The Typewriter Man



Various Little-Known Facts About Typewriters

Did you know ?

You can type the word 'typewriter' using just the top row of keys on the keyboard.

Most people think that the shortest sentence using all the characters on a typewriter keyboard is:
'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs'.   It isn't !   The shortest alphabetical sentence that makes sense is:
'J. Q. Vandz struck my big fox whelp' !

The first electric golfball typewriter was introduced in 1902.   It had all the features of a modern machine, plus it could rule lines and print in two colours.   The Blickensderfer Electric cost the equivalent of a mainframe computer today, so very few were sold.    Nearly sixty years later, IBM re-introduced the idea and it went on to be one of the most sucessful typewriter designs ever produced.

The piece on the end of the typebar which prints the character on the paper is called a TYPEFACE (type slug in the USA). The plural of this word is........TYPEFACE !

The characters on the typeface are microscopically curved to match the curvature of the platen (roller). If they weren't, the character would print too heavily in the middle and too lightly top and bottom !

The typeface is attached to the typebar by ordinary soldering. No other method would work, because the solder is minutely elastic and will withstand the repeated hammer blows onto the paper.   If a typeface DOES become detached, a skilled typewriter man can solder it back into place - by hand !

A typewriter can beat a computer and printer hands down when it comes to filling in pre-ruled forms.   That's why goverment departments throughout the world still use typewriters.   And for short memos and letters of less than a quarter of a page, the typewriter is still king !

Double Typewriters

As recently as the 1960's, the Imperial Typewriter Company made a special purpose machine that was effectively two manual typewriters bolted together side-by-side, but sharing a common carriage.

The idea was to allow two totally different languages to be typed on the same piece of paper, by moving the carriage across to the second half of the machine. They were very heavy, very complex - and very few were sold !

What do typewriter factories make in wartime ?
In two cases - Imperial in England, and Everest in Italy - they carried on making typewriters.   Imperial made a 'War Finish' model devoid of all chromium plating. But others turned over to making precision parts for the war effort, mainly mechanical fuses, and sometimes guns.

Swords to ploughshares'
There is quite a connection between guns and typewriters. Remington made guns, and took up typewriter manufacture when the gun trade took a downturn. The originators of the 'Bren' gun in Czechoslovakia turned to making the 'Consul' typewriter after the last war.    And the manufacturers of the Walther PPK pistol used to make a nice adding machine !

The ribbon replacement cost for a manual typewriter is less than a quarter of that for a printer - and you don't need electricity to use it - HOW GREEN IS THAT ?

The Typewriter as a Musical Instrument
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'What did you do in the war, daddy ?'
Quite a few typewriters were subject to bomb blast during the last war, as might be expected.   So what did typewriter men find when they either tried to repair these machines or cannibalise them for much-needed spares ? The shock from the blast often tightened all the screws beyond belief, making them nearly impossible to remove.
Being a typewriter man was a semi-reserved occupation during the war.  You weren't exempt from being called up, but you were one of the last to go.

How long does an office manual typewriter last ?
A good quality machine can be expected to last in everyday use for twenty years. A really high quality machine can do thirty years or more !

Why does the ribbon switch have a white or stencil position ?
Ah yes, the stencil position ! This used to be common knowledge, but seems to have disappeared from folk memory ! Nowadays, if you want a couple of hundred copies of a price list or a newsletter, you design one on a computer and make your copies on a high speed photocopier. But before the 1980's, there was a different method. People used a duplicator. The duplicator was like a small printing machine, either hand cranked or electric. First a stencil was prepared on a typewriter, hence almost every typewriter has a stencil position on the ribbon switch. This disabled the ribbon, so that the machine would type straight onto the paper. The stencil was made of thin paper rather like tissue paper. The 'ribbonless' typewriter would cut the characters in the stencil. You had to be a very accurate typist because you could not erase a mistake.
When the stencil was completed, it was put onto the duplicator. When the handle was turned, the duplicator would take in a sheet of paper, squeeze a paste-like ink through the holes in the stencil and onto the paper - which was then ejected onto an output tray. The process would then repeat for as many copies as you needed. Long after firms went over to photocopiers, duplicators were still being used by churches, scout groups etc. Ask any older person who has used one, and they will tell you that it can be an unbelievably messy process. A tiny spot of duplicator ink will get everywhere - on your clothes, on your hands, even on your face if you scratch your nose !! Believe me, I know - I used to repair them ! Clearing a blockage in the ink pump was about the worst possible job you could imagine !!

Back-to-Front Typewriters
Most of the world's languages are written from left to right, but there are a few that are written from right to left. Many typewriter manufacturers made machines especially for this market, where the carriage travelled in the opposite direction to 'normal' !   These used to be generally known in the trade as 'Persian' typewriters. Many of the 'handed' parts were fitted to the 'other' side of the machine to achieve this effect, but the line space lever usually remained left-mounted although hinged to operate in reverse.

The secret typewriter manufacturer
Imagine a typewriter maker that sells machines under any name but their own.   That would be Nakajima.   Naka-who ?  Precisely !!  From the 1970's to the 1990's, this Japanese manufacturer made both manual and electronic typewriters for most of the leading brands to pass off as their own.   Rather like the food factory that makes 'own brands' for a number of different supermarket chains, Nakajima had a range of perfectly good typewriters which they dressed up in different cases and colours as required.   Nakajimas were often used to plug the gaps in established manufacturer's ranges.   When production of manual portables started to wane, Nakajima filled the void.   But in the northern hemisphere at least, the name Nakajima never appeared on a typewriter !