Buried in Baltimore: Episode One: Ottmar Mergenthaler

  Curious about whose corpses are rotting in your hometown? Read this retrospective about Ottamar Mergenthaler,  the 19th century German immigrant who invented the linotype machine, in this great article, which, unlike this blurb, is anything but macabre.

Born in Germany in 1854, Ottmar came to the U.S. via Baltimore’s own Locust Point. He was eighteen years old and decided to leave his home country to avoid being forced to join the army. From Baltimore, he moved to D.C. to become a watchmaker, having apprenticed in Germany. Two years later in 1874, he relocated to Baltimore.

Ottmar became fascinated by type setting. He wanted to create a more reliable model than the other typesetting machines at the time. In 1883, he opened his own shop, and in 1886 Ottmar had invented his own typesetting machine- the linotype.

The machine was able to transfer and print a “line of type” onto a piece of paper using hot metal. While its purpose was simple, the machine itself was very complicated. It involved a ninety letter keyboard, and occasionally heated liquid metal would spill onto the leg of the typist.

The New York Tribune was the first paper to utilize  the invention. Ottmar’s machine both cast and stamped type, making it much more efficient than the other machines at the time. Thomas Edison called it the “eighth wonder of the world.”

Unfortunately, Ottmar died of tuberculosis in 1899. He’s buried in Loudon Park Cemetery in Catonsville. His company, Mergenthaler Linotype Company is still in business and is home to one of the world’s biggest font libraries.

Linotype machines became standard use for many newspapers. Thousands were used world wide in many different languages, but by the 1970s the linotype machines were being phased out in favor of computerized printing systems.

Today, there is still a linotype machine at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Ray Loomis, a volunteer there, gives demonstrations on Saturdays. Another piece of Ottmar’s legacy is his namesake high school: the Mergenthaler Vocational Technical Senior High School, known more commonly as MERVO.

 

 

 

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