The Semagraph

Many thanks to George Finn for contributing this article.

The Semagraph device for automatically operating a Linotype

IN June 1932, Everyday Science and Mechanics reported on a new photoelectronic cell reader called the Semagraph, which was an automatic typesetter operating unit.

Copy (1) prepared on a special typewriter was fed into the machine, guided by sprocket holes each side of the sheet, similar to continuous stationery.

A photocell unit (2) scanned the copy reading coded characters which were printed under the typewritten words. The Semagraph machine (3) deciphered these codes, to operate a standard typesetting machine.

The machine in the photograph appears to be a model 8 Linotype.

Being electronic, it was probably ahead of its time. With backing from Frank Gannet, Walter Morey's Teletypesetter had already been invented and successfully demonstrated for wire tranmission in 1928. The mechanical TTS unit and the perforator, could be maintained by mechanics or operators responsible for the typesetters without training in electronics.

Further investigation revealed that the Semgraph was invented by a linotype operator, 36-year-old Buford Leonard Green, in 1928. With backing from the publisher of the Charlotte, N. C. Observer, Curtis Boyd Johnson they spent the next 10 years developing the machine.

The partners demonstrated their perfected Semagraph for wire service transmission, in the Manhattan offices of the Associated Press in June, 1938.


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