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How Books were made in 1947 [video] (youtu.be)
77 points by mmcconnell1618 on April 21, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments

That awesome typesetting machine is called a Linotype, and they're slowly disappearing. There's a cool Kickstarter project to film a documentary about them.


I've seen two in real life--one in a museum in Palo Alto, and another in a museum in Philomath, Oregon. Haven't ever seen one operate, though.

I've seen an actual Linotype still in use in Saint Léonard de Noblat. It's in a printing shop in activity since the late 15th century. They're also making their own paper, and still use a movable type printing press. A very interesting place to visit.

There's one in regular operation - and you can get your hands on it, too - at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

60 years from now "How software programs were written by Humans in 2011...Each line of code was written by a programmer who sat at his desk for hours sometimes".

"The typical OSs for the time were so flawed that most of the bugs had to be discovered by the end users"

A single human programmer could understand and hold in his mind an entire non-trivial program.

Very interesting to watch. I live in an older town in Maine and I think about half the books in the library are from the early 1900's. There is something really cool about reading them knowing somebody letter by letter had to typeset it.

Each letter is created from molten metal on the typesetting machine as the type setter presses keys. That's not something you see every day!

What happens if he makes a mistake, though? He can't really see what letter he pressed, can he?

He can pop that line out and replace it

Yes, but how does he know? Surely he must see the result before it goes off to the next stage, but in the video it looks like he has no feedback of what he typed.

I often catch myself making typos while not able to see what I'm typing (really really laggy ssh sessions). If it's this guy's job to sit there and type all day, I imagine he'd get pretty good at doing that.

Sure, but that's far from the 99.9% accuracy of books, so it doesn't explain it. He must have some sort of feedback mechanism not shown there, and it looks like it's all analog...

Most print shops had proof presses and proofreaders on staff back then.

Ah, that makes sense, thanks.

I have some friends that started a letterpress printing business and they have been able to pick up vintage machinery like this for pennies on the dollar. It is quite amazing seeing it in action.

What city are they in? I'd love to visit, or even volunteer to work on the line for a while. I started in print just as the DTP revolution was eliminating some of the old ways, I'd love to learn.

This is also where the layout term, leading comes from. They would use lead shavings in-between letters and words to space them out for readability.

Is it pronounced "led-ing", then?


Ah, you learn something new every day. Thanks.

Great video! I wonder what percentage of monthly household income an average book cost then as opposed to now.

US Census estimated 1947 median income at $3,000 (in 1947 dollars) http://www2.census.gov/prod2/popscan/p60-005.pdf

Cost of books in 1947? $0.25 to $2.50 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AmericasBestComics220...

$1.50 / $3,000 = 0.05% of income in 1947 $7.99 / $49,777 (2009) = 0.016% of income in 2009

Some other costs in 1947: Average Cost of new house $6,600.00 Average wages per year $2,850.00 Cost of a gallon of Gas 15 cents Average Cost of a new car $1,300.00 Loaf of Bread 13 cents United States Postage Stamp 3 cents Men's Sweater $8.50 Bulova Men's Watch $52.50 from http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1947.html

It's interesting to see how the whole process changed with the emergence of computers:

The typesetting part, that is knowledge based, was completly transformed by computers. And all those machines for the task disapeared.

And in the printing part, that is a physical process, you still have similar machines. Although there were optimized and modernized.

A noteworthy detail of the narration is that it tells a clear story about what can be achieved by hard working "men" and "girls".

The sexism was one story, the utter lack of safety regulations was another. While OSHA is frequently (and in many cases rightly) vilified for their bureaucratic nonsense and conflicting rules, watching people saw copper plates apart sans hearing protection and without any guards blew my mind.

I wouldn't read too much into it. I can't count the number of propaganda films I've seen that called soldiers "boys".

I don't have to read anything into it, I was raised in part by people who spoke that dialect. I can speak it. I can creep out people my age by using that dialect in its (creepy) nuances. I've got the grey hair to prove it and everything.

As it is used in that film, straight up, I assure you, it reflects sexism. And "boys" referring to soldiers isn't symmetric. How can I convey it... hmm...

"Men" as used here are tough, full adults. "This man does ..." means we're talking about someone plausibly a head of household. He's an individual. He's a complete adult.

"Girl" as used here means we are talking about females who aren't quite kids but neither are full adults. By default a "girl" is young and unmarried and in some ways fragile. She might be older and married but its a little sad she's still working then and, anyway, at most she's a mother hen to the girls who are younger and more typical of the group.

A fully (recognized as) adult woman in the workplace might be a "lady" or a "woman" depending on role and context. She could be "fine woman" and you oughta settle down and show some respect if you want to get anywhere in this organization. If youre gonna act like that why don't ya just head downstairs to the chat up the girls in the secretarial pool. Learn your place.

The jocular "the boys in this unit take a smoke break while the tanks get cleaned and readied for the next advance..." is a sign of camaraderie. It doesn't (like "girls") signal that they are juvenile, per se, it signals that they're an anti-hierarchical tough team. "girls" back then could be stretched to that same connotation but usually wasn't, especially in a non-wartime workplace.

That is absolutely wonderful. I still think we should be producing books like that. There is NOTHING which replicates the feel of a book made using a linotype.

I think recently, since anyone can publish stuff any old junk cheaply on that scale, that the quality of books has declined.

I don't think humans should be doing the text entry, too much room for human error.

But of computers enter the text and then the printing is still done by cast metal, you could have an interesting business.

I am sure that will be more expensive, but will people be willing to pay a premium?

Humans did fine with tippex and typewriters years ago. The delete key is a modern luxury. People were much better at typing accurately back then.

Computer search technology makes it so the amount of information available doesn't matter, as you can trim down the results from millions to tens. So that's not an issue anymore.

Information != Literature. Literature is just a bunch of toilet paper these days. Information is already concise and our search engines aren't that good at filtering it out yet (in fact I think they are mainly rubbish).

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