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Monday, 8 August 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (LXXVIII)

Yost, Jackson, Monarch:
He worked on them all,
but did he actually invent any?
Unlike William Prehn Quentell, the largely unheralded typewriter inventor we looked at yesterday, Andrew Wilton Steiger has been given quite a lot of credit for typewriter inventions. But is it all warranted? Steiger was issued with 25 typewriter patents to Quentell's 10, yet got three times the publicity. 
He has, for example, been widely linked with Andrew Davidson and Jacob Felbel as a joint inventor of the Yost. This claim is not supported by patents, issued in 1889 or otherwise. A lot of people worked on the Yost over the years, but as far as I can tell, the original designer was George Washington Newton Yost himself. Yost certainly had the hands-on experience with typewriters, dating back to 1873.
Steiger is also said to have invented the Monarch, but again there are no patents which positively indicate this is the case. He certainly seems to have worked on elements of the Monarch for the Union Typewriter Company, as he had done on the Yost. A design for a denominational tabulating mechanism on a Union machine was filed on this day in 1909.
And then we come to the Jackson.
Clark collection, Darryl Rehr book, Richard Polt website
For such a relatively insignificant typewriter – it’s a rarity, okay, with a supposedly unique mechanism, but it doesn’t stack up against the big brand machines - the Jackson has had an awful lot written about it. And most of what has been published, in books and online, has been to lay claim to its invention on Steiger’s behalf (one of his 1896 Jackson patent drawings is below).
Paul Robert’s The Typewriter Sketchbook (2007) devoted four pages to the Jackson. In the supporting article, Paul and Flavio Mantelli were adamant:
I’m not so sure it’s as straightforward as all that. (Hey, my family on my late mother’s side still hold the Jackson clan pipes played at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, so I feel obligated to go in and fight on behalf of the Jacksons!)
Joseph Hassel Jackson, of Hamilton, Ontario, certainly did have some input - but 10 years after Steiger patented his designs. Jackson had patents issued in both the US (below, from 1906-1908) and in his homeland, Canada (1909). Significantly, none of these patents were assigned to a company.
Perhaps there was at least an attempt to re-launch the Jackson, with a model which incorporated Joe Jackson’s designs. But even that doesn’t answer the question of how it came to be called the Jackson in the first place. Was there another Jackson involved in the original manufacturing company?
As typewriter historian Jim Dax once implied, the closer one gets to the original sources in any timeframe, the closer one gets to the truth. Mares was published in 1909, and he wrote about a Jackson company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1905. But A Condensed History of the Writing Machine was published in 1923, and it mentioned a Jackson “making itself known in 1898”. It also went on, however, that the machine was invented by Joseph H. Jackson and manufactured in Boston. And Boston was where Steiger was based at that time – he later moved back to Bridgeport. Confusing, isn’t it?
On his The Classic Typewriter Page website, Richard Polt puts some very pertinent posers:
“The rare and remarkable Jackson is a machine of mystery,” writes Richard, “All sources agree that its mechanism is unique - but how is it unique?
“Some say the Jackson was invented by Joseph Hassel Jackson … these sources describe a mechanism in which the typebars hang down directly behind the keyboard, are raised to the printing point, and are then struck by a separate bar that provides the typing force. But other sources claim that this typewriter was invented by Andrew W. Steiger of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and they describe its action as a ‘grasshopper’ mechanism similar to that of the Williams. Which is it?”
Steiger design 1890
I have to disappoint Richard here and say my own researches have got me no closer to the truth. My answer is, simply, “I don’t know.”
A few things I have found out about Andrew Wilton Steiger are, nonetheless, quite relevant:
1. Steiger was born in Washington DC on November 26, 1856, and educated at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s oldest technological university.
2. From 1883 until 1891, Steiger worked for the patent attorney David Auguste Burr, the famous photographer. Burr died in 1891.
Steiger even had his father, William Tell Steiger, and uncle, Walter Henry Steiger, both of Maryland, assign their patents to him. Steiger continued to work in the area of patents and patent law until 1898.
3. In Burr’s office, Steiger worked alongside Jacob Felbel (born Boston, July 13, 1857). Felbel became a patents attorney in his own right in 1888.
4. Steiger and Felbel collaborated on a number of typewriter designs of their own, notably for Yost. But like Steiger, Felbel also patented typewriter designs independently. In this way, Steiger and Felbel operated in much the same way as Burnham Coos Stickney, another patents attorney, was later to do.
5. From 1898 until 1920, Steiger was employed in the typewriter industry, but largely as a freelance mechanical engineer. His services were used by the Union Typewriter Company, Wyckoff, Seamans and Benedict, and by Remington and finally Underwood in 1920.
6. During this time, Steiger lived in New York (1883-1890 and again 1906-1908), Boston (1898-1903), Bridgeport, Connecticut (on and off between 1891 to 1911) and Hartford, Connecticut (1920-1935).
7. Steiger died while staying with his daughter in Baltimore, on January 24, 1935, and was buried in Hartford.
Steiger and Felbel first became associated with Yost when Felbel was the patent attorney and Steiger a witness for a patent assigned to Yost by Henry E. Curtis in 1888. This was also the year of Steiger’s own first patent, for a rotary engine.
The Yost typewriter was long believed to be creation of George Yost himself, and still is by many. But it was a baby with many fathers. Apart from Curtis, others who designed various improvements and components included Halbert E. Payne, George C. Prentice, Charles De Los Rice (who had also worked on Yost’s Caligraph, and later for Pope Manufacturing and for Underwood) and Alexander Davidson. One biography claims Davidson sold his patents to Yost in 1887, which might be where the idea comes from that Davidson (with Steiger and Felbel) designed the Yost. But it wasn’t until 1888 that Felbel acted as Davidson’s patent attorney, and Steiger as his attester.
Where things get really tangled is when Davidson stops assigning designs to Yost in 1892 and George Yost starts assigning things to the Davidson Writing Machine Company the next year. But in 1893 Davidson (born 1826) died, then Yost died in 1895, and that put an end to that.
Steiger and Felbel got in on the act of designing typewriters in 1889, with a patent (above) assigned to the Writing Machine Manufacturing Company of New York. If this is the American Writing Machine Company, it is the outfit which made Yost’s Caligraph.
Steiger and Felbel followed this with another joint patent in 1890 (above), involving type movement, with Steiger assigning his share to Felbel. In 1891 Steiger assigned a release key patent to Felbel, then two patents to Yost.
Steiger’s next typewriter patents came in 1896 (above), and were assigned to the Jackson Typewriter Company of Boston.
There were five of them, which apart from the machine itself covered typebar movement, letter spacing, carriage movement and the shift keys.
