In Praise Of Typewriters

I use a PC with a raised keyboard. I do that for a reason, and that is because I had typewriters from a very young age. When the company my mum worked for upgraded their offices in the early 1960s, they offered the old typewriters to the staff free of charge, if they could get them home. Mum asked for a 1930s Adler, and arranged to go in on a Saturday with my dad, to collect it in the car. I was only around nine years of age when they brought it home, and placed it on the small table in my bedroom that I used as a desk.

It was huge, with a long carriage, a bell that sounded when you had to use the lever to move the roller to the next line, and a very long ‘drop’ on the keystroke. And it made a great noise when typing at a decent speed, not unlike a machine-gun. It could type in black or red ink, by moving a selector lever, and also had the option to type impressions only, for stencils. At the time, replacement ribbons were very easy to obtain, and a standard fitting for typewriters of certain sizes. Mum also brought home a box of carbon paper, called ‘Onion Skin Brand’, which was placed between two sheets to make a carbon copy of what you had typed.

I loved that old machine, and learned to two-finger type on it quite well, by the time I was eleven. I used it to write stories on, and even for homework projects to hand in at school. I typed thank-you letters for Christmas and birthday gifts, and could even type the addresses on the envelopes. If I made an error, I had a special rubber that erased the ink. Then later on, a white fluid called ‘Tipp-Ex’ that you painted over the mistake, before typing the correct letter in the same space.

Eventually, the keys began to jam constantly, and my dad said it wasn’t worth the expense of having it repaired. Instead, I was given a second-hand Olivetti portable, that came in a smart carrying case. That had the same full size keyboard and layout, but with a much neater carriage, and a shorter key drop that allowed much faster typing without jamming.

That little gem of a typewriter lasted me until 1989, over twenty years after I received it as a gift. I even typed up a neighbour’s CV and numerous job applications for him on it. But it was showing its age, with occasional key jams, and worn letters not striking the paper deep enough. And by that time, the world of typing had gone electronic, so it was time to move into the 1990s. I went for the one that was getting the best reviews, the Brother AX 450.

This was quite a beast. It was packed with features too; like repeat keys, back space delete, and a snazzy little preview window that showed what you were typing. The paper could be stacked in much like a modern printer, so no need to stop typing after one sheet of paper It also had the facility to save the whole work, then print it all when you had finished typing. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t.

For one thing, it had to be plugged into the mains at all times, which restricted where you used it. Then it had a keyboard like the one I use now, with no keydrops, and no proper typing sound. The cartridges that it used in place of the old ribbons ran out really quickly, and were expensive to buy from the few places that sold them. (No online shopping back then, don’t forget.)

Very soon, I only ever used it when I had to. Official letters, complaints, applications, that kind of thing. If a neighbour asked me to type something up for them, I sat there wondering how soon the ink cartridge would run out. Then just under two years after I bought it, well out of warranty, it did what most electronic things with microchips in them do, and just died on me. The shop where I bought it estimated around Β£120 for repair, which was almost what I had paid for it in 1990. A new one was now much more expensive, and I didn’t really want another one anyway. So it went in a box in the garage, and was thrown away five years later when I moved.

In 2002, I bought my first laptop. It was a heavyweight Dell, running Windows XP. I started to send emails instead of letters, but still really missed my typewriters.

The first two real ones of course, not that last one.

86 thoughts on “In Praise Of Typewriters

  1. Thank you for this wonderful journey through the history of typewriters, Pete. You can say what you want, i love my typewriters too. πŸ˜‰ Over the years i got three of them. The last one was mit a adaptor for using it as PC printer. Brought a lot of fun during studies, because after i had started the print jobs i left the room for shopping. The printer did his job with a famous sound like a machine gun, heared all over the seminary. Lol Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I went through high school on my mother’s college Underwood which I loved. When I went off to college, I had to buy myself one with my summer earnings. I went with Olympic, though I think I also considered Olivetti. That one lasted until many years later when I inherited a IBM selectric. I loved the sensation of throwing the carriage lever to start a new line. And I loved the bell. I cannot type on anything but the full sized keyboard with click sounds that I use on my Mac.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful walk down memory lane, Pete. I so enjoyed your chronology. Anyone who typed on an Underwood (E.B. White did) or an Adler knows the feeling of the keys is connected to writing. I was never a fan of the electric typewriter, but I do love typing in my Mac. Those white strips that corrected the typing were a great invention. Who knew that one day there would be a reverse or delete key to erase errors?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember sitting in on a sales meeting when the computer company I worked for was trying to sell software to run a car hire company, at about Β£50k it wasn’t cheap. Bob, the dry Yorkshire man in charge of the hire company turned us down and I stll remember his words ‘I can buy a lot of F’ing typewriters for 50 grand’ πŸ™‚
    I just showed Malina a youtube video on how to use a typewriter, its seems they are in vogue again and quite collectable.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Of course, I will never go back, but I remember my humble beginnings on manual typewriters. I took a typing class in high school. Since I’m a competitive person, I was always challenging myself to get faster with fewer mistakes. With age, my speed is still decent, but I sure make a lot more errors.

