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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bull to Brother: 82 Years of Japanese Typewriters, 1891-1973

Kyota Sugimoto (born Okayama, September 20, 1882; died, aged 90, December 26, 1972) is rightly regarded as the pioneer of Japanese typewriter inventors. After all, he developed the first practical Japanese language typewriter, using 2400 of the most common characters from as many as 100,000 (at the latest count) kanji characters. Such was the complexity of the task, Sugimoto was included among Japan’s 10 greatest inventors in a 1985 list compiled for its centenary celebrations by the Japanese Patent Office.
In his Antique Typewriters: From Creed to QWERTY (1997), Michael Adler (who had mentioned Japanese language typewriters only in passing in his 1973 The Writing Machine: A History of the Typewriter) devoted an extensive entry to Sugimoto. Adler said Sugimoto’s “1915 patent became the prototype of the modern machine used in that language until the advent of the word processor”.
Sugimoto trained at a technical institute in Osaka, graduating in 1901. He started working in the letterpress field, then moved on to his typewriter project. His 1915 Japanese patent (number 27877) was extended to the United States on November 7, 1916 (number 1,245633, granted November 6, 1917). His address at the time was given as 13 Toyooka Cho, Shiba Ku, Tokyo. The design was assigned in equal third parts to himself, to Jinnosuki Sugimoto and to Nihei Ohtani, of Ohtani Typewriter Co.
Sugimoto described his machine as consisting of a “type-nest partitioned into a large number of compartments to receive types, of inking and printing devices …”. He went on to point out that “characters are printed in vertical lines, commencing at the rightmost line from the top to the bottom, then the line next to the left from the top to the bottom, and so on.”
A variation of the Sugimoto machine appears to be this typewriter “invented” by Hizen Izutsu, of Osaka, and publicised in Modern Mechanics in 1937.
But Sugimoto was not the first Japanese citizen to have a typewriter patented in the US. That honour belongs to Suyeoto Fujiki, also of Tokyo, who in 1891 was granted a patent for a stopwatch-like typewriter.
This looks suspiciously like the famous Italian-made Taurus (the “bull” in my headline), described by Paul Robert in The Virtual Typewriter Museum as "definitely one of the smallest, oddest, clumsiest and most desirable typewriters ever produced". See
The Taurus (photo from Thomas A.Russo's Mechanical Typewriters: There History, Value, and Legacy) was produced 17 years after Fujiki’s patent, in 1908, by Pietro Torrani of Milan. The major difference between the two miniature typewriters is that with Fujiki’s design, the device was laid on paper, whereas the Taurus had a thin strip of paper inside the “watch” (bottom image from the Mantelli Collection in The Virtual Typewriter Museum).
Fujiki’s typewriter had an ink pad rolling over the typeslug ring, and a depression key on the opposite end to the winder. The dial was essentially the same. Torrani and his associate Giovanni Zanini, who had started making a “spy” camera, also called a Taurus, in 1904, perhaps adapted Fujiki’s design when Fujiki’s patent expired in about 1905. There is no evidence Fujiki’s typewriter ever went into production. It turns out the Taurus may in some way be related to my small toy-like typewriter, the Alba (mentioned elsewhere on this blog).
One month after Sugimoto applied for a US patent for his Japanese language typewriter, a patent application was made by Hydesaburo Ohashi, “a subject of the Emperor of Japan” but living in New York. This was for an inking device which re-inked ribbons as they were being used. Ohashi, a Harvard graduate and a manufacturer and exporter of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper, was born in Tsushima-machi, Aichi, Japan, on May 26, 1877, and educated in Tokyo. In 1913 he wrote, “In the early summer of 1906 I made a little invention in the line of typewriter supplies, and with it I have started a typewriter supply business, which for the past seven years has been and is now my occupation. I manufacture a few articles of typewriter and office supplies and sell them directly to the consumer." He died in Columbus, Ohio, on September 30, 1918, aged 41, and on December 8, 1920, his estate became the subject of a New York Times article about a two-wife dispute (see bottom of post).
Following Sugimoto by just 18 months, but with what appears to be a more enduring design, was Yusaku Shinozawa. On June 19, 1918, Shinozawa, of the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, applied for a US patent for a Japanese language typewriter (it was granted on March 11, 1919). This had a type-drum “on which are engraved a large number of characters and signs; a character index board on which are indicated all the characters and figures which are engraved on the type-drum, arranged in the same order; and a sliding piece which can be moved over the surface of the character-index …”.
This seems to be a Japanese adaption of Germany’s Mignon index typewriter, which was first produced in 1903. It is also seems to be more akin to the Toshiba-made typewriter with which we are familiar from recent eBay listings.
In the absence of Japanese language typewriters, more than two years before Sugimoto and Shinozawa came up with their very practical designs, the Underwood Typewriter Company had started to look voraciously at a potentially huge Japanese market. First Stephen T.Smith in 1913, then Burnham C.Stickney the following year, came up with the idea for Underwood of joining two typewriters to overcome, at least partially, the language character problem. Finally, in 1916, Sukeshige Yanagiwara, an interpreter living in Brooklyn, assigned to Underwood a patent for just such a machine (or machines).
Eleven years later, in 1927, Robert McKean Jones, of Stony Point, New York, assigned to Remington an application for a patent on a typewriter with a katakana character keyboard. He said, “Until quite recently the katakana characters were written only in perpendicular columns, the columns running or being arranged from right to left. The new system of writing the characters adopted by the Japanese, however, makes use of an arrangement whereby the characters are horizontally disposed and extend from left to right as is common in English and other occidental languages."
An article in The Salt Lake Tribune on September 9, 1928, described Jones as a "typographer" with Remington Rand. The article may be a little difficult to read:
Jones died on June 19, 1933. His obituary in The New York Times read:
Wilfred A. Beeching’s Century of the Typewriter (1974, 1990) lists a “Complete range of modern keyboards [courtesy of Olympia International]”. He illustrates 286 of them, including two Japanese katakana and two Latin katakana keyboards.
Katakana is one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet. Katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. The katakana syllabary is primarily used for transcription of foreign language words into Japanese and the writing of loan words, as well as to represent onomatopoeia, technical and scientific terms, and the names of plants, animals, and minerals.
Beginning in 1961, 70 years after Fujiki’s “stopwatch” typewriter, Brother of Nagoya began to make English language typewriters (first model above), and by the late 1980s, Japanese-made machines from manufacturers such as Brother, Citizen, Nakajima ALL, Nippo and Silver-Seiko were completely dominating world markets. Indeed, it is now accepted that the last technical advances in manual portable typewriters came from the Brother design team.
Perhaps one of the last, if not the last, was the “automatic power spacer” referred to by Beeching on the brilliant Brother 1350 of 1972 (above). This device is also referred to by Will Davis as the “rapid” spacer” or “fast spacer” and was designed for continuous spacing, according to its “inventor”, Tomoyoshi Watanabe, of Hekikai, Nagoya. Watanabe assigned the design to Brother in August, 1969.

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