Wikipedia biography of Ottmar Mergenthaler.
  • Baltimore Heritage page on Mergenthaler.
  • August 1903 Machinery article on the Mergenthaler shops. A quote worth noting: "Among other interesting features of this shop which are the product of Mergenthaler's genius, are a number of his universal milling machines. Quite a number of these machines were built and sold. They are unique in a number of features, having for instance, geared feed. So far as we know this is the first knee-and-column type of milling machine built and sold having geared feed."
  • A search failed to turn up any advertisements or articles showing photographs or detailed drawings of the Mergenthaler universal milling machine. An article in the July 1918 Machinery provides a historical review of supports for milling machine arbors, and the Mergenthaler universal milling machine gets a mention and a line drawing.