Early American Typewriters

Posted on Aug 6, 2015

Remington No. 2

Remington No. 2

 

A mini-exhibit on early American typewriters is now on display on the second floor of the museum.

People stopped using typewriters many years ago when the personal computer came out, so many young people have never used a typewriter. Older people remember typewriters as the standard four-bank machine with a typed sheet visible on the rubber platen in front of you.

In the early days of typewriter innovation, many manufacturers created many different styles of typewriters. With the first typewriters you couldn’t see what you were typing, and on others you had to push a lever to type the selected letter one at a time (called Index machines). They looked nothing like the typewriters that eventually became commonplace in the 20th century.

Every person uses a keyboard on their cellphone, laptop, desktop or other electronic device. This keyboard, called the QWERTY keyboard (reflecting the first six letters in the top row), first appeared on typewriters in the 1800’s.

The following six unusual-looking early typewriters are included in the display:

-Remington No. 2.  The first commercially successful typewriter was the Remington No. 2, first sold in 1878. The type-bars hit the platen from below and you have to lift up the platen to see the writing. It is called a blind writer or upstrike machine. The Remington No. 2 included in the exhibit was produced in 1886.

– Yost No. 1, produced between 1887 and 1890, an upstrike machine that contains a double-keyboard, one for upper-case and one for lower-case letters.

– Caligraph No. 4, an upstrike machine with a double-keyboard that was produced between 1894 and 1897.

– Hammond with a curved two-row keyboard and interchangeable type-shuttles (over 200 different fonts were produced). The machine on display is a Model 12 made between 1907 and 1908 and converted to a Multiplex between 1913 and 1916.

– Columbia Bar-Lock No. 8 with a double-keyboard that was produced between 1898 and 1900.

– Blickensderfer No. 5, an early portable that had an interchangeable type-wheel and could produce more than 100 fonts, made in 1902.

The Index machines on display include an Odell No. 4, produced between 1894 and 1905, and an American Index No. 2, produced between 1893 and 1902, which don’t look anything like typewriters we are used to seeing. They worked by selecting a letter from an “Index” and pushing a lever to type the selected letter one at a time. It was a low-cost machine at the time.

Also on display are advertisements, a letterhead, envelope and brochure, and an advertising paperweight for several of the typewriters on display, as well as a number of metal ribbon tins that held the spools of ribbon used in later typewriters.

 

The exhibit was curated by Richard Willinger, Chair of the Museum Society’s Collections Management Committee, and a typewriter collector.