The Paige Compositor

The iconic 19th Century American writer Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens) started out his career as a typesetter. In his day, individual letters literally had to be taken out of pigeonholes and put together—some terms from that era persist to this day, such as "uppercase" (capital letters were stored in the upper row of pigeonholes) and "lowercase", as well as "cliché" (originally, a single piece of lead with a frequently used phrase; in modern usage, an overused phrase).

So once Mark Twain heard about an inventor named Paige who had built a semi-automatic typesetting machine, in which one typed on a keyboard and the machine set the copy, he sank nearly his entire fortune in the design. Alas, it appears the Paige Compositor was plagued by frequent mechanical failures: a competing design, Linotype, was slower but more reliable, and captured nearly the entire market until the advent of computerized typesetting.


A surviving Paige Compositor prototype is on display at Mark Twain House, which has been turned into a museum.


© 2016-2020 by Gershom Martin, adapted from
Scientist Personal theme.
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