Launched to produce and sell the cutting-edge Linotype machine, the Mergenthaler Linotype Company was selling nearly 700 machines each year by 1894.
The machine, which eliminated the need for manual typesetting, was purchased primarily by book companies and newspapers. By 1954, more than 100,000 asbestos-containing Linotypes had been sold.
Because the complex machine utilized metal parts and generated a great deal of heat, insulating the parts was a major focus of the machine’s makers.
Asbestos was often placed between these parts to reduce the risk of overheating and fire.
A paste made of ground asbestos and water was typically packed between the metal parts of the Linotype. The wet asbestos was often stuffed between the elevator jaws and the crucible heaters, as well as in empty spaces between other mechanical parts.
When pieces of the Linotype were removed or replaced, new asbestos was tapped into the empty spaces to freshen the insulation.
The Linotype also contained a hot pot filled with molten lead, which was jacketed with hardened asbestos cement to prevent the machine from catching fire.
Print workers were exposed to asbestos when they applied the jacketing or chipped away and replaced the cover. This asbestos was easily inhaled when the asbestos cement was broken, and workers may have been exposed to asbestos.
Workers who operated or maintained the Linotypes at printing facilities often came in contact with asbestos. One former worker at a company recalls skimming dross from the top of a molten metal furnace whilst wearing aprons and gloves made from Asbestos.