Lanston, Tolbert

SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
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b. 3 February 1844 Troy, Ohio, USA
d. 18 February 1913 Washington, DC, USA
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American inventor of the Monotype typesetting machine.
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Although reared in a farming community, Lanston was able to develop his mechanical talent. After serving in the American Civil War he secured a clerkship in the Pensions Office in Washington, where he remained for twenty-two years. He studied law in his spare time and was called to the Bar. At the same time, he invented a whole variety of mechanical devices, many of which he patented. Around 1883 Lanston began taking an interest in machines for composing printers' type, probably stimulated by Ottmar Mergenthaler, who was then in Washington and working in this field. Four years' work were rewarded on 7 June 1887 by the grant of a patent, followed by three more, for a machine "to produce justified lines of type". The machine, the Monotype, consisted of two components: first a keyboard unit produced a strip of paper tape with holes punched in patterns corresponding to the characters required; this tape controlled the matrices in the caster, the second and "hot metal" component, from which types were ejected singly and fed to an assembly point until a complete line of type had been formed. Lanston resigned his post and set up the Lanston Type Machine Company in Washington. He laboured for ten years to convert the device defined in his patents into a machine that could be made and used commercially. In 1897 the perfected Monotype appeared. The company was reorganized as the Lanston Monotype Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, and Lanston devoted himself to promoting and improving the machine. Monotype, with Mergenthaler's Linotype, steadily supplanted hand-setting and the various inadequate mechanical methods that were then in use, and by the 1920s they reigned supreme, until the 1960s, when they themselves began to be superseded by computer-controlled photosetting methods.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Franklin Institute Cresson Gold Medal 1896.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1913, American Printer (March).
L.A.Legros and J.C.Grant, 1916, Typographical Printing Surfaces, London.
J.Moran, 1964, The Composition of Reading Matter, London.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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