Many may by now be aware of a story making the rounds - on the internet, on blogs and on Facebook and Twitter - that the world's last manual typewriters have been made and the factory, in India, has been closed down. According to the story, only about 500 typewriters remain to be sold, most of them in the Arabic language. I am led to believe the machine pictured above is one of the Indian-made models. Please let me know if this is not the case. I have never seen one, so I wouldn't know.
Let me say from the outset that this claim seems dubious, because to the best of my knowledge manual portable typewriters continue to be made in China. Maybe someone can confirm this? Or enlighten me if the end of the line with models such as the Rover, Generation, Olivetti-Royal, Olympia Traveller C et al has already been reached.
I was just about to leave work at around midnight last night when a colleague drew my attention to a site (http://dvice.com/archives/2011/04/say-goodbye-to.php) which was making the claim about the Indian factory. It appears that this post had been lifted from The Atlantic magazine's website (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/last-typewriter-factory-in-the-world-shuts-its-doors/237838/) and in turn had originated from London's Daily Mail newspaper. The story on the Daily Mail's website is headed: "The end of the line: Last typewriter factory left in the world closes its doors" By Daily Mail Reporter. Last updated at 6:10 PM on 26th April 2011. The page can be found at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1380383/Godrej-Boyce-Worlds-typewriter-factory-closes-doors-Mumbai.html
The story starts: "India-based company has just a few hundred machines left in stock. It's an invention that revolutionised the way we work, becoming an essential piece of office equipment for the best part of a century. But after years of sterling service, that bane for secretaries has reached the end of the line. Godrej and Boyce - the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters - has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India, with just a few hundred machines left in stock. Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India - until recently. Demand for the machines has sunk in the last 10 years as consumers switch to computers. The company's general manager, Milind Dukle, told India's Business Standard newspaper: 'We are not getting many orders now. From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us. Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among the defence agencies, courts and government offices.' The company is now down to its last 200 machines - the majority of which are Arabic language models. The firm began production in the 1950s - when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the typewriter as 'a symbol of India's emerging independence and industrialisation'. It was still selling 50,000 models annually in the early 1990s, but last year it sold less than 800 machines. The first commercial typewriter was produced in the US in 1867 and by the turn of the century had developed into the standardised format - including a qwerty keyboard - that we know today."
As you can see, there is at least one very basic fact in there that the newspapers, magazines and websites have got wrong, but as to the claim about these being the last "new" typewriters left in the world, I have, as I said, reservations. Only last weekend a Rover went on sale on eBay in Australia, and the seller indicated it had been bought new earlier this year.
But many will be aware of just how quickly - especially in these days of supposedly rapid worldwide communications - stories, false or otherwise, can spread and become entrenched in people's minds as accepted wisdom. At 6.30 this morning, I was awoken by ABC Radio to be interviewed live on air about the Mumbai typewriter story - the interviewer, of course, presuming it to be correct.
Regardless of whether the story about these being the last "new" typewriters available for sale is right or wrong, I'd still like to buy one of the Indian-made machines. I do have "brand new", never-been-used manual portables made in China, including the Olivetti and the much-classier Olympia. But I have failed in the past to even track down a site from which one can buy one of the Indian machines online. Again, I'd like to be enlightened on this, if anyone knows how to buy one.
Let me just end by saying that this morning's experiences, of first being interviewed on radio on the subject, and then trying to post something about the Mumbai typewriters on this blog, has been most interesting. Australia is most definitely "Third World" when it comes to modern communications. Here we suffer because for far too long the Government allowed one company, Telstra, to monopolise telecommunication services - telephone and internet. Although Telstra now has some competition, it continues to under-perform in an appalling way; its services leave a great deal to be desired. As of yesterday, my broadband internet connection has slowed to less than a snail's pace. It has taken me the best part of an hour to get on to my blog to post this item. All the while, I was thinking back to the days when, as a journalist travelling the world covering major events, I used a manual portable typewriter and a landline telephone. Back then, I would have been able to write and file to wire services a story like this probably a dozen times over in the time it took me to post it on the internet. Advances in communications? Give me a break ...