Mrs. Leary and the Point System…

Quoting from Martin K. Speckter’s “Disquisition on the Composing Stick,” 1971:
“Although not supported by dependable authority, the old printer’s account of how the point system finally was adopted is worth telling.
When Mrs. Leary’s cow kicked the lantern to give Chicago one of its warmest memories (in 1871) the resultant conflagration wiped out the huge inventory of the major type foundries there. Being thus forced to begin anew, there no longer was a strong economic reason to resist standardization and after several hard-fought industry conferences, the disputed point system was accepted nationally.”
As Paul Harvey would say: “And now you know the rest of the story!”

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Dependable? I thought her name was O’Leary.

Yes, I thought so too. But I’m just quoting. I was taught to follow the copy, even if it goes out the window! I guess I’ll need to do some research. Perhaps I can get in touch with Paul Harvey!

My apologies to you, and Mrs. Catherine O’Leary. Shame on Mr. Speckter. And the Typophiles, Inc., New York.
As a FOOTNOTE, I must, again put on my orthopedic shoes and stand corrected!

It wasn’t until the later 1890s that the UK foundries comprehensively adopted the point system.

I’ve only encountered the very occasional font of display type whose measurements did not accord with (and hence presumably pre-dated) the point system.

For a complete and accurate history of the American Point System, read “Origin of The American Point System for Printers’ Type Measurement” by Rich Hopkins.