2011-04-28 / Editorial

The writing tool that changed our world

News outlets were aflutter earlier this week with the announcement that the last factory to manufacture typewriters had closed. It was a false alarm, as we have since learned. There are still a couple of overseas companies producing typewriters. Ironically, most of the machines are sold to prisons.

Allow me a few moments to wax nostalgic over these marvelous writing machines.

My first newspaper job was at a daily where I assigned a old battered Royal manual typewriter. The Royal was at least 30 years older than me, but still functioned like it was new.

In college I had used an electric IBM Selectric to type much of my course work. The early computers had just been installed at the college newspaper and I had become used to working with those monsters, too. Initially, I viewed the manual typewriter as somewhat of a demotion.

I wrote at least four to five stories a day on that old Royal. The keyboard was stiff, so one really had to hammer away – a habit that I retain when it comes to typing. The Royal required little maintenance. I would have to change the ribbon about every other week, occasionally oil the mechanism and once in a great while clean the letters with a toothbrush.

I clicked and clacked on that machine for five years. Then the newspaper upgraded to computers and my Royal typewriter became obsolete overnight. I rescued the typewriter from the dumpster and it remains a keepsake from my early newspaper years.

Like the Gutenberg printing press, the typewriter was responsible for massive changes in our world. Before the typewriter, all personal correspondence had to be written in longhand. The writer’s handwriting had to be legible. It was a time-consuming process.

The first typewriters appeared in the late 1800s. The machines had been refined so that by the 1920s they had become a mainstay of the business world. Of course, typewriters also made life easier for writers and reporters whose jobs relied upon the written word.

Electric typewriters largely pushed aside the manual machines starting in the 1960s. It was a machine that had a major impact on our world.

Today we rely upon computers and there are many who have never used a typewriter. The keyboard may even be eventually replaced by dictation, but that may take a few more years.

— Jeff McDonough

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