Current Special Exhibit at the Sharpsteen Museum
Still QWERTY After All These Years…
From the Gilded Age to the Era of Swing
Typewriters from 1896 through the 1940’s
A private collection of museum member Jim Flamson
Jim started collecting typewriters by accident in 1974. He had just moved back to Calistoga to take over his late father’s Insurance Agency on Lincoln Ave. His father had an old typewriter sitting in the window sill in the front of the office, and Jim couldn’t help but notice how many people stopped while walking by to look at it. A few months later, someone came in and asked if he would like another typewriter to go with the one in the window. Of course, he said “Yes”, and as they say, the rest is history.
Over the past 42 years, Flamson has accumulated over 50 typewriters, ranging in age from 1896 through the 1940’s. The collection includes typewriters such as Chicago, Underwood, Remington, Olivetti and Woodstock. He is currently researching the history of each typewriter, and will have that history available for review when the collection opens at the Sharpsteen November 4th. There are some very interesting stories.
Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the Printing Press. In 1575 an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazzetto, invented his instrument to impress letters in paper, he called this the “scrittura tattile”. It would take almost another 150 years for a typewriter of sorts to appear. In 1714, Queen Anne of England granted a patent to Henry Mill, a British Subject and Engineer, for an “artificial machine for impressing of letters singly or progressively whereby all writings whatsoever may be engrossed in paper…”. Although a strong beginning, the Mill machine proved to be lacking.
In 1808, Italian Pellegrino Turri invented the first typewriter, developed specifically for his close, blind friend, the Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano.
1867 brought a new “writing machine” developed by Christopher Latham Sholes of Wisconsin. His typewriter is considered the ancestor to all standard typewriters developed thereafter. Realizing the machines shortcomings, Sholes partnered with Glidden and introduced the QWERTY keyboard. To further develop the machine, Sholes brought in Remington culminating with the first commercial typewriter being introduced to the US in 1874.
Sholes was sure his typewriter would be hugely popular and sell strongly in the US. The standard price was only $100.00 (as much as $2100.00 today). Unfortunately, many believed it to be strange, crass, uncouth and nearly offensive. Longhand was the accepted ritual and should remain so.
Many inventors in Europe and the US jumped on board with similar inventions during the 19th century, but successful commercial production with the “writing ball” is given to Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen in 1870.
There were more inventors and strategists throughout these decades. Prior to the accepted name “typewriter”, inventors used the label “typographer machine”, Scribe Harpsicord”, “Type Writing Machine”, and in Italy, “tachgrafo or tachitipo”.
Whatever the name, whomever the inventor, the typewriter became a must-have for not only businesses small or large, but for personal use in homes.
How many of us still use a typewriter? The technology, Yes, the actual machine, not so much. Come back with us and share the revolution of the typewriter.