James O. Clephane
James Ogilvie Clephane (February 21, 1842 – November 30, 1910) 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.
James O. Clephane was born in Washington, D.C. to James Clephane and Ann Ogilvie in 1842. His father, James Clephane, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1790, and emigrated to America in 1817, 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. 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, where his duties were chiefly that of a stenographer. He was "one of the leading stenographers during the eventful days of the civil war and subsequently". He was called to testify at the trial of Andrew Johnson.
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.
There were many patents for "writing machines" throughout the 19th century, 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.
Said he to Densmore: "I am through with Clephane!" Densmore's comment was: "This candid fault-finding is just what we need. We had better have it now than after we begin manufacturing. Where Clephane points out a weak lever or rod let us make it strong. Where a spacer or an inker works stiffly, let us make it work smoothly. Then, depend upon Clephane for all the praise we deserve."
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. The historian George Iles identified this fact that "it had been developed under the fire of an unrelenting critic" as one of the circumstances that distinguished the Sholes typewriter. Clephane's contribution has also been used as an example for Eric von Hippel's recommendation that manufacturers work with lead users in developing their product.
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, 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.
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. 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.
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". 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. He also published some travel literature.
His role in surprisingly many inventions is explained by Roger Burlingame:
Clephane [...] was intent upon his problem. He was constantly stretching out his antennae for new ideas. It is not surprising that such a man should provide a center for gadget-fanciers. It is more so that this center, once established, became such a magnet for investors.
Perhaps it was the great idea which drew the support. There was much, to be sure, in the persuasive personality of Clephane—a personality to which Mr. Dale Carnegie might well point. But all the subterfuges practiced today in the winning of friends and the influencing of people would have availed Clephane little without his dynamic, irrepressible faith. He had a kind of Napoleonic power that seemed to go with his little stature. Men flocked about him and he led them forward toward the avatar. If any faltered, Clephane would kick him back on his feet. He was harsh, merciless, dominant when the idea was before him.
- Men and Women of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, New York: L.R. Hamersly & Company, 1909
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- Records - Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Columbia Historical Society, 1918
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