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The Bentons

How an American Father and Son Changed the Printing Industry

Patricia A. Cost, Matthew Carter

Publication Year: 2011

The ease with which we can choose a typeface today from a plethora of options to fit a particular need is something we may take for granted, but it is possible only because of the tremendous amount of labor and ingenuity that came before. The story of the lives and work of Linn Boyd Benton and Morris Fuller Benton is an important chapter in the history of type, recalling a time in American history when men quietly worked at developing and improving mechanical technologies that they thought would continue evolving incrementally into the future.

Published by: RIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This story of the Bentons could never have been written without access to the complete set of Inland Printer magazines, beginning with the first issue of October 1883, and the myriad other resources held by the Melbert B. Cary Jr. Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Because...

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pp. xiii-xvi

The American Type Founders Company, formed in 1892, was not the first to revive historical styles of type, nor the first to exploit type designs in large families of weights and widths, nor the first to reconcile the design with the technology of type, nor the first to understand the importance of marketing to...

A Note on Sources

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pp. xvii

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1 Metal Type

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pp. 1-18

Type is something that you can pick up and hold in your hand.”1 So began the British typographer Harry Carter in a 1968 lecture series on the history of type at Oxford University. A few years later even Carter’s opening statement became history as new technology began to push aside type’s three-dimensionality, relegating...

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2 Three Generations of Bentons

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pp. 19-32

What enables some people to accomplish amazing things? It can’t be simply intelligence because many people have that gift. Desire and temperament are certainly critical ingredients, but early childhood experience may also be an important component. Facing difficulties, especially early in life, seems...

Part One Type Founding in Milwaukee 1873 to 1892

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3 The North-Western Type Foundry

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pp. 35-42

Like his father, Linn Boyd Benton welcomed new opportunities. At 22, he was hired as a bookkeeper for the Milwaukee type and electrotype foundry owned by his father’s friend Josiah Noonan. When Noonan went bankrupt seven years later in the Panic of 1873 (a nationwide economic depression that lasted until 1877), Benton saw it as an opening for himself, and with a partner named Edward...

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4 Challenges and Solutions

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pp. 43-56

One of the main problems plaguing printing establishments until the late 1800s was the lack of dimensional standardization in the metal type they used. Each type foundry had its own peculiar system of type dimensions and its own formulas for the metal alloys used to cast its type,1 so type sizes, widths, base alignment and durability...

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5 The Development of Benton’s Punch-Cutting Machine, and How It Made the Linotype a Success

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pp. 57-76

When Linn Boyd Benton decided to market his self-spacing type and abandon his work on the automatic justifying machine, he was immediately faced with the challenge of cutting punches for every character of each size of each self-spacing font and making matrices from them as quickly as possible. According to...

Part Two The Bentons and the American Type Founders Company 1892 to 1948

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6 The Formation of the American Type Founders Company

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pp. 79-86

American foundries such as Benton’s in Milwaukee were not faring especially well in the late 1870s because there were too many of them. “[A]s manufacturing processes improved, and more foundries entered into business, a serious problem of overproduction confronted the industry.”1 Because of...

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7 Linn Boyd Benton and the Century Type

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pp. 87-92

When Robert W. Nelson became ATF’s general manager he gave Linn Boyd Benton the authority to establish a letter-designing department, which soon became an important asset of the company. ATF branched out into several product lines, but Nelson retained his interest in type and championed the letter-designing department throughout the next 20...

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8 An Overview of Linn Boyd Benton’s Patented Inventions

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pp. 93-102

Linn Boyd Benton’s famous punch engraving machine was by no means his only invention. On June 30, 1932, the day before he retired from ATF, he reported that he had received 20 patents in his life, 18 of which related to “the art of type making.” The other two were from 1875 and 1876.1 How did a man with a very informal and disjointed education produce so many...

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9 Morris Benton at ATF

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pp. 103-116

Morris Benton arrived at ATF on September 1, 1896, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University. He had been hired as the assistant manager of the general manufacturing department under his father, and worked as an engineer and draftsman for ATF until 1900 when he became the company’s chief type designer, retaining...

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10 How Type Was Made at ATF

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pp. 117-146

In December 1909, the American Machinist magazine published an article by W. J. Kaup about the American Type Founders Company, noting that type making “is an art where the little things, measured in fractions of a thousandth of an inch are the big things as exemplified by [ATF], whose system makes each small step a refinement link in the whole chain of microscopic accuracy...

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11 The Benton Family’s Early Years in Plainfield, New Jersey

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pp. 147-156

On September 1, 1897, after a three-year engagement, Morris Benton married Mary Ethel Bottum, the daughter of his father’s patent attorney, at Grace Avenue Congregational Church in Milwaukee. Ethel had just turned 20, and although her college education was unfinished, she had her parents’ permission to marry. She was an iconoclast, her daughter Caroline said,1 because she didn’t want to wear what she called “white mosquito netting”...

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12 Prosperity and Hard Times

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pp. 157-168

When Robert W. Nelson was elected general manager of ATF in 1894, 12 of the original foundries were still producing type.1 By 1900, six foundries were manufacturing type, in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cincinnati, Boston, and New York.2 Consolidating these into one location became a priority of Nelson’s when he was elected president of ATF in March...

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13 The Typographic Climate in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 169-184

The typographic industry went through profound changes during the careers of the two Bentons, who in turn played pivotal roles in bringing about those changes. Linn Boyd Benton’s invention and perfection of the mechanical matrixengraving system paved the way for the composing machine industry, which ultimately replaced the type founding industry...

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14 Morris Benton’s Type Designs

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pp. 185-256

Herman Zapf identified three parameters within which a type designer must work: “The designing of a typeface demands knowledge of historical trends of the evolution of type design, artistic perception and a thorough understanding of typefounding techniques.”1 These three requirements were indeed the foundation of Morris Benton’s types. He continually added to his knowledge of historical trends in type design by studying the examples of classic European types in ATF’s typographic library. Zapf felt that artistic...

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15 The Later Plainfield Years

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pp. 257-266

About the time that Morris Benton’s great Century Schoolbook type was making its debut, he endured a personal tragedy that must have contributed to his reticence. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1920, with his two daughters in college and his parents still thriving, Morris’s wife, Ethel, died suddenly of an infection after an operation. She was only 42 years old, and...

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16 The Benton Legacy

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pp. 267-276

The ease with which we can choose a typeface today from a plethora of options to fit a particular need is something we may take for granted, but it is possible only because of the tremendous amount of labor and ingenuity that came before. Almost every literate person today benefits from the legacy of Linn Boyd Benton and Morris Fuller Benton, but due to..

Appendix A

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pp. 277-288

Appendix B

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pp. 289-328


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pp. 329-340

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 341-360


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pp. 361-372

E-ISBN-13: 9781933360935
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933360423

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 281
Publication Year: 2011