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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

In Praise of the Type Cast Machine

Consider the typewriter. Yes the lowly, bulky, nearly-extinct typewriter. “Computers have changed the world,” I’ve heard more than one person opine. No argument, but I’m here to defend the typewriter as having had just as great an impact on our business world as the computer. It’s not an implement in today’s office anymore, unless your assistant uses one for odd-sized documents. (“Assistant” is the PC word for secretary, which is a perfectly honorable profession whose description should not have been thrown on the trash heap of political correctness.) I collect typewriters…so far, about 40 of them. Some in my household would prefer I collect stamps or postcards with pretty pictures of long-gone tourist attractions. There are lots of antique typewriter collectors, but I don’t know of any computer collectors. And for good reason. Typewriters don’t break down; I have some more than a century old that still work perfectly. Typewriters don’t support a legion of technicians who are half your age and three times as technologically savvy. Typewriters don’t freeze, give you a notice that “Your Underwood has a fatal flaw and must shut down,” or flash warning lights that have absolutely no meaning to you. Typewriters don’t connect to a far-from-perfected Internet technology, printers that jam, or machines with names like “Linksys” or other arcane items available only at Fry’s. Typewriters do not lead to swearing, excuses to the boss that you can’t provide the report he wants because your computer is down, or go into “sleep mode.” Although there were numerous machines based on the mechanical reproducing of individual letters in the mid-nineteenth century, the Sholes & Glidden machine is considered to be the first real typewriter. It was produced by E. Remington & Sons, in 1874. Because Remington, a well-known gun manufacturer, had hired an engineer who previously worked for a sewing machine company, the first typewriter looked suspiciously like one, treadle and all. That first typewriter even had the QWERTY keyboard that still graces every computer keyboard, although it is not the most efficient. In fact, it was specifically designed so that typewriter operators could not type so fast as to jam the keys. I have typewriters from Germany, Israel, Estonia, England and Belgium. I have an Oliver typewriter whose keys come down from the sides, a Franklin with a curved keyboard that must have required a contortionist’s skill, a Smith Premier with 70 keys, and several from the 19th century that don’t have any keys at all. I don’t mess around with just Remingtons, Royals, Olivettis, and Smith-Coronas. I have such esoteric machines as a Mignon, Frolio, Fox, Hall’s, Erika, and a Triumph. There is romance in the long-forgotten names of many of these mechanical marvels: American Flyer, New American, Bambino, Ideal, Imperial, Empire, Monarch (these last three from England, of course), and the fabled Blickensderfer. The first Blickensderfer (“Blick,” to its friends), was introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. More than 60 years before the IBM Selectric, the first electric typewriter was offered for sale by Blickensderfer in 1902; it failed because not enough people had electricity in their offices or homes. It was the typewriter that provided women the opportunity to enter the workforce. How far they’ve come, and we’ve come, thanks to the typewriter. In the Victorian Age, documents were written and copied by young men sitting at high desks. Women were not allowed in the workplace, primarily because they were perceived as not “having a head for business,” likely to cause a distraction to young men with raging hormones, and better off tending the home fires. When the typewriter came along, it was believed that only a woman could be what was initially called a “typewritist.” Women were allowed into the previously all-male bastion of business because it was believed their smaller fingertips would fit the keys better and they could type rapidly without jamming the keys at the printing point. Perhaps, had it not been for the lowly typewriter, Marie Curie would not have invented radium and, in 1903, become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize; a host of women would not have become presidents and prime ministers; and countless women would not have risen to the top in corporations around the world. There are some who argue with some justification that the glass ceiling still exists, but it’s a lot more easily shattered now because women were invited into the world’s workplaces…but only because they had nimble fingers. It’s no stretch to believe that without the typewriter women would never have been invited out of the house and into the workplace and the Democrats would not be close to nominating one for President. See, the typewriter has changed the world. “The sound of a typewriter clacking away is a sound I miss now that everyone is writing on computers that just go ticky tack.” –Andy Rooney 60 Minutes Commentator Martin Cooper is President of Cooper Communications, Inc. He is President of the Los Angeles Quality and Productivity Commission, Past Chairman of VICA, Vice Chairman-Marketing and Communications of the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley, Past President of the Public Relations Society of America-Los Angeles Chapter, and Past President of the Encino Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mcooper@coopercomm.net.

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