220px-Paige_CompositorJames Paige’s machine swallowed up $200,000 to $300,000 of Samuel Clemens’ money. That’s around half a million of today’s money. Like so many attempts at automating typesetting the machine never overcame its difficulty in making all its many components get along with one another. It was constantly in need of maintenance, and ended up missing the bus, partly because the perfectionist Paige couldn’t resist tinkering with the design. John Lienhard tells us that the Paige machine was 60% faster than the competition (when it was actually running). Codex 99 expands

In theory the Compositor was indeed the perfect typesetter. As Thompson wrote in the Inland Printer: “An adept operator could assemble certain syllables and even complete words at the 109-character keyboard. The justifier utilized 11 different sizes of spaces to fill the spacing between words. The distributor, as it returned the dead matter to its proper channels, removed any damaged or bent type.” It was also one of the most complicated machines ever built, containing more than 18,000 parts including “800 shaft bearings and cams and springs innumerable.”

This complexity is perhaps best seen in Paige’s epic 1887 patent application which included 275 drawing sheets, 123 specification sheets and 613 claims. “The Whale” as it was known by the Patent Office was the largest patent application in US history. It took eight years to review, with one examiner spending a month onsite with the machine, another dying during review and yet another going insane.

Like so many inventors Paige just loved inventing. It’s quite possible he actually had designed the best possible typesetting machine. The trouble was that the best possible wasn’t what the world was actually waiting for. A machine that’d work adequately would fit the ticket. Paige finally had a machine he was willing to patent in 1887. Unfortunately for all concerned this was three years after the Linotype had been introduced. Confident that their superior machine would ultimately prevail Paige, egged on by Twain, continued to tinker. A test at The Chicago Herald in 1894 was a breakdown disaster. The company went bankrupt in 1887. James Paige died penniless in 1917.

Only two Paige machines were ever made. One remains, and can be seen at Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT. If only Twain had bet on Ottmar Mergenthaler!

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