Today (October 18) in 1919 was the cover date for an issue of The Literary Digest that proved to be decades ahead of its time.
“As our compositors and the compositors employed in many other offices in New York are taking a ‘vacation’ in direct defiance of the orders of their own union chiefs to return to work, it becomes necessary to issue this number of THE DIGEST without their assistance….,” the magazine explained in an introductory note.
“As stern necessity is oftentimes the mother of invention, it is possible in this age of marvels that the whole future of magazine publication may be revolutionized by the elimination of what has hitherto been its costliest operation — the typesetting. The present departure will, at least, furnish the basis for many other experiments to this end.”
The magazine’s managing editor, William S. Woods, described the new process to a reporter for the New-York Tribune:
“Editorial matter is prepared in the customary way and turned over to a stenographer. The stenographer types off the article and it is returned to the editor for a reading….
“After the typed matter comes back to the editor a page is planned, including the art. This is taken to the art room, where the typewritten copy and the cartoons or photographs are pasted upon thick paper in the form of a page. That pasted matter is photographed and reduced on a zinc etching to the size of the ‘Literary Digest’ page. From the zinc etching plates are made and the magazine published by the usual print process.”
The new process eliminated the conventional typesetting process that required Linotype machines and their presumably well-paid human operators. As a result, the Tribune reported, it had reduced the magazine’s per-page production cost from $10 or $12 to $7.
There were still drawbacks, of course. The typewritten copy looked, well, typewritten, and rather than justified it was all rag right, in magazine lingo. However, Woods noted, “our art and engraving departments assure us that if a typewriter were manufactured with a type face the same as the usual eight-point on a linotype machine and provision made for flush line spacing, the finished product would defy all but the eyes of an expert.”
For editors who lived through the cold type era of the 1970s and ‘80s — with its photographic type, wax machines, and paste-up boards — the process Woods describes will sound familiar. So, too, might his admission that his work had been “multiplied” by the elimination of professional typesetters.
As to The Literary Digest, it soon returned to conventional typesetting and ceased publication in 1938 — too early to participate in the revolution it had foreseen and helped make possible.
If you'd like to see how the issue came out, you'll find it here.