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Monday, 19 January 2015

Varityper's Century of Typesetting

An early Hammond beside its big, fat great-great-great-great grandson, a Varityper Headliner 820
When AM (the former Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation) Varityper launched its last composition systems in 1980, it boasted of "a typesetting heritage than spans 100 years". In dating its history back to 1880, AM Varityper was referring to the Varityper's origins as a Hammond typewriter, which had made a gold medal-winning debut when the New Orleans World's Fair (aka the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition) opened on December 16, 1884. As things turned out, AM Varityper didn't quite make the century mark.
While, aided by the advent of its Varityper computer-fronted phototypsetting systems, AM International earned $5.8 million on sales of $909.6 million in 1980, it suffered severe losses in the next two years. On April 14, 1982, the company filed for bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois under Chapter 11, which permits reorganisation under the bankruptcy laws of the United States. But after workers at its 50-year-old plant at 1200 Babbitt Road, Euclid, north of Cleveland, refused a $6 an hour wage reduction in August, AM International closed the plant in October.
AMI, which also included Multilith, had already sold Addressograph to DBS in November 1981 and its bankruptcy was confirmed in September 1984. But an offshot, Multigraphics, emerged from Chapter 11 in September 1993, only to be bought by A.B.Dick in 1999. In 1986 Datacard bought DBS for $52 million and the Addressograph name lived on as a part of NewBold.
Meanwhile, AM International sold the Varityper brand name to Tegra, which as Tegra-Varityper in April 1994 became part of a company called PrePress Solutions, when PrePress Solutions acquired the assets of Tegra, Varityper and PrePress Direct following bankruptcy. This outfit dropped the Varityper name and renamed its imagesetters Panther.
A PrePress Solutions Panther platesetter
If one thing might tenuously link the Hammond typewriter of 1884 to the last machine called a Varityper in 1994, at least in name, it would be the ease with which typefaces could be changed. In which case, the "heritage" might be extended even further back, to John Jonathan Pratt's Pterotype of 1864, since the rights to its key component, the single type element, were sold to Hammond.
 The last AM Varityper compositing-editing system
Note the modem under the telephone in the "telecommunications option". Also, 80K RAM!
According to a special Spring 2008 edition of the Museum of Printing News, covering non-metal typesetting, "The term 'Cold Type' was first applied to the three devices that used typewriters for typographic composition: the Varityper, the Justowriter and the IBM Composer. The Varityper was based on the Hammond typewriter, one of the first to have proportional type. Based in New Jersey, the company was taken over by Ralph Coxhead, who introduced a companion headline-setting machine with a plastic 'Gramaphone record' as its font. It was called the Coxheadliner and later just Headliner."
The Museum of Printing's claims are only partially true. Hammond, for most part based in New York, did not have a typewriter with proportional type - right-side justification came under Coxhead's post-1933 development of the manual Varityper.  As Richard Polt points out in his Classic Typewriter Page "Typewriter Spotlight" on the Varityper, "Right-margin justification was achieved by a mechanical system in which each line would have to be typed twice. It sounds tedious, but it was a clever solution to a challenging mechanical problem - although the results were not comparable to professional [Linotype] typesetting." (PS: A comment on Richard's Varityper spotlight page says it was the IBM Selectric Composer, not the PC, which spelt the end for the Varityper. "[It] allowed the copy to be typed once, versus Varityper's twice [and] the use of a magnetic tape cartridge allowed real editing.") 
The very young Robert White Wirtz (1913-1983)
More importantly, it was not Coxhead but leading US mathematics educator Robert White Wirtz who invented the system from which the Varityper Headliner eventually emerged. All subsequent Varityper patents for the photocomposing machine acknowledged Wirtz's 1955 design for the so-called "Gramophone record", the phototypographical matrix. Ralph Cramer Coxhead died on February 7, 1951, long before the matrix was fully developed:
Wirtz, the younger brother of US Secretary of Labor William Willard Wirtz, told the Daily Illini in October 1962 that he had been the director of research and engineering for the Varityper division of the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation.
Charles Winfred Norton's "typing and justifying" Varityper
But his work on the Headliner started long before that.
Between 1944-46, Charles Winfred Norton (1889-), working for Coxhead in West Orange, New Jersey, had applied "justifying lines" to the Varityper, enabling it to complete its transition from an out-and-out typewriter in 1926 to a genuine typesetting machine by 1947, when it was used to set body matter for the Chicago Daily Tribune.
Independently of this, from 1950 Wirtz was working on his photocomposing machine in Peoria, Illinois.
It's interesting to note that while it was a mathematician, Donald Ervin Knuth (1938-)  who was a pioneer in the field of digital typesetting - the process which ended the short life of photocomposing - it was a mathematics educator, Wirtz, who led the way in photocomposing.
Wirtz's original photocomposing concept
At an early stage of his work in the field, Wirtz signalled his plan to incorporate the Varityper typewriter in his system:
All this while Wirtz had been assigning his patents to a "co-partnership" called the Wirtz Company, variously based in Peoria, Illinois, in the early 1950s, Plainfield, New Jersey, in the mid-50s and finally, in the early 1960s, Watchung, New Jersey. By the late 50s he had caught the attention of the Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation and was recruited to continue his work on behalf of its Varityper division.
Addressograph-Multigraph had taken over Varityper by the middle of 1958, two to three years earlier than stated elsewhere on the Internet.
Wirtz, born the son of a high school principal in Canton, Illinois, on August 20, 1913, was raised in DeKalb, graduated from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and went on to study at Northwestern University in Evanston and the University of Chicago, gaining degrees in science and education.
He then taught at Evanston before joining Varityper. His first foray into designing had been in 1948 with, of all things, a shoe toe creaser!
In 1962 Wirtz returned to academia and joined the mathematics team funded by the National Science Foundation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He said that with Sputnik, mathematicians had become "much in demand" after years of being "locked away in their ivory towers". Wirtz, who developed the Tens Frame for maths teaching in 1980, wrote nine books on maths teaching, including Mathematics for Everyone (1974).
Wirtz's brother, W. Willard Wirtz (above, 1912-2010) also attended Northern Illinois University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1937. He was immediately appointed to the faculty of the University of Iowa College of Law. He was a professor of law at Northwestern University from 1939-42 and served with the War Labor Board from 1943-45, and was chairman of the National Wage Stabilization Board in 1946. Wirtz returned to teach law at Northwestern until 1954. He was active in Democratic politics and wrote speeches for Adlai Stevenson during his 1952 presidential campaign. Wirtz was appointed Under-Secretary of Labor in 1961As the Secretary of Labor between 1962-69 under the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Wirtz supported collective bargaining and championed department programs aimed at the young, under-educated, long-term unemployed and older workers. In conjunction with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he implemented anti-discrimination responsibilities for the department.  At the time of his death he was the oldest living former cabinet member and the last surviving member of the Kennedy administration cabinet.
After Coxhead's death in 1951, his corporation lived on until its takeover by AM in 1958.  In 1955, Bently Pratt Raak's redeveloped Varityper emerged; it was a considerable change from the Norton-designed machine.
A very young Bently Raak
Coxhead had bought type designer Frederic William Goudy's estate in 1948 and Raak (1904-78), who had worked for Coxhead since 1937, had had a close working relationship with Goudy. In the mid-50s Raak, a professor of typographical design at Syracuse University's School of Journalism, also worked with Edward Harris Billet on a elaborate automatic camera apparatus for Varityper, a photocomposing machine which would be superseded by Wirtz's Headliner.
But it was Raak's 1962 design - just after Wirtz had left Varityper - that would be (almost) the last word on the Varityper Headliner:
Between 1950-62, Wirtz took out 12 patents related to the Headliner. These were for proportional spacing and justifying mechanisms, photocomposing machines, code bar control for type indexing, card handling, mechanical and electrical indexing and direct image composing. Some of these were referenced by Kroy Industries of St Paul, Minneapolis, for its own typesetting machine (one of which, below, is owned by Typospherian Ted Munk).
 Kroy Industries patent drawing. Compare this with an early Wirtz design:
Wirtz died in Camel, California, on September 23, 1983, a month after his 70th birthday.
Wirtz's Varityper Headliner made camera-ready masters for offset printing, created by casting photographic type on 35mm white photo print paper, which was then automatically fed through an integral tank with photo printing chemicals (and sometimes became jammed there!). The Headliner was an adjunct to the AM Varityper itself, technically regarded as a strike-on composing machine. The Varityper used once-only carbon ribbon, and when typed on special super white paper gave a very sharp image. Its type sizes ranged from six-point to 12-point, hence the need for the Headliner, which set headlines in 12 to 90 point. Page compositions, including illustrations, were transferred photographically to Multilith masters and reproduced on Multilith Offset duplicators. 
From 1966 Varityper "pursued aggressively a wide range of direct impression typography and phototypesetting products to serve better the needs for type composition". This line lasted until 1978, when Varityper stopped making the typewriter-like direct impression (strike-on composing) machines. At that point AM's transition to microprocessor-based phototypesetting technology was complete. By 1985 AMI's Varityper division was supplying "computer-based phototypesetters, terminals and composition systems."
Among the more interesting applications for the Varityper Headliner were (in a smaller version) for blueprint lettering, as well as the model 820 by the Isolated Children's Special Education Unit in Australia, and by record companies such as Columbia for vinyl record labels.
Comparing the size of the Varityper Headliner
A close look at the Varityper Headliner
The smaller model was used for blueprint lettering.
The paper strip is in the red drum


Richard P said...

Fabulous research. I'm going to add a link to this page from my Varityper spotlight. Thanks!

Donald Lampert said...

Thanks Robert for completing the story. A long and interesting one!
A friend and I are looking for a varityper - the more classic typewriter type - we're curious to actually see it in operating. Almost as cool as watching my soon to be operating Teletype 15, and 19 units do their "over the wire" typewriting

shordzi said...

I had to read this several times in order to grasp all the information of this rich article. How amazing! This definitely opens a new horizon for the later history of the Hammond, and its off-springs. I own a Varityper 610, and keep discovering how it works.

Eric Rowland said...

I was surprised to find this site. Brings back many memories. I was the Varityper area engineer for Ireland in the late sixties, and traveled the length and breadth of the country servicing these machines. Before that, I was employed at the Manchester (UK) service branch after completing a 3 month's intensive training course in London. Happy days, indeed.

Emil enginger said...

I worked for varityper for 7 years 1964 to 1971. I worked on the headliner machines. They launched the 820 and the 840 models during that time. Reading this great article took me back to those years. I became the youngest inline tester in company's history. Enjoyed the article. Emil engineer. Email: thank you