Paige Compositor

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The Paige Compositor

The Paige Compositor was an invention developed by James W. Paige (1842–1917) between 1872 and 1888. It was designed to replace the human typesetter of a lead type-composed printing form with a mechanical arm.[1][2] In the early 1890s, a group of inventors signed a contract with Towner K. Webster in Chicago to produce 3,000 compositors.[3] However, the machine was not nearly as precise as it should have been and never turned a profit because of its complexity and continual need for adjustment based upon trial and error.[4][5] As a result, it was the Linotype typesetting machine, which composed in a hot metal typesetting process, that became the new popular typesetting machine.[6]

The Paige typesetting machine is notable for substantial investment that the prominent writer Mark Twain made into the failed endeavor: $300,000 (~$7,000,000 today). Twain, a former printer, invested not only the bulk of his book profits but also a large portion of the inheritance of Olivia Clemens, his wife.[5] Many point to his over-investment in the Paige typesetting machine and other inventions as the cause of not only his family's financial decline but also the decline of his wit and humor.[7]

Webster Manufacturing made fewer than six machines costing $15,000 apiece, over three times as much as the initial production estimates. One was donated by Cornell University for a scrap metal drive during World War II. The only surviving machine is displayed at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.[8]


  1. ^ Lundin, Leigh (2011-05-22). "Tom Sawyer and the Diabolus Ex Machina". Redding: Criminal Brief.
  2. ^ Lienhard, John (2000). "The Paige Compositor". Engines of Our Ingenuity. Houston: University of Houston (1372). doi:10.1093/oso/9780195135831.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-516731-3. Archived from the original on April 21, 2000. Alt URL
  3. ^ Webster, H.K. (1930). A Memoir of Towner Keeney Webster. Chicago: Walter Strong.
  4. ^ Lienhard, John (1988). The Paige Compositor. Houston: University of Houston. ISBN 978-0-19-513583-1. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  5. ^ a b Kirk, Connie Ann. Mark Twain, a Biography. Connecticut: Greenwood Printing, 2004. PS1331.K57.
  6. ^ Mark Twain's Nemesis: The Paige Compositor. August 1985.
  7. ^ "Mark Twain, a Life" Ron Powers
  8. ^ "Our Collection". Mark Twain House and Museum. Archived from the original on 27 July 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2013.

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