RICHARD WILLIAM UHLIG’S WORLD
An Atlas of his many
As he sought PerfectionIn July 2002 there was a flurry of messages on an online typewriter forum regarding a Richard William Uhlig-designed Atlas typewriter. Flavio Mantelli was apparently liaising with an Italian seller and there was much confusion. Most collectors dated the Atlas from 1915, but the year “1888” was printed on the machine Flavio was naturally keen to acquire. I’m wondering now, given the Atlas was patented by Uhlig on this day in 1916, whether what caused the problem were the figures “88”, as in August 8.
As one of the people who were hoping to help Flavio pointed out, Typewriter Topics in 1923 had this entry for the Atlas:
Another quoted from Ernst Martin: "Atlas 1915. Another construction of Richard W. Uhlig. This machine is probably an improved development of the Arlington. The type levers of the Arlington were in a horizontal position, so they had to go a long way until they hit the platen. On the Atlas they were improved in so far as they were standing upright, like on a Bar-Lock. The keyboard of the Atlas has three rows with shift keys and a shift-lock key at the left side. The machine was built out of a relative small amount of parts and sold for $50. [It] was sold by the Atlas Typewriter Company, 299 Broadway, New York, in small numbers at the beginning of World War I.”
The Arlington was another typewriter designed by Uhlig. Indeed, according to Typewriter Topics, and presuming I have found them all (there is no index, unfortunately), Uhlig was responsible for at least 10 typewriters:
Modern (or Model?)
Of these 10, it appears that there is physical evidence of only (only!) five: the Allen, the Atlas, the Commercial Visible, the Emerson and the Index Visible; the Atlas and the Index Visible are great rarities.Nonetheless, Uhlig stands as arguably one of the greatest and certainly one of the most prolific typewriter designers of all time. A look at this list, of the patents I have been able to find, underlines that fact.
In terms of the patents I was able to uncover, Uhlig clearly worked on the Commercial Visible in 1899, with the possibly of an earlier design for it in 1897, the Emerson between 1902-1909, the Index Visible in 1903-04, the Atlas in 1915-1916 (it appears to have gone into production while the patent was still pending), and the Allen from 1921-1925. In between the Emerson and the Atlas, Uhlig also did a lot of work for Underwood. And towards the end of his life, he appears to have been working on a small (tilting?) portable (could it be the Modern/Model?).
His first typewriter design, patented in November 1897, is for a spectacular looking machine (above), one which encompasses features of the Blickensderfer (with its typewheel and splayed keyboard), Hammond and Keystone (carriage and hammer), Postal, Daugherty and Moya-Imperial (with the ribbon arrangement), among others. One can only assume it is the beginnings of what later became Uhlig’s own Commercial Visible.
Certainly, applications for patents for the Commercial Visible followed almost immediately after. And all, including the one above, were assigned to William Bell Baldwin, of Yonkers.
Baldwin, at the time of his death in early 1902, was described by The New York Times as “an inventor of typewriter parts and a manufacturer of typewriters at 300 Broadway”. This, of course, is right across Broadway from where the Atlas was marketed.
Baldwin was the son of Ebenezer Baldwin of Yonkers. Not much else is known about William Bell Baldwin. He does not appear to have been issued with typewriter patents in his own name, nor is he mentioned in typewriter histories. Typewriter Topics says the Commercial Visible was made by a company “headed by Alexander M. Fiske, a man who is still [in 1923] actively attached to the writing machine in the capacity of exporter of all makes”. Fiske was the son of Frederick B. Fiske, “a dealer in printers’ supplies” and a one-time partner of politician Chauncey Vibbard. A 1903 advertisement for the Commercial Visible gives the company address as 277 Broadway.
In 1902, Uhlig began working on designs for what clearly became the Emerson. He assigned his first patent to Henry C. Adams of Hackensack, New Jersey. Very little is known about Adams, except that he was born in New York in September 1846, died in Southport, Connecticut, on April 28, 1915, aged 69, and was buried in Hackensack.
Uhlig quickly abandoned this project, at least for the time being, and embarked on the Index Visible, for which he was issued with a series of patents in 1903-1904. All of these were also assigned to Adams. It seems likely Adams took over Baldwin’s business, for the address given in advertisements for the Index Visible is also 300 Broadway.
G. C. Mares confirms the connection with the Commercial Visible, saying the Index Visible was “probably the second instrument produced by the makers of the Commercial Visible …” See ETCetera No 32, December 1995, for details on the workings of the Index Visible.
Uhlig returned to the Emerson in 1909, this time assigning patents to the Emerson Type-Writer Company of Chicago, “a corporation of Maine”. The break of almost seven years might account for the change from Adams to Emerson.
Polt CollectionTypewriter Topics says the Emerson company was established in Kittery, Maine, with $500,000 in capital and the wealthy State representative and senator Horace Mitchell (1857-1922) as president (below).
The Emerson was first marketed in Boston, where the company general manager was George M. A. Fecke, and later moved to Chicago, with a plant in Momence, Illinois. In 1910 Emerson was taken over by Richard Warren Sears (below), co-founder of Sears and Roebuck, and later became the Woodstock Typewriter Company.
