On Wed, 24 Aug 2005 08:14:47 -0400, Peter T. Daniels
<grammatim@...> wrote:

> This is something other than the typewriter on which *Huckleberry Finn*
> became the first ms. submitted in typescript?

Good Heavens, yes. It was a full-fledged typesetter, and exceedingly
complicated. The patent on it was nicknamed "The elephant" in the U.S.P.O.
for decades; it ran for 163 pages. The machine weighs something like three
tons or more. Only two were built, and one (donated to Columbia U., iirc)
was scrapped for the metal, long ago. One report I read said that the
typography it could produce was first-rate. It seems to have justified by
a method similar to what's used for hand-set type, instead of the simple
opposed wedges (spacebands) of Linotype/Intertype. Mark Twain used up most
of his fortune in its development, but seems to have been smart enough to
stop funding before he "went broke".

Its complexity was bound to make it unreliable at first, even with
talented machinists and engineers. There's a topic called "managing
complexity" in engineering; software can become unmanageably complex*,
because restrictions on complexity have, for the most part, been removed.
In software, there are nothing like the physical restrictions on
complexity of a mechanism. *Some say Windows XP has reached that point. I
think of a "house of cards" that fills most of a blimp hangar. :)

Babbage's Analytical Engine (detailed plans made, but not built) was, in
concept, something like a very-ambitious modern CPU chip; it was extremely
complex, partly because it had many more than one, of some kinds of
mechanisms akin to calculators*. (Babbage's Difference Engine, however,
was recently built, completely, in England; Doron Swade, afaik, deserves
much credit.)

The Paige Compositor was one of those remarkably-complicated devices that
became possible to make in the late 19th Century as mechanical engineering
and machine tools improved.

While it had a lot of promise, and worked, sometimes, Ottmar
Mergenthaler's Linotype was much simpler, and a commercial success. That
was true, even though the Linotype molded lines from hot metal as type was
set, while the Paige must have re-used the type itself, in a way that must
be similar to how the Linotype matrices (molds) were re-used.

> You're probably closer to Hartford now than I am -- why not pop over to
> his house museum and see what they've got?

Well, I've considered that. Travel isn't as easy as it once was, but, the
weather's cooler, now! Actually, Hartford is almost halfway between NYC
and Boston. Fwiw, I noted some awful typos at the beginning of their Web
page about the Compositor*, and "loose" instead of "lose" (another common
instance of "Popular English"). Got an ack. message this morning;
Webmaster now knows.
*It seems to be called "Composer" or "Typesetter", iirc, in modern

Fairly sure there was a fairly-detailed article about the Paige
[Compositor] in Invention & Technology magazine within the past few years.

{Still trying not to let the e-mail backlog become a "time sink". :)
Having a curious mind makes Life harder to manage for some of us!}


Nicholas Bodley /*|*\ Waltham, Mass. (Not "MA")
"Aluminum is not a metal... {long pause} Is it?"
...Anonymous young middle-class worker, likely NW
Euro./Brit. heritage, building a sidewalk restaurant
extension near Columbia U., ca. 1975