ATF Typesetter Question

John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,086
edited April 2019 in Font Technology
I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask, but still, some people here may know the answer.

I have been reading up on the history of photocomposition. I was wondering if the terms "first generation" and so on were accurate, since it seemed to me that machines such as the Intertype Fotosetter and the Monophoto would only have been made if the traditional hot-metal typesetting machine companies saw the handwriting on the wall.

While some sources called the Lumitype, also known as the Photon, the first phototypesetting machine, it dated from 1949, while the Intertype Fotosetter preceded it in 1946.

A somewhat later machine was the ATF Typesetter. Built from a modified Friden Justowriter, I would expect it to have been less expensive than other phototypesetters on the market, at least until quite a late date, after microprocessors would have lowered the cost of ancilliary electronics. So, since it didn't take over the world by storm, I wondered what its limitations might be.

I learned it offered typefaces in sizes from 5 1/2 points to 14 points. A result on Google Books in "snippet view" mentioned that the machine was available both in an 18-unit version and in a cheaper 7-unit version. I would strongly suspect that the original version was the 7-unit one, and then based on demand a newer version upgraded to 18 units was made, but I don't yet know this.

As it happens, I now have a copy of "The Encyclopedia of Type Faces", and was thus able to take a close look at a page with the ATF Typesetter version of Baskerville. The italics were the same width as the Roman.

I suspect that this wasn't because it just had the same limitation as the Linotype. Instead, I strongly suspect that, given its mechanical construction, like the IBM composer, it used the same allocation of units to each graphic for every typeface. But I have not yet been able to verify this.

I have run across some additional information. It turns out the patents for the machine were U. S. patents numbers 3,082,670 and 3,333,668, the inventor being one George J. H. Sausele.


  • While some sources called the Lumitype, also known as the Photon, the first phototypesetting machine, it dated from 1949, while the Intertype Fotosetter preceded it in 1946.
    What about Uhertype
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,086
    edited April 2019
    What about Uhertype
    Experiments with Uhertype ceased, and the two prototypes were sold, the last entry says, so that was not a commercially successful phototypesetter. Phototypesetting patents go back to the 19th century - as that site shows - but it wasn't until photo-offset lithography became popular that it had a chance to take off.

    As to my own question, the second patent was for an improvement that allowed the use of an 18 unit system, so apparently my speculation that the 7 unit system was the original is confirmed.
  • A person who knows this history well is Frank Romano, president of the Museum of Printing, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He’s the author of a number of books, including a history of the Linotype Company, and also professor emeritus at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). I recommend you get in touch with him—he’s a very friendly and helpful guy.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    edited April 2019

    ‘The machine, about the size of a desk, has an ordinary typewriter keyboard. When the operator presses a key the machine photographs a letter either on positive or negative film. The film is transferred directly to engraving plates for printing, thereby eliminating the need for casting each line in metal. An electronic “brain” justifies the lines as they are set. The material also is typed on a sheet of paper, enabling the operator to proofread the work as he proceeds. He can make corrections by pressing a button which “erases” erroneous letters and brings the machine into position to type the correct letter. The machine “sets type” four to five times faster than modern Linotype machines. It was developed by Doctor Bush, his associates at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and two French telephone engineers who were doing independent work in the same field.’

  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,086
    That one, however, is built using an Underwood electric typewriter, not a Flexowriter, so it isn't related, despite some resemblance.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,086
    I have learned some more about the early history of the ATF Typesetter.

    When it first came out in 1958, it actually set type using 5-unit typefaces, just like the ones the Justowriter offered. That made it pretty hard to justify the extra expense of buying one instead of just going for a Justowriter with a carbon ribbon. (No pun intended!)

    The 7-unit faces came about, apparently, as an effort on the part of ATF to remedy this as quickly as possible. Three slugs on the coding bars indicated the character width, so they could go up to seven units from five without a (major) redesign. Set width was quite flexible on that machine, so other than relabeling the set width gear sets, and rearranging the coding slugs, they may not have had to make substantive changes to the machine at all. In 1960 or 1961, the first 7-unit face for the ATF Typesetter, Baskerville, modified for it by their designer Samuel Winfield Thompson, usually known as Tommy Thompson, was made available.

    In 1963, the new improved 18-increment ATF Typesetter was announced. They called it an 18-increment version instead of an 18-unit version because of its design, as described in U.S. Patent 3,333,668. The slugs on the coding bars were now arranged as if the underlying Justowriter was handling a 6-unit typeface, and determining if one or two increments of one-third of a unit were to be added to the width of a character was done by putting wires and switches under the keyboard.
Sign In or Register to comment.