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  • Experience is not manufactured

    The Hamilton industrial factory still stands along Lake Michigan in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Hamilton was once the largest manufacturer of wooden type fonts for industrial typeset letterpress printing. Moveable type orginated centuries ago (and is often attributed to Gutenberg, although that claim is debatable). 'The Macintosh computer ended it', a printer at Hamilton told me, 'up until the 1980s newspapers still used wood type for their headlines'. Knowledge of the process of making the world's oldest and most formidable form of widespread printed communication - moveable wooden type - is literally dying with the last of the former Hamilton employees.

  • Industrial work

    The manufacture of wooden type was factory industrial work, and conditions were loud, hot, and dangerous.

  • Relief

    Letterpress printing is a form of 'relief' printing, which means that the final image is created by pressing inked type to paper with considerable pressure, leaving the paper indelibly marked with the mirror image - 'relief' - of the letters and images. Type was all made backwards, so that the relief print would read in the correct direction.

  • Sorts

    Individual letters of type are called 'sorts'. Of course, printers' alphabets needed to include multiples of certain more often used letters, such as 'A' and 'S'. Letters like 'Q' and 'X' rarely required more than one or two sorts because they were infrequently used, and it was not often that a typesetter would need two 'Q's simultaneously. When printers did run out of necessary letters they would be unable to complete the spelling of words. Frustrated, they would be left 'out of sorts'.

  • Teeth

    Hardwoods were planed to the precise type height and were treated before being carved into individual type pieces.

  • Carving

    Letters were carved through a tracing machine that allowed a type carver to trace around a wooden 'master' letter that would then be replicated by a spinning drill attached to the tracing pen.

  • Hardwoods

    Hamilton type is made from heavy local woods like cherry, and each piece is a standardized height of .918 inches - a 'true inch'.

  • Detail

    Every letter of wood type went through a clean up process after initial carving, during which type makers would make finishing touches - like straightening rounded angles and trimming excesses.

  • lower case

    Drawers full of type ('cases') were stacked in cabinets around any printshop. When fonts were too large to fit in one drawer/case, they would be divided between to two cases: an upper case and a lower case.

  • Job case

    A 'case' is a drawer of type. The drawers are shallow and divided into a maze of smaller compartments, each holding the type for a particular letter or punctuation or symbol. The California Job Case concentrates the most used letters in larger compartments in the middle of the drawer for easy access. On the right of the drawer it keeps the upper case letters in alphabetical order. The case was designed before the letters 'J' and 'U' were in common useage, so they are added at the end of the alphabet.

  • Stacked letters

    A back hallway at Hamilton full of large wood type.

  • Proof press

    A proof press allowed for a quick print called a 'proof' to be made that could then be checked for errors by a proofreader before the locked-up type was put in presses that could print multiples more quickly.

  • p's & q's

    Type, mirror images of the printed letters, is easily confused, especially in smaller fonts. Hence, typographers were told to 'mind their p's and q's'.

  • Machinery

    A linotype machine would create a line of type by allowing the operator to type individual letters, which would arrange molds of those letters in precise order insine the machine. Molten lead would then be poured into the mold to create a line of type. The linotype then disassembled the molds and resorted them so that the next line could be typed and the molds arranged again.

  • Linotype

    Operating a linotype machine: printers were ultimately machinists as the trade industrialized.

  • Linotype keyboard

  • Columns

    The nature of wood type is such that it works best in large point sizes. Smaller letters were made my pouring molten lead into precise letter molds. The result was small fonts of moveable type that could be arranged and printed for standard reading. The method is teadious and requires the indivudual placement (and resorting) of every letter in a sentence, paragraph, chapter, book. The advent of linotype - lines of lead type created through a massive 'typewriter' and melted afterwards - allowed for quicker and less labor intensive layout.

  • Crib

    Hamilton realized his type materials could easily be used manufacturing other goods. The wooden spacing produced for letterpress printing worked well for crib construction, and the long, thin cabinets and drawers made for wood type were easily adaptable to flat files, architects tables, and medical cabinets.

  • Wallace vs Reagan

    Lead type

  • Font

  • Rule

    A sketch of a machine that would run a number of evenly spaced ink-pens over blank paper in order to create ruled pages.

  • Two

    A print of the largest piece of wood type yet found in the Hamilton factory hangs beind an automatic paper 'ruling' machine.

  • Wheels

  • Hamilton wood type

    In the recent past one of the large front rooms of the Hamilton factory has been converted into a small museum, run by a new generation of letterpress printers through a donation box and a rotating cast of interns.

  • Out front