The Typographic Hub

American wood type

3rd October 2010

Prints Past / Wood had been used for making type for hundreds of years

Wood had been used for making type for hundreds of years, but with the expansion of the American commercial printing industry in the early 19th century, it was inevitable that someone would perfect a process for cheaply producing the large letters so in demand for broadsides. Wood was the logical material because of it’s lightness, availability, and known printing qualities. In 1872 Darius wells, a New York printer, was the first to produce wood type commercially. He applied mass production methods to the manufacture of wood type for sale to printers, most notably the use of a high-speed steam-powered router spinning at 12,000 revs per minute. Initially the router head remained stationery and the wood moved around it; but in 1834 William Leavenworth added the pantograph mechanism to the router.  For the first time a tracing stylus moving around the edge of a pattern letter could mechanically transmit the design to the router head to cut an almost exact facsimile.