For an unidentified number of years, an undated and understated picture of the tools used in the hot metal typesetting process hung on a wall in a shadowy corner of the Hannibal Courier-Post business office.
The print, glued to a paper backing and displayed in a sprung, certificate-style frame, blended in with the newspaper office’s vast history, barely gaining a casual glance over the course of recent years.
Perhaps somebody who remembered the era that ended in the early 1970s put the print in that old black frame, and – and finding a nail already embedded in the wall – selected a spot for display.
Even the current Courier-Post editor, who has 38 years of tenure at the newspaper, postdates the era of hot metal type. But Kenny Linnenburger, who in 1975 taught the fledgling reporter who would one day become editor the difference between a pica pole and a ruler, does remember.
He was the last person to operate the linotype machine – a key component in the hot metal printing process – for the Courier-Post.
“We worked with it here until about 1972, then we switched over to cold type and that was history, Linnenburger – who still works at the Courier-Post one day a week – said. Even after the rest of the newspaper had converted to cold type, classifieds continued to be built on the linotype machine. Linnenburger was the last to run the machine before they shut it down, he said.
“Everybody went to cold type then, whether you wanted to or not. If you didn’t want to, you left,” he said.
“We had to go to the high school and take a typing class in order to keep our jobs, and we had to type at least 50 words a minute. Before then, there were like 14 people back there (in the composing room) and they all had different days off during the week because we published six days a week. I would run their machines when they were off. I had a vast amount of knowledge of running different linotype machines; these guys that I was replacing, they did the same thing every day; I would do different things every day. Those who weren’t working on the linotype machines worked “on the floor,” putting pages together, or ads together. On the floor signifies you stood up all day. On the linotype you were sitting down at the keyboard.
He started working at the Courier-Post on April 22, 1957, and retired 43 years later. He has worked part time since then.
Looking at the picture that hangs on the wall – now in the editor’s office – brought back many memories for the former linotype operator.
“That brassy looking container,” he said, pointing to the picture, “has petroleum in it and you take a rag and push down and it squirts gasoline or whatever into your rag. You wipe the ink off (the type) after you’ve printed with a set up like that. This is a hand set stick that you pick up individual characters with. You have to tighten it to the specified length of the line to correspond with the form that you’re going to use it in.
“The rest of this stuff is spacing. Not sure what those corners are for. These are locking mechanisms, two pieces that have little teeth in them, the coin key fits down in between them and you twist it and it tightens against this form. You can pick it up and put it on the press.”
The type would be recycled every day. “We had a remelt pot in the corner of the composing room, the ink would create quite a fog. There wasn’t any concern about our health as far as that was concerned, which is pretty humorous compared to the way things are today,” he said.
The linotype slugs were remelted into pigs. “They were hunks of metal, they had a hole at the top where the little pieces didn’t come together and they would hang on the linotype and go down as the metal pot would be used up. The cold would go back and replenish the metal pot and complete the recycle,” Linnenburger said.
Type went into type cases or drawers, such as the one that the editor found for sale at an antique shop on Hill Street last summer, across the street from the boyhood home.
“Every letter that is in the alphabet, every number, every punctuation mark is all in that tray” Linnenburger said. The caps are all in the upper section, the upper third. The lower two thirds was the rest of your numbers, comas, periods, colons, all that.
“With the keystroke the letters fell into place.”
There were a series of different drawers, with different size type, different face type, usually in a family, 18 point, 24 point, 30, 36, 48, 60 - which made them graduated in size.
“I’d like to find a linotype and go see if I could run it again. I remember the key strokes and word combinations. “were” … I can think about how my fingers went … there … different words like that, word combinations. You didn’t actually spell them out in your mind. The keyboard was not anything like a typewriter. When we had to go learn how to type, we had to really concentrate. The keyboards are completely different. Totally.”
Recalling the days when 'hot metal' was standard for newspaper printing
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