Production of the Emerson ended in 1914, and the last machines were sold under the name Smith by entrepreneur Harry A. Smith, who, as Richard Polt points out, “specialised in this somewhat misleading practice. (His name brought to mind the famous Smith Premier and L.C. Smith typewriters.)”.
Richard Polt describes the Emerson’s “unique method of bringing the type to the paper: the typebars swing in to the front of the platen from the sides. The closest relative to this mechanism is the Oliver's downstroke-from-the-side arrangement. The Emerson has better visibility than the Oliver, and maybe it deserved to have a more successful career. The machine sold for $50 - a good deal. Its positive features include a tabulator, a backspace key, and a two-colour ribbon. However, it was not particularly fast, and is said to have suffered from an unfortunate habit: its types fell off the typebars!”
For four years after the Emerson project, Uhlig devoted his attentions to Underwood, and came up with a number of the enduring features of the Underwood office machine.
Uhlig then patented the Atlas, assigning his design to the Atlas Typewriter Company of New York. This company was incorporated in 1915 with $100,000 in capital. It was headquartered at 299 Broadway, right across the road from Baldwin’s old business address.
After a break of five years, Uhlig began to patent designs for the Allen, assigning his designs to the Allen Typewriter Company of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Typewriter Topics tells us James Klien Bowen (born 1871, died 1943), “a prominent capitalist of that city”, was company president.
For a time while he was developing the Allen, Uhlig lived in the Lehigh Valley near Allentown. Uhlig retired as vice-president of Allen in 1925.
American typewriter collector-historian Bob Aubert, who has researched Uhlig’s life extensively, said, “Apparently [the Allen portable] was the only machine he actually got involved with directly. The other typewriters he designed, including the Commercial Visible, were produced under license.” Bob says the Allen, which had offices in New York, was produced until 1933. See ETCetera No 48, September 1999, for Bob’s story on Uhlig and the Allen.
But Uhlig hadn’t finished with typewriters yet. In the last years of his life, Uhlig began patenting designs for a strange-looking tilting portable (above and below). He assigned these patents to Albert Voigt of Brooklyn, about whom nothing is known (even on one of the patents his name is spelt incorrectly).
When Uhlig died, in Newark on November 1, 1937, he had amassed less than half the typewriter patents attributed to him by some sources. Nonetheless, what he had achieved was hugely impressive.
Richard William Uhlig was born in New York in 1860. His German-born parents arrived in New York in 1846.
Richard Uhlig showed an early prowess for inventing when, aged 10, he devised a weight-driven device to operate a fan over his bed. Two years later he made an engine in which gunpowder, exploded by an electric spark, “furnished the power for a reciprocating piston”. He later advertised in newspapers, “Inventions made to order”.
At the age of 22, Uhlig’s offer was taken up by one of the early “kings of the American pencil”: Joseph Reckendorfer. Uhlig in 1882-1883 patented three lead and crayon holders, each assigned to Reckendorfer. It was Reckendorfer who apparently in 1862 paid Hymen Lipman $100,000 for his 1858 patent for a pencil with an eraser attached. Reckendorfer unsuccessfully sued Faber-Cassel for infringement in 1875. In 1932, Time magazine referred to Reckendorfer’s American Lead Pencil Co as one of the big four US pencil makers: “The company was incorporated in 1886 but has been in business for a good 70 years. Its president is Sam Joseph Reckford, whose father Joseph Reckendorfer was an original partner in Eagle Pencil Co.”
In 1890 Uhlig had established a Uhlig Cash Register Company in Jersey City and patented a cash register which looks very much like the ones many of us would have seen often in our younger days.
Uhlig then went on to patent, in 1892, an automatic vending machine, assigning it to Dr Seth R. Beckwith (below), founder of the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital and inventor of the electric transfusion battery. Uhlig’s slot machine went into widespread, lasting use.
American author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was born in Washington DC on this day in 1896. She died, aged 57, at St Augustine, Florida, on December 14, 1953.
American TV and film actor, screenwriter and producer Rory Calhoun was born Francis Timothy McCown in Los Angeles on this day in 1922. He died in Burbank, California, aged 76, on April 28, 1999. Calhoun was best known for his roles in Westerns.
In 1966, Calhoun dropped in on the offices of the Missourian in Columbia, Missouri, to talk to society editor Emily Hughes. The caption says that Emily’s importance was underlined by the fact “she was the only person in the newsroom with an electric typewriter”.
“The proofreaders are leaning around to get a better look at the genuine badboy star of The Texan, and more than 80 movies. He had a part in just about every oater (?) on the small screen. When Westerns fell out of favor, he appeared on police shows and sitcoms. In all, he appeared in more than 1000 TV episodes.”
The great American actor Dustin Lee Hoffman was born on this day in 1937 in Los Angeles. Among his many memorable roles, he played Carl Bernstein in All the President’s Men (1976), with Robert Redford as Bob Woodward.
Hoffman turns 74 today. It just so happens that on Hoffman’s 37th birthday, on August 8, 1974, the Watergate scandal came to a head when Richard Nixon announced his resignation.