One day to Typewriter Day
Tomorrow’s The Day!
Typewriters: An International Language
Albert Mamatey and the umlaut Remington
(Set in:)It’s entirely appropriate that tomorrow we should celebrate Typewriter Day as one international Typosopherian community. Typewriter lovers from across the globe will mark the event by using a machine that has never, it its 143-year history, been forced to recognise borders or boundaries. The typewriter is a machine which has done more than most to break down language, cultural and ethnic barriers, to overcome the tyranny of distance and to allow peoples around the world to communicate with and understand each other, and to draw closer together.
From its earliest days, in the late 19th century, the typewriter tackled the challenge of the world’s differing tongues. The people who developed it in the 1880s and 1890s understood that to reach markets beyond the English-speaking world, and to meet the needs of non-English speaking peoples, they had to find ways of being able to adapt their machines, the keyboards and the type-elements, to different alphabetic writing systems: to Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, and so many others.
Both Hammond (above) and Blickensderfer (below) sold more 100 different type-elements. (I am indebted to Irish blogger Michael Everson for this scan of Hammond shuttle typefaces, and I apologise for the poor quality of my own Blickensderfer typeface scans):
In each case, these were typewheels or typeshuttles, which could be easily changed, even allowing for different fonts and styles in the very midst of typing a document. Keytops could be changed to facilitate the typing of different languages.
Typewriters with typebaskets and typebars presented a greater problem. But as we have seen from previous posts in this series, inventors were undaunted by the task, and came up with ideas for various means of being able to adjust the typing action of machines to allow for differing needs.
One such was Albert Mamatey, who on this day in 1922 applied for patents for his plan to allow standard machines, such as Remington and Corona portables, to be adapted to type diacritical marks without necessarily having to backspace – as, for example, we still have to do on some old typewriters if we want an exclamation mark!
Mamatey was not a typewriter inventor per se. His real claim to fame is as one of the driving forces, at least in the US, behind the creation of the nation of Czechoslovakia after World War I.
Mamatey was born on April 11, 1870, in Kláštor pod Znievom, a village and municipality in northern Slovakia, near the Malá Fatra mountains. At the time of him applying for his typewriter patents, Mamatey was a Slovak politician in exile. He was one of the signatories of the Pittsburgh Agreement, which paved the way for the creation of the state of Czechoslovakia and was signed by a group of 20 Czechs, Slovaks and Rusyns on May 31, 1918.
The agreement, signed in the Moose Hall in downtown Pittsburgh, declared the intent of the American representatives of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Czech Silesia to create an independent state to be known as Czecho-Slovakia (as spelled in the document). It is often compared to the United States' Declaration of Independence.
On October 18, 1918, the primary author of the agreement, T. G. Masaryk, declared the independence of Czechoslovakia. He was elected the first President of an independent Czechoslovakia in November 1918.
Albert Mamatey had emigrated to US in 1893 and for a while in the early part of the 20th century he worked for the Carnegie Institute in Washington. But he left that job to devote himself to the activities of fellow Slovaks in exile. He became editor of a national Slovak newspaper and founded the Slovak Youth Circle. Mamatey also founded the Slovak League of American in 1911 and until 1920 was its president. As well, he was vice-president of the Czechoslovak National Council. After the establishment of Czechoslovakia, he became consul in Pittsburgh in 1920. He is buried in the Slovak Cemetery in Braddock, Pennsylvania, near his home in North Braddock. A street in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is named after him.
Czechoslovakia was a sovereign state from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992. With the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy at the end of World War I, the independent nation of Czechoslovakia was formed, encouraged by, among others, Hammond typewriter-loving US President Woodrow Wilson.
Mamatey is seen in this photograph on the left of Milan Rastislav Štefánik (in uniform) at a meeting of Czech and Slovak workers at the Congress Hall Hotel at Cape May in New Jersey. The photo was taken in October 1917. Exactly three years earlier, Mamatey had signed a Slovak League memorandum which expressed the idea of uniting Czech and Slovak liberation efforts in the interests of establishing an independent Czechoslovak state.
Štefánik was a Slovak politician and diplomat who during World War I was a general in the French Army as well as Czechoslovak Minister of War in the resistance government. He contributed decisively to the cause of Czechoslovak sovereignty. After the US declared war on Germany, he went to the US to recruit a Czechoslovak army and 50,000 young men of Czech descent volunteered their services.
In his patent applications, Albert Mamatey pointed out that diacritical marks were used in “such languages as Czechoslovak, German, French, Swedish, Polish and Hungarian”. His motivation in seeking separate patents to be applied to Remington and Corona portables was to enable people to type in those languages using readily available typewriters. Remington and Corona portables were among the biggest selling typewriters of the day in the US.