    When I was a seven or eight, I remember practicing on my grandmother’s Braille typewriter. She would transcribe printed material to Braille for her students.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I miss my old typewriters too. I self-taught myself on one decades ago, but didn’t how good of a teacher I was until I was drafted into the army and had to type 50 words a minute with few errors to qualify for company clerk (which I did). It may well have saved my butt, because otherwise the infantry was beckoning and I could’ve met my reckoning.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, although in my case I did the opposite journey to yours. I started with a portable Olivetti, and then when the factory my mother worked at close, I ended up with one of their huge and old typewriters (I did love it, and we had the iron stand with wheels to go with it as well). I learned to touch type (or I taught myself with a book) and it’s always proved useful. I use a separate keyboard + mouse because I can’t stand the one on my laptop (and it is much more comfortable and safer, as I tend to drop things on the computer otherwise, and the separate keyboard is more resistant). I never got to try an electrical typewriter (my mother wanted to buy me one but at that point I told her computers were the way to go. Thanks for the memories, Pete. Have you ever watched “Populaire”? A must for typewriter fans.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populaire_(film)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Olga. I should have tried to learn to type properly when I was young. Stuck with my own ‘style’ now though. I know of the film, but haven’t seen it yet. Looks like my kind of French comedy though.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  8. Pete, we were required in high school to take some sort of “homemaking” class – cooking, etc. But one option was typing, and I’m so glad I did! Loved the classic electric typewriter…all keyboards and the illumination of electricity now!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I used to have an old Underwood typewriter that was similar to your Adler, and I’ve also used an Olivetti at one time or another. I was hired by the Kansas City regional personnel office of HEW shortly before it transitioned to HHS, and began using a Xerox Memorywriter. But it was soon replaced with a dedicated word processor called a Vydec. The floppy disc was quite large. To print documents, you took the floppy out of the Vydec’s slot, and inserted into the desk-sized standalone printer’s slot. I eventually got a job with an insurance brokerage company, during which time we transitioned from a dedicated word processor (whose printer used daisy wheels) to an early model PC. I’ve been using a PC at home for decades now. I’ve had virtually no experience with a laptop, but certainly would consider one due to the mobility it offers. However, I prefer a standard keyboard and a mouse, so would have to add those to a laptop.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I loved my typewriters and then I decided to go to the computer, an Apple 2 Plus. Took two floppies to type on it, and if you wanted capital letters you had to purchase a β€˜tower’ that used another floppy. To print was yet another machine and the paper moved along via perforations on both sides which you had to tear off. Needless to say I continued to use my old typewriters most of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I used typewriters all through highschool and college as computers were not available! I think the first computer was issued to me while working my first job at Signetics after college. Laptops came much later but I don’t know what I’d do without it now. C

