A Linotyper for Life
A few days before the U.S. Government Printing Office History Exhibit opened in 2011, one of our maintenance supervisors brought a man whom he introduced as his father in to the new main room of the exhibit area, looking concerned.
It seems that the dad, a GPO retiree, had been on his way to the credit union, via our auditorium, Harding Hall, and was upset when he found the General Pershing Linotype, on display there since the 1950s, gone. He hunted up his son and demanded an explanation, and heard that it had moved a few weeks earlier to the new exhibit area.
“My father was a GPO Linotype operator.” the son explained while his dad beamed. There were instantly about 100 questions to be asked, but I started with what turned out to be the right one: “Which kind of machine did you run?” I knew there was a fairly fierce loyalty to either Mergenthaler Linotype or Harris Intertype. “Oh,” he said, putting his hand on the brass magazine of the General Pershing as though on the neck of a great draft horse, “I ran one like this. A Model 5 Linotype.”
The Model 5 was a workhorse machine, introduced in 1906. The General Pershing had been bought in 1911 from a dealer in Paris by a newspaper in Chaumont, France. The machine was requisitioned by General John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force when the U.S. joined World War I in 1917. It was refitted to cast American type height and with an American (ETAOIN SHRDLU) keyboard and became part of the 29th Engineers mobile printing battalion, which at first operated from Camp Babcock in Chaumont (known to its occupants as “Pneumonia Hollow”). The printing battalion was later motorized, with the Linotype, presses, and gear mounted in a train of heavy trucks which followed Pershing’s headquarters through the remainder of the war.
Following the war, the machine and its operator, Cpl. James M. Kreiter, came back to Washington and GPO to spend the rest of their working lives in The Big Shop. In 1936, Kreiter and the Linotype traveled to Cleveland to represent GPO at the American Legion annual convention. ( See https://printinghistory.org/gpo-star-linotype/ )Kreiter retired in the late 50s, and, after a final stint in the Apprentice School, the Linotype was moved to Harding Hall as a memorial to GPO’s World War I veterans. Having joined the history exhibit in 2011, the General Pershing Model 5 is the last remaining machine from the largest battery of linecasting machines in the world.
My new friend knew the story of the General Pershing, of course, everyone did. He stood in front of the machine that morning in 2011 and looked at the blurry World War I photos with us and reminisced about what the Linotype section was like 50 years later, as the days of hot metal drew to a close in the 1980s. Like the majority of GPO retirees I ever encountered, he talked about how grateful he was for having worked at GPO, what a proud and interesting place it was and how good a life it provided for him and his family. “And,” he said, looking at the Linotype again, “I loved my machine. I used to say that to my wife, and she’d say, ‘You can’t love a machine.’ But I did love my machine.”