Home Jersey City The Foundry: The History of the American Type Founders in Jersey City

The Foundry: The History of the American Type Founders in Jersey City

by Evelyn Ibarra
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Jersey City is well-known for its diversity, culture, and history. One of its most recognized features is the vast historical points of interest. From being home to Liberty Island National Park {including the Ellis Island Immigration Station}, to ties with the Underground Railroad, there is a story behind the many landmarks and buildings in Jersey City. The Foundry Condominiums is among those many. This is a popular apartment loft building in the heart of the Lafayette neighborhood {part of Bergen-Lafayette} and is walking distance to many local attractions, including Liberty State Park, the Liberty Science Center, and the Statue of Liberty to name a few. Keep reading to find out the history behind this landmark on Communipaw Avenue.

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About the American Type Founders

The Foundry Apartment Lofts {at 300 Communipaw Avenue} was originally the home to the American Type Founders. A type foundry is a company that designs and distributes typefaces. Typefounders were in existence before desktop publishing and manufactured and sold metal and wood typefaces and matrices for line-casting machines. In 1892, the American Type Founders was established as a consolidation of 23 of the most prominent independent type foundries in the United States. These 23 type foundries represented about 85% of all type manufactured in the United States. Initially, all these individual companies continued their production in their own locations. In 1903, a headquarters was created in Jersey City on Communipaw Avenue {now known as The Foundry Condominiums}.

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At the beginning of the 19th century, typefounding was in a state of crisis due to the invention of the Monotype and Linotype and machines. The Monotype machine was patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887, and produced type in individual characters. The operator types out characters and spacing to produce a paper ribbon perforated to indicate characters and spacing. The Linotype was a typesetting machine that was patented in the United States in 1884 by Ottmar Mergenthaler. In the Linotype machine, characters are cast in type metal as a complete line and not as individual characters as with the Monotype typesetting machine. The ATF {American Type Founders} was created as a unified response to the threats of other technologies that were being developed and merged together the main leaders of type manufacturing.

Machine typesetting had taken off rather quickly around this time {most notably in the newspaper business}, but hand-setting continued for many decades and the ATF marketed itself as both on the cutting edge of new technology and keeper of traditional quality. With the merging of so many individual type foundry companies, ATF needed a way to unify printing and typefounding among the many companies that merged {who all had their own history and typefaces}. The American Type Founders went on to design new typefaces that would bring the companies together and standardize type.

The Benton Family + ATF

Morris Fuller Benton was an American typeface designer who headed the design department at the American Type Founders and was the chief type designer from 1900 to 1937. Linn Boyd Benton {Morris Fuller Benton’s father} was a director and chief consultant at the American Type Founders. His company Benton, Waldo & Co. Type Foundry was one of the original group of companies that merged to form ATF. Linn Boyd Benton invented many of the most important technologies in the industry, including most notably the Benton Pantograph, which is an engraving machine that can condense, extend, and slant a type design and scale a single font design pattern to different sizes. 

This technology allowed metal type to be designed on a plan drawing and then be cut at the desired size instead of being hand-engraved. The Benton Pantograph helped the American Type Founders become the largest and most technologically advanced foundry in the world. Morris Fuller Benton {his son}, was then given the job of replacing obsolete and duplicated typefaces and standardizing them into type points that gave printers a systematic way of choosing types that would work well together and have more impact on advertising than an assortment of unrelated types.

Benton’s designs include many fonts related to the sans-serif or “gothic” typefaces that are still in use every day, such as Century Schoolbook, Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, and Alternate Gothic. The ATFs as a whole developed many other fonts, such as Garamond, Caslon 540, ATF Poster Gothic, Brush Script, ATF Railroad Gothic, ATF Wedding Gothic, and Hobo, to name a few.

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The Unfortunate Decline of ATF

In the early 1900s, there was a lot of forward-thinking and direction for The American Type Founders Company, and they had their best year in 1929. From there, however, the industry declined and was hit hard by the Great Depression. The number of typeface offerings declined, and in the early 1950s phototype {a method of setting type that replaced hot metal typesetting} was on its way of taking over as the predominant typesetting method. In the latest 1950s, the American Type Founders introduced a phototypesetting machine that had limited success mostly in newspapers.

The Formation of The Foundry

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After decades of unsuccessful mergers, the American Type Founders business and activities came to an end in July of 1990. Their matrices and equipment were auctioned off in 1993. Some historical pieces can be found in the Smithsonian Institution’s museums in Washington D.C. and Columbia University in New York City. After the company folded, the ATF’s Jersey City property was used as a warehouse for many years and was then purchased by developer David Silverstein in the early 2000s. The warehouse {which is the length of two city blocks} was then transformed into a 156-unit condominium complex, dubbed “The Foundry Condominiums” and opened its doors in 2005. A third phase is set for development that will include 20 duplex apartments at the end of the property. 

Know of a historical Jersey City spot? Let us know in the comments!

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