Mamatey wanted typewriters to “employ diacritical marks such as various accents, umlauts, etc, to a greater or less extent. Some languages employ as many as six diacritical marks, which combined with the regular letters make as many as 50 characters. In accordance with my invention, these languages may be written with the ordinary American typewriter keyboard without changing the letter portion thereof.
“The ordinary typewriter may be in accordance with my invention readily modified to write such foreign languages. The printing of a diacritical mark over a letter should not cause any feed of the typewriter platen. In the usual form of ‘visible’ typewriter, when a key is struck the ribbon vibrator is actuated to move the ribbon under the typebar and then after the character is printed the typewriter escapement operates to feed the carriage and platen one letter space ready for the next character to be printed. In printing diacritical marks, the typewriter should be arranged so that the ribbon vibrator is actuated to move the ribbon under the typebar, but the escapement should not be actuated. The diacritical mark should be printed and the platen should remain in the same place so that the letter can be then printed beneath the diacritical mark.”
Sadly, Mamatey did not live to see his idea come to fruition. He died, aged 53, in Brooklyn, on December 21, 1923, and his patents were not issued until July 14, 1925. For that reason, they were handled by Potter Title and Trust Company of Pittsburgh, administrators for Mamatey, and assigned to the Remington Typewriter Company of Ilion, New York.
As very adequately covered in the September 2007 issue of ETCetera, Czechoslovakia, once established, developed a long and fruitful history in typewriter manufacturing. But Czech typewriter-making dates back to the 1860s.
Today, Czech-made typewriters are probably best identified through the Consul brand.
But I have taken the liberty of visiting Richard Polt’s wonderful collection and using a couple of his images of different Czech-related machines. I remember well when Richard bought this Kanclér No 3, a Czech version of a 1910 German Kanzler, and worried whether he’d ever regret acquiring such a monster.
One much coveted machine in Richard’s collection is this US Mirsa Ideal No 5 portable with a Czech-keyboard (a variant of the Erika).
Czech and Slovak keyboards from Wilfred A. Beeching's Century of the Typewriter can be seen here.
Beeching wrote that the Zbrojovka (“armoury”) Works started operations in Brno, the traditional capital city of Moravia and the second largest city in the Czech Republic, with the creation of the Czech state in 1918. It made rifles and machines guns (notably the British army’s Bren gun). The company began to make typewriters in 1932, under licence from Remington. After World War II, Zbrojovka developed its own designs, the Zeta (1950) then the Consul (1959).
But a lead article by Jaap Horstink in ETCetera says Jindrich Odkolek made a typewriter in Prague in the 1860s and the machine was presented to the National Technical Museum in the early 1940s.
Jindrich Odkolek (below) took over his late father’s major bakery in 1876 and became the first chairman of the Prague Stock Exchange.
Another famous Czech typewriter brand is the Matouš (and again I rely on Richard Polt for an image). The Matouš’s original June 22, 1938, Czech patent shows it was designed by Karel Matouš from the city of České Budějovice. It was produced in a factory called Motorunion.
The Prague museum also holds what it calls “a weird wooden machine [the Psaci Stroj] Aerotyp”. This linear index machine was invented in 1890 by Josef Novak, a high official at the Prague Post.
The name Billy Wilder appears the same in English as it does in Asturian, Catalan, Czech, Danish, German, Spanish, Esperanto, Basque, French, Galician, Croatian, Indonesian, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian (Bokmål), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, Vietnamese. But in other languages it is: Arabic: بيلي ويلدر, Bengali: বিলি ওয়াইল্ডার, Persian: بیلی وایلدر, Korean: 빌리 와일더, Hebrew: בילי ויילדר, Georgian: ბილი უაილდერი, Japanese: ビリー・ワイルダー, Russian: Уайлдер, Билли, Serbian: Били Вајлдер, Ukrainian: Біллі Вайлдер, Chinese: 比利•懷德.
I mention this because the great American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist and journalist Billy Wilder was born on this day in 1906. And coincidentally, he was born Samuel Wilder within what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Sucha, Galicia. It is now Sucha Beskidzka and part of Poland.
Wilder’s career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films and he is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood's golden age. He is one of only five people who have won Academy Awards as producer, director, and writer for the same film (The Apartment).
Wilder loved to get typewriters into his movies. He was apparently involved in the screenplay of the stageplay The Front Page, which became His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
Wilder certainly remade the play as The Front Page in 1974, with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. But perhaps his most famous movie is Some Like it Hot, and Wilder can be seen here working with scriptwriter I.A.L. Diamond.
Wilder died in Beverly Hill on March 27, 2002. Here is what is on his tombstone: