James O. Clephane

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James Ogilvie Clephane

James Ogilvie Clephane (February 21, 1842[1] – November 30, 1910[2]) was an American court reporter and venture capitalist who was involved in improving, promoting and supporting several inventions of his age, including the typewriter, the graphophone, and the linotype machine. He has been called the "father of the linotype machine", and the development of mechanical typesetting was largely due to his initiative.[2]


Early days

James O. Clephane was born in Washington, D.C. to James Clephane and Ann Ogilvie[3] in 1842. His father, James Clephane, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1790,[4] and emigrated to America in 1817,[5] was a printer and typographer who had assisted in setting up the first edition of Sir Walter Scott's Waverley while in Edinburgh, and was for some time the president of the Columbia Typographical union. His older brother, Lewis Clephane, served as the city postmaster, among other things.

James O. Clephane was a highly competent shorthand writer and developer of early shorthand writing systems. His exceptional ability brought him early in contact with such men as President James Buchanan and President Abraham Lincoln, who became his personal friends.[2] He was a secretary to United States Secretary of State William H. Seward, and was then admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court in the District of Columbia,[1] where his duties were chiefly that of a stenographer.[6] He was "one of the leading stenographers during the eventful days of the civil war and subsequently".[7] He was called to testify at the trial of Andrew Johnson.[8]

While a court reporter, he began to seek easier ways to transcribe his notes and legal briefs quickly and produce multiple copies, as was required. Thus he was enthusiastic when the typewriter was invented.


{{#invoke:main|main}} There were many patents for "writing machines" throughout the 19th century,[9] but the only one to become commercially successful was the typewriter invented by Christopher Sholes, along with Soule and Glidden. Clephane had an indirect but important part to play in its development and perfection.

When Sholes and his business associate James Densmore began to pursue commercial development of their machine, they realized that stenographers would be among the first and most important users, and sent experimental versions to many stenographers, one of whom was Clephane. He tried the instruments as no one else had tried them, subjecting them to such unsparing tests that he destroyed them, one after another, as fast as they could be made and sent to him. His judgements were similarly caustic, causing Sholes to lose his patience and temper.[10][11] Template:Quotation Sholes took this advice and improved the machine at every iteration, until they were satisfied that Clephane had taught them everything he could. The first typewriters sold were built for Clephane's own employees.[2] The historian George Iles identified this fact that "it had been developed under the fire of an unrelenting critic"[11] as one of the circumstances that distinguished the Sholes typewriter. Clephane's contribution has also been used as an example[12] for Eric von Hippel's recommendation that manufacturers work with lead users in developing their product.

Mechanical typesetting

Although the typewriter would go into commercial production only in 1873, Clephane recognised that it would solve part of his problems, as notes could now be transcribed quickly, but it would still take long to typeset the material and prepare it for publication. "I want to bridge the gap between the typewriter and the printed page" he declared in 1872,[13] and began to pursue the invention of a machine for typesetting. Along with Charles T. Moore, he devised a machine which cast type from papier-mâché matrices indented by mechanically assembled characters, but it had numerous defects which they were unable to rectify. Moore approached August Hahl in 1876, with whom Ottmar Mergenthaler was working at the time. Mergenthaler immediately suggested casting the type from a metal matrix instead, and set to work on a typesetting machine, spending a year redesigning it until in the summer of 1877 he felt he had a working prototype.[14]

It produced print by lithography, which was problematic. Clephane made the suggestion of using stereography instead, and Mergenthaler began to research this approach, for which Clephane provided financial backing.[15] By 1879, it was still in development. Mergenthaler designed a line casting machine, but then tore up the plans in frustration. Clephane encouraged him to continue; he remained confident in the value of the invention despite all the scepticism and financial embarrassments that accompanied it.

By 1883, the machine was perfected and patented in 1884. Meanwhile Clephane had formed the National Typographic Company for manufacturing it, with a capitalization of $1 million and named Mergenthaler as manager of its Baltimore factory. The company became the Mergenthaler Printing Company in 1885. It had its first "commercial demonstration" on July 3, 1886, before Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune, who exclaimed "Ottmar, you've done it again! A line o' type!" from which it got its name: the Linotype machine.[16]

Clephane remained a Director of Mergenthaler Linotype Company until October 1910 when he was succeeded by Norman Dodge.[17]


Besides the typewriter and the linotype machine, he was also involved in the development of the graphophone and served on the Board of directors of Columbia Records, making "one of the leading phonographers of the country".[4] In addition, he was also a director in the Locke Steel Belt Company, the Linomatrix Machine Company, the National Typographic Company, the Aurora Mining Company, the Horton Basket Machine Company, the Fowler-Henkle Printing Press Company, the Oddur Machine Company, in several of which he was the president.[1] He also published some travel literature.

His role in surprisingly many inventions is explained by Roger Burlingame:[18] Template:Quotation

He suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving Day (November 24) in 1910, and died six days later. He was living in Englewood, NJ at the time.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Men and Women of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, New York: L.R. Hamersly & Company, 1909, http://books.google.com/?id=KOgUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA361 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "JAMES O. CLEPHANE DEAD.; Development of Linotype Machine Largely Due to His Efforts.", The New York Times: 11, December 1, 1910, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9806E1DE1638E333A25752C0A9649D946196D6CF 
  3. Records - Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Columbia Historical Society, 1918, http://books.google.com/?id=ZUHrL7tQVS8C&pg=PA263 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "DEATH OF JAMES CLEPHANE.; An Aged Resident and the Oldest Typographer in Washington", The Washington Post, December 2, 1880 
  5. "Literary Notes", The New York Times: 3, June 28, 1880, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C07E4DF163AEF33A2575BC2A9609C94619FD7CF 
  6. Brown, Rick, An Overview of the History of the Linotype Machine, http://www.historybuff.com/library/reflinotype.html, retrieved 2009-01-06 
  7. Croggon, James (June 28, 1913), "Old Washington. The Typos of 1820-30.", The Evening Star: 10, http://bytesofhistory.com/Collections/Croggon/Croggon_19130628.html 
  8. Trial of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, 1, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1868, http://books.google.com/?id=X989AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA289&vq=clephane 
  9. Ridpath, John Clark, ed. (1899), The Standard American Encyclopedia of Arts, Sciences, History, Biography, Geography, Statistics, and General Knowledge, 7, New York: The Standard American Publishing Company, p. 2572, http://books.google.com/?id=bmUMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA2572 
  10. Mares, G.C. (1909), The history of the typewriter, successor to the pen: An illustrated account of the origin, rise, and development of the writing machine, London: Guilbert Putnam, ISBN 0-911160-87-6  Reprinted by Post-era Books, Arcadia, CA, 1985.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Iles, George (1912), Leading American Inventors, New York: Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 0-8486-0344-3, http://books.google.com/?id=Hn0_AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA328&q=clephane 
  12. Tenner, Edward (2003-03-22), "Body smarts", Wilson Quarterly (Washington) 27 (2): 12, ISSN 03633276, http://proquest.umi.com/pqdlink?did=336406951&Fmt=7&clientId=5482&RQT=309&VName=PQD, retrieved 2009-01-15 
  13. Romano, Frank J (June 1, 2003), "Bridging the gap", Electronic Publishing 27 (6): 48, ISSN 1097-9190 
  14. "Linotype at 50", Time, July 13, 1936, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,756432,00.html, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  15. Rockman, Howard B. (2004), Intellectual Property Law for Engineers and Scientists, Wiley-IEEE, p. 156, ISBN 978-0-471-44998-0, http://books.google.com/?id=jCEP2MUCIKAC&pg=PA156&q=clephane, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  16. Spear, Michael (August 15, 1996), The Linotype Machine: Thomas Edison called it the "Eighth Wonder of the World", http://oncampus.richmond.edu/academics/journalism/lino.html, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  17. "Boston Stock Market: Financial Notes.", The New York Times, October 20, 1910, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C01E1D61239E433A25753C2A9669D946196D6CF, retrieved 2009-01-07 
  18. Burlingame, Roger (1976), Engines of Democracy: Inventions and Society in Mature America (illustrated ed.), Ayer Publishing, pp. 150–154, ISBN 9780405076763, http://books.google.com/?id=4FRQzyJb3c0C&pg=PA150, retrieved 2009-01-15 

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