ASME-Landmark:Paige Compositor


Designed to replace the human typesetter of a printing press with a mechanical arm, the Paige Compositor was the first to simultaneously set, justify, and distribute foundry type from a common case using only one operator. Working out of a shop in Colt's Armory, James W. Paige invented this compositor in 1877 by combining his gravity typesetter with a Thompson distributor. It has 18,000 parts and numerous bearings, cams, and springs and could average 12,000 ems an hour.

The surviving machine, the first of two, was completed in 1887 under the direction of Charles E. Davis, a mechanical engineer who invented an automatic justifier to be used with the Paige machine. The second machine, completed in 1894, successfully participated that year in a sixty-day trial at the Chicago Herald—its only commercial application. Unfortunately, during its development, the printing industry moved from continuously recycling foundry type toward casting new type for each print.

Several promoters lost money on this project, including Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), a former printer who invested not only the bulk of his royalties from Huckleberry Finn and other books in its development, but also a large portion of his wife's inheritance. The failure drove the family to the brink of bankruptcy.

The surviving Paige compositor is displayed at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut; the only other machine was donated by Cornell University for a scrap metal drive during World War II. See ASME website for more information