I am often amazed at how neat figures in old scientific publications are. How did authors prepare those plots and diagrams, when there were no computers around? Did they draw them by hand? Were there any special methods and tools involved? Did the authors prepare the figures themselves?
Ink on vellum. Depending on the work place the author may have made their figures themselves or in some cases professionals were involved who would take a sketch and draw an ink original. the techniques were basically the same as for any technical drawing using templates for creating text. A lot of techniques went into making nice figures, sometimes including adhesive rasters to create shading effects etc. A asic technique was also to produce originals is a larger size than final so that when reduced in size, small imperfections would basically dissappear in print.
I believe many of them did the drawing themselves with ink pen, for example. Graphs can be drawn using pins and a metal ruler: you put pins (or small nails) in a measured points of a graph, and then bend a ruler to pass through all nails. The ruler will eventually form a curve, known as a B-spline interpolant of a given set of points.
Gosh, I feel ancient :)
I graduated just before the Windows became popular. We had 8-bit PCs with MS-DOS and some very basic text-processing software. All the official documents (including my master’s thesis and first research papers) were typed on mechanical (or if one was lucky – on electrical) typewriter. For corrections in the typed document we used a special white fluid (applied it with a little brush over the misspelled letters and once dry retyped the correct ones on top).
All the formulas and figures had to be drawn by hand (using a special ink pen, a ruler, a compass, sometimes a special curved ruler). A piece of grid paper could be glued to the document if necessary, or if the grid was big enough to occupy a whole A4 page, we would buy a ready-made grid page from the university bookshop and insert it where it belonged.
This was the required format for conference papers and all other materials we submitted to the print shop, where they used offset lithography and some other techniques to print conference proceedings, textbooks, etc.
There wasn’t PowerPoint, so the “slides” for presentations were drawn on a big cardboard sheets (A1 or A0), which were then hang/stack/pined to the wall/blackboard. Or, if there was an overhead projector, we did the drawings on transparent plastic sheets.
There was a technician in the department, whose job was to do technical drawings, but usually she was very busy, so I did most of the drawings myself. And, yes, I had studied technical drawing as a part of my engineering degree, it was a mandatory module.
A related subject: preparation of mathematical formulas and equations. These were things that simply couldn't be done (other than very crudely) on a Linotype or similar "hot type" machine. To do it anywhere near "right", skilled typesetters needed to build up the equations by hand from tiny pieces of type and lots of pieces of spacer lead and such. Needless to say, this was very slow and very expensive and prone to error. It went "offshore" to lower wage countries, but even then was still too expensive. Crude typesetting programs existed but produced such poor results that Donald Knuth was driven to produce something that would typeset math to his standards: TeX. TeX (and LaTeX and various permutations) are still the gold standard for setting text, equations, and even some graphs and other figures (such as chemical diagrams) generated on the fly.