Ludlow Slugs
Lud­low Slugs

The Lud­low peo­ple were very proud indeed of their ‘sys­tem’, and when one looks at their claims and the sim­ple util­i­ty of the approach I won­der why more print­ers did­n’t use the sys­tem and why it was­n’t more pop­u­lar in the UK.  The sys­tem was descend­ed from try­ing to sim­pli­fy linecast­ing machines, but an even sim­pler approach was embod­ied in the Lud­low.  Pro­duc­tion began in Chica­go in 1912 and by 1919 the Lud­low was in use in 350 offices.

In print­ers’ terms, the sys­tem was ‘hand-set’ ‘slug-line’ com­po­si­tion: this means that for each char­ac­ter need­ed, a brass mould (call a ‘mat’) need­ed to be col­lect­ed and assem­bled by hand; and the Lud­low machine would be used to cre­ate a sin­gle line of type (a ‘slug’).  My first impres­sion was this com­bines the worst of hand-set­ting, with the worst of slug com­po­si­tion!  But delve a lit­tle more deeply and even the most ardent scep­tic might be persuaded.

The major sell­ing point was that even the small­er print­er could be guar­an­teed to have “an inex­haustible sup­ply of fresh, clean type” from which to print with a rel­a­tive­ly small out­lay and lim­it­ed tech­ni­cal support.

This arti­cle, in parts, explores the prin­ci­ples and oper­a­tion of the Lud­low, the typog­ra­phy and the effi­cien­cy of the system.


William Reade was approached with the idea for such a machine by Wash­ing­ton I. Lud­low and estab­lished the Lud­low com­pa­ny in 1906.  The first design was based on a two-foot long matrix bar with each char­ac­ter stamped on it.  While that idea proved imprac­ti­cal, the essence of offer­ing a small machine for small­er offices that pro­vid­ed an ever­last­ing sup­ply of type was fixed and devel­op­ment con­tin­ued.  It was Jan­u­ary 1911 when the approach of using sin­gle matri­ces was first pub­licly demon­strat­ed.  The demand soon came not from peo­ple want­i­ng the machine; but peo­ple want­i­ng oth­er matri­ces.  The com­pa­ny had to design spe­cial­ist machines to punch matri­ces in the num­bers needed.

In 1936, McMur­trie not­ed that –

For many class­es of work it offers unique advan­tages and economies. It has pos­si­bil­i­ties of a still wider field of use­ful­ness. In short, it is a machine which mer­its the care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of any print­er hav­ing much dis­play com­po­si­tion to produce.