The Mergenthaler Linotype Company made innovative changes to the printing industry, making the process faster and more efficient with its hot metal typesetting machines, which needed asbestos insulation to operate. Most people who developed asbestos-related illnesses from this insulation repaired and maintained the Linotype machines. Though resulting litigation was expensive for the company, Mergenthaler did not file for bankruptcy.
Although Mergenthaler is not a household name, Ottmar Mergenthaler and his company made printing easier and more efficient. Because of the company’s important printing innovations, newspapers and magazines became more accessible to the masses.
In 1886, Mergenthaler made the first Linotype machine in New York. Before then, typesetters printed materials by setting the type by hand. This was an incredibly lengthy process and made the cost of printed materials high. With the new Linotype machine, the typesetter used a keyboard to set the type automatically.
In 1890, Ottmar Mergenthaler founded the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in Brooklyn, New York. The first use of the Linotype machine was to print The New York Tribune, the company’s first customer. As a result, the Tribune bought several Linotype machines after realizing how quickly it could print newspapers.
Mergenthaler’s company took off. Within ten years, the company dominated the market, selling thousands of machines. As the company expanded, Mergenthaler began manufacturing and selling machines across the United States and abroad.
The machines dominated the industry until the 1970s, when they became virtually obsolete. To keep up with a changing industry, Mergenthaler shifted its focus to digital and computerized printing.
In the 1990s, Mergenthaler merged with a German firm to create the larger, international company Linotype-Hell AG. This took the company away from typesetting and into software and digital fonts. Mergenthaler is now a subsidiary of Monotype Imaging Holdings.
Because Mergenthaler machines were hot, they often operated with asbestos insulation. Asbestos could make workers sick, especially if tiny asbestos fibers became airborne and were inhaled.
Asbestos Use with Linotype Machines
The Mergenthaler Linotype Company made and assembled the parts for Linotype machines. Though the machines themselves did not contain asbestos, they were insulated with asbestos to protect against heat.
When the machines operated, they created high temperatures. Because of this, good insulation helped to contain heat. Before its dangers were widely understood and its use restricted by law, asbestos was commonly used in industrial insulation.
Once inhaled, asbestos fibers lodge in tissues, causing damage that may lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis, a progressive scarring in the lungs. If asbestos is contained, it poses no risk; however, tiny asbestos fibers can come loose to float in the air and cause harm when exposed or damaged.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
Although Mergenthaler did not make its products with asbestos, it did line them with asbestos insulation. Workers who packed the insulation or installed, maintained, and repaired Mergenthaler Linotype machines were at risk of inhaling or ingesting the tiny fibers.
The operation manual for the Linotype machine instructed workers to manipulate the asbestos by breaking it away and repacking it around the crucible in the machine.
Although it was not common knowledge at the time, we now understand that handling asbestos in this way can cause fibers to come loose, resulting in dangerous exposure and potential illness.
Repair technicians were most at risk from Mergenthaler’s asbestos insulation. These technicians often repaired machines by chipping away old asbestos and replacing it with new insulation or asbestos cement.
Workers who assembled the machines were also at risk as they packed insulation into gaps in the machine. The asbestos protected the machines from overheating. It also safeguarded workers from heat and fire. The same protective material also hurt these workers, often causing devastating illnesses that did not develop until decades later.
Not everyone exposed to asbestos gets sick; however, those who do get sick develop serious illnesses that are often terminal. Workers who got ill because of asbestos in these Linotype machines started suing Mergenthaler.
Mergenthaler did not face as many suits as some other companies that used asbestos, which may have saved it from bankruptcy. Among the few cases the company did face, Mergenthaler settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. Even so, there are still some active cases against the company.
Because of the company’s success and limited number of asbestos-related lawsuits, Mergenthaler survived the asbestos controversy. Unlike similar companies that used asbestos, Mergenthaler never filed for bankruptcy and never formed an asbestos trust to compensate exposure victims.
Today it is a thriving, modern company that creates digital fonts and typing software under the name Linotype-Hell AG.
Although Mergenthaler never created a trust for victim compensation, that does not mean victims cannot get justice. There are still pending lawsuits against Mergenthaler, even though the company no longer exists under that name.
These victims seek compensation for illnesses they have suffered because of asbestos insulation used in the Linotype machines. If you believe you were a victim of the Mergenthaler Linotype machine, you can file your own lawsuit against the company.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.