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Typewriters conjure up lots of memories! I took Typing in high school and though I never got very fast I learned the basics. I remember typing up college papers on a small portable Smith Corona and using the IBM Selectric with the bouncing ball in the workplace. And then the mysterious word processor came along and that was the end of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We didn’t have any typing clases at my school, but having a machine at home got me off to a good start. When I took the radio communications course for the police in London, I managed over 40 wpm, sometimes 45, taking down radio calls verbatim. If anyone dropped to a 25-30 average, they failed the course.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I took a summer school typing course when I was 14. Through the years, that course is the one that has stood me the best stead of all the courses I ever took (especially better than the spelling classes πŸ™‚ ). A dozen years ago, when my grandson was living with us, we picked up a portable, much like the one you show for him and spent several weeks teaching him how to use all ten fingers rather than two. I do not have a preference for a raised keyboard, but I do not like the laptop keyboards, the mouse pad gets in my way so I use an external keyboard when I use a laptop. 😦 Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. When I was a child, we had such a big and heavy machine, and I liked it. When I was at university, I got myself a small portable one and it served me well for many years, even for a long time after I had started teaching. But then, in the middle of the 1990s, I needed a new and better one and was thinking of one of those typewriters that have a way to save texts one way or other. When I talked about this, a colleague of mine told asked me why I wouldn’t want to spend just a little more money and get a regular computer, because with that I could do so much more than just typing. Well, that’s how I got hooked. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for adding your own recollections, Pit. The early computers were very expensive in Britain at the time, and out of my reach financially. Even in 2002, I paid almost Β£1800 for that Dell laptop I had.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My very first computer was built by a guy a friend of mine knew and recommended. I still remember that there were parts lying around on the floor in that guy’s living room and I stepped on some of them. Luckily he didn’t hear that crunching sound. πŸ˜‰
        If my recollection serves me right, it had a 5 MHz CPU, and a 20MB HD. And, oh wonder (!!) already TWO floppy dish drives. πŸ˜‰ Of course, no mouse. You had to know the (basic) commands.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. I never owned a typewriter, even though I am old enough to have done; I used one a few times, but I took to word processors without a backward glance, and I don’t think I would be able to type as well as I can now, if I had been restricted to the big old manual typewriters. Interesting how they are now collectors’ items; not to use, but as room decoration! Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. In the 1960s I learnt to type on a Monotype machine. Once used in printers to perforate a wide paper which gave the code to cast metal type. The keys were driven by compressed air which made pressing them down a might difficult.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I didn’t even know you could get a raised keyboard for a computer.
    I confess, I took to the wordprocessor like the proverbial duck to water. Tippex shares must have dropped when I gave up the typewriter (although, like you, I didn’t actually part with my portable for some years after tucking it away behind the sofa.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When I say ‘raised, I mean a usb full-key keyboard with levers on the back to slope it. Not the same as a real typewriter keyboard, but better than the horrible flat things on laptops. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Even now, I have the notorious missing ‘W’ on this keyboard. I have to go back and re-type it in every word, striking the key twice as hard. I would get a new keyboard, but this one was a present from my wife.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Mine was an Olympia. I still have it, though it’s no longer in working condition, for sentimental reasons. I typed my application for the post in Pakistan to set up a leprosy health education department and I typed up my first freelance article for which I was paid. Like you, I didn’t like the electronic typewriters. Did you ever use a golf ball? I now use a laptop (my first laptop would have broken your knees if you tried to use it on your lap) with an external keyboard. It is sloped and it makes a very satisfying clicking sound almost like a proper old fashioned typewriter.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. I learned to touch type on a portable Olivetti and wrote my first stories on it. But despite the problems of technology I am eternally grateful for it: my favourite key is the ‘undo’ button

    Liked by 3 people

  20. My grandmother had an Underwood typewriter in a carrying case, but it stayed open on a small rolling typing table in her bedroom. I had a Royal typewriter, also with a carrying case, I used for a long time. Then, when I started work as a secretary, I fell in love with the IBM Selectric – a hearty electric model. It made a gentle hum and you could really type fast. I love a good typewriter and I suppose that is why I enjoy this scene in β€œYou’ve Got Mail” so much.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. They were made in Germany. I found this online.
          Adler is a German company formed towards the end of the 19th century and still trades today, now under the name of Triumph Adler. Some of the popular typewriter models manufactured by Adler include the Tippa and the Gabriele.

          Liked by 1 person

  21. I had an Olivetti handed down from Mum, loved messing about on it, didn’t take to the electric ones at all. I’m glad they are obsolete, I love all the new tech, besides, it’s hard to edit photographs on a typewriter! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    Liked by 3 people

  22. I used to have a typewriter myself as well. Can’t even remember what happened to it. All I remember was that it weighed a ton, was green, and also had one of those bells you spoke of when it was time to move to roller to the next line. I had fun with it mostly, not really typing anything serious as I recall. These days I do my typing on my Ipad with a connected keyboard, and of course when I’m working I’m using a laptop. Still…gotta love those good old days though 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really hate ‘flat’ keyboards. Typing on my tablet or phone takes me ten times longer than on this ‘proper’ keyboard. Just an old guy not adapting well to technology! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. I had a Remington made in 1945…..I used it for twenty years or so……had a small portable (do not remember the name brand) it lasted awhile but I quickly went to Radio Shack and got the first Tandy portable PC…my daughter used that through college with the old dot matrix printer……Windows XP was brilliant but Gates had to replace it with crap….and Im still use two fingers in my typing….ah memories…LOL chuq

    Liked by 3 people

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