1900 – 1949 – The hot metal era

This page documents the major events in the history of prepress from the first half of the 20th century. During this era all typesetting is done using molten lead and mechanical devices such as Linotypes. Sophisticated, often surprisingly large camera’s are used for handling line-art or images. The first photocomposition devices which use photographic film or paper to set type are developed in the 1940s.


The Linotype Ideal is a more cost-efficient version of the Linotype typecasting machine, making typesetting affordable for smaller companies. The image below of a person operating a Linotype machine is from The Book Of Wonders, a 1915 book about ‘the wonders of nature and the wonders produced by man’.

Hermann Ridder founds the International Typesetting Machine Company, or Intertype as it is usually called. Several Linotype engineers join the company and help design a simpler typesetter with fewer, but more standardized, parts than the Linotype. The first Intertype is installed in late 1912 at the New York Journal of Commerce. Below is an advert from 1925.

Advert for hot metal typesetting equipment from the International Typesetting Machine Company

The Daily Sketch is a typical example of the British tabloid newspapers of the era, its main competitor being the Daily Mirror. Its 12-page issues offer human interest news stories, news about sports, serialized stories, competitions and other features that entertain as much as they inform. The front page shown below is from 1916 when the newspaper devoted extensive coverage to the war. The Daily Sketch is published from 1990 to 1971.

Daily Sketch


Édouard Belin’s develops the Belinograph, a device to sending pictures using a regular telephone line. Sending halftone photographs by telegraph or telephone is called wirephoto, telephotography or Belino. The Associated Press begins its Wirephoto service in 1935, using a picture of an airplane crash.

One of the first wirephoto devices to transmit pictures over telephone lines


The London Underground starts using Johnston as its corporate typeface. A redesigned version is still in use today, making it one of the world’s longest-lasting examples of corporate branding. Edward Johnston’s student Eric Gill will use this sans-serif typeface as the model for his own Gill Sans.

Johnston typeface


This picture of the pressroom of the Fitzwilliam Company in New Orleans shows a cylinder press to the left and a few small platen presses to the right. Several presses are powered using belts connected to a drive shaft on the ceiling.

Source: Wikimedia Commons


The Barnhart Brothers & Spindler type foundry release Cooper Black, a heavily weighted, display serif typeface designed by Oswald Bruce Cooper. The typeface is used a lot in advertising during certain decades while being maligned during others.

Cooper Black typeface example

The same year The Charter Stamp Company is founded, which for decades will produce an elaborate collection of toy stamp sets that will make children familiar with typesetting and relief printing.

John Bull Printing Outfit


Walter W. Morey invents the teletypesetting or TTS process, in which a punched paper tape is used to drive a typecaster such as a Linotype or Monotype.

Eric Gill creates Gill Sans, a sans-serif typeface that becomes popular after being selected in 1929 as the unique typeface for the London and North Eastern Railway posters and publicity material.

Gill Sans Light

A superficially similar typeface from the same era that is still popular today is Futura, created by German typeface designer Paul Renner.

Futura Book


Stanley Morison creates an updated version of Bembo for The Monotype Corporation. It is a recreation of a typeface originally cut by Francesco Griffo around 1496. The typeface got its name from being used in a book authored by Cardinal Bembo.

Bembo Regular

That same year Dr.-Ing. Rudolf Hell founds his company, initially focussing on the development of Morse devices.


Many consider Excelsior, a serif typeface designed by Chauncey H. Griffith, the best newspaper typeface of all time.


Xerography, a dry photocopying technique, is invented by Chester Carlson. A decade later the Haloid Company, which will later become Xerox, licenses the patent for commercial use.


The Bobst AP 900 Autoplatenautomatic flatbed die-cutter can process over 4000 sheets per hour, compared to 1200 for a manual press.


In Switzerland Martini develops the first adhesive binding machines. Adhesive binding, or perfect binding as it is usually called, is mainly used for paperback books.


Marjory Collins photographs the production of the New York Times in order to document home front activities for the U.S. Office of War Information.

It all starts in the newsroom. These copy readers check all dispatches from the US reporters outside New York City.

New York Times - 1942 newsroom

Associated Press and other wire services also provide a constant stream of incoming news reports.

New York Times - wire services

Reporters and rewrite men write stories or are waiting to be sent out. The rewrite man in the background get the store on the phone from a reporter outside.

New York Times - reporters

Text is composed on Linotype machines.

New York Times - Linotype typesetting

Here you see the index being typeset manually with a Linotype on the background.

New York Times - typesetting the index in 1942

Meanwhile an operator in the photo engraving department is examining the dots on a screened image before the negative is transferred to a zinc printing plate.

New York Times - photo engraving

A compositor is making up the sports page in the composing room.

New York Times - composing room

In the plateroom plates are casted and prepared for mounting on the press. A marker indicates the cylinder position.

New York Times - casting plates in 1942

Pictures from the printing process can be found on the history of printing page. The entire collection of 84 photographs is hosted here.


The Intertype Fotosetter, the world’s first photocomposition device to use photographic media to set type, is installed in the Government Printing Office in Washington.

Hans Müller designs the first pad and booklet stitching machine for his company Grapha Maschinenfabrik. Five years later he builds the first perfect binder.


Photon announces their first machine, the Lumitype, which was based on the work of two French engineers. The development of such machines is made possible by advances in high-speed photography and electronics. The technology is often referred to as ‘cold type’, typesetting done without the casting of metal. Its commercial breakthrough will take place in the early fifties. The image below shows the Lumitype 550, a machine from 1965.

Picture of a photocomposer from 1964

That same year the July issue of Fortune magazine contains the first commercial scanned color image. It is produced using a scanner built by the Austin Company.

In Italy machine builder Giovanni Cerutti builds his first press. The rotogravure press prints PVC tablecoths. From 1950 onward the company also builds presses for magazine printing and packaging. In 1981 the company will expand into the USA. opening a production site in Pittsburgh. In the early 21st century they add presses for printing polymer banknotes to their product range.

Cerutti’s first press (source: Groupecerutti.com)

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2 thoughts on “1900 – 1949 – The hot metal era

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