In England they called him "that crazy American who ships junk iron to the States."
Ernest A. Lindner didn't mind. He was on a mission: to hunt down and save 19th and early 20th century printing equipment to preserve the history of an industry that launched mass communication.
To do it, the Los Angeles printer and printing equipment dealer traveled to China, Russia and India over the course of 50 years. In the process of wandering through old printing shops, warehouses, antique stores, abandoned basements and even ghost towns, he assembled perhaps the largest private collection of antique printing machinery in the world.
Lindner, who made his collection available to the public by founding the International Printing Museum in 1988, died of heart failure Oct. 3 at his home in Glendale. He was 79.
"He spent his lifetime saving the artifacts, tools and machinery of an industry which continues to have lasting importance on our civilization, the industry of printing," said Mark Barbour, director of the museum, which hosts up to 20,000 visiting schoolchildren a year.
The museum, which moved to Carson from Buena Park in 1997, houses 150 major pieces of equipment and is rivaled in historical significance in the field by only the Smithsonian Institution. Over the years, in fact, pieces of Lindner's collection have been loaned to the Smithsonian.
One of Lindner's prized pieces was a Potter Printing Press, one of the first presses used to print the Los Angeles Times in 1888. The press, which has previously been lent to the Smithsonian, is on display in the lobby of The Times' Olympic Boulevard plant.
Lindner's family had long-standing ties to The Times.
In the early part of the 20th century, his father, August Lindner, was a machinist for Mergenthaler Linotype Co., and his uncle, Ernest G. Lindner, was one of the company's leading salesmen. When The Times' printing plant was bombed in 1912, the uncle used coastal steamers to replace six destroyed Linotype machines within a week.
In 1932, with an order from The Times calling for 30 rebuilt typesetting machines, the two brothers formed E.G. Lindner Co. in downtown Los Angeles to sell printing equipment, with an emphasis on rebuilding Linotype machines.
Ernest Lindner, who later assumed management and ownership of the company, began his printing equipment collection in 1939 when he went to work in the family business as an apprentice machinist.
"We could sell a machine and take in trade a piece being replaced," he once recalled. "I couldn't bear to throw away some of these wonderful machines, so I began shoving them into corners, even after there were no more corners."
Born in San Mateo, Calif., in 1922, Lindner graduated from Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles and attended Frank Wiggins Trade School, later known as Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.
He worked in the family business for a couple of years until World War II, when he joined the Army Air Corps and flew 17 combat missions.
Back from the war and with business slow at Lindner Co., he became a salesman for Ducommun Hardware Co., a Los Angeles supplier of industrial hardware, before rejoining the family company in 1949. He was called back into service in 1950, and flew 66 combat missions in the Korean War.
Once again returning to civilian life, he began adding to his printing press collection in earnest.
"I was able to search out exactly what I needed in a way that no museum would have the time or resources to match," he told The Times in 1984.
Over the years, he turned up an 1875 Grasshopper hand-powered newspaper press in a dilapidated print shop in Calico, Ark., and an 1850 Imperial printing press in the basement of a tobacconist's shop in Long Sutton, England. One of his most recent finds was a rare 1840 Columbian hand press he discovered in the basement of a print shop in India.
But old printing presses weren't Lindner's only passion.
A barrel-chested man who wore an impressive 1890s-style handlebar mustache, Lindner "lived life at a grand scale," Barbour said.
He restored vintage automobiles and drove in the London to Brighton Run in pre-1905 cars six times. For 10 years, he was a member of a gas-balloon racing team that flew over the United States, Australia, Germany, Lithuania and Russia. And he was one of the early members and a national vice president of the Family Motor Coach Assn., beginning with a motor home he converted from Gene Autry's touring bus.
Advancing age didn't curtail his spirit of adventure.
At 70, he went on an expedition to the North Pole. A year later, he co-piloted a MIG jet over Moscow. And the year after that, he joined an expedition to the South Pole.
Just three days before he died, Lindner returned home from a 1,700-mile trip through Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Austria with a vintage car group. He drove a 1929 Model A touring car.
Along the way, he picked up something for the International Printing Museum: an antique brass spittoon to go in one of the museum's exhibits. As he once said, "Atmosphere is important."
Lindner is survived by his wife of 55 years, Harriet; children Kris Lindner, Ernest Lindner and Jennifer Lindner, all of Glendale; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. today in the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that a donation be made to the International Printing Museum, 315 Torrance Blvd., Carson, CA 90745.