Merganthaler, Ottmar

Merganthaler, Ottmar

(1854–99) inventor; born in Hachtel, Germany. After an apprenticeship in watch- and clock-making, he emigrated to the U.S.A. (1872) and began working in a scientific instrument shop in Washington, D.C.; he moved with his employer to Baltimore, Md., in 1876, becoming a full partner in 1880. In 1876 Merganthaler was asked to help improve a new machine that James Clephane had designed to help in the printing process; this led Merganthaler to spend much of his time during the next few years in trying to invent a totally new machine for setting type. After starting his own shop in 1883, he came up with the first machine that could cast type in bars of molten lead—the so-called linotype machine. It was patented in 1884 and Clephane, with whom Merganthaler had been working, helped set up the National Typographic Company to manufacture it, along with the Merganthaler Printing Company. Merganthaler was forced out of the business in 1888 over policy disagreements, but he never ceased to work at improving his machine, taking out over 50 patents and effectively revolutionizing the printing industry. He was recognized in his lifetime for his important contribution but he died prematurely of tuberculosis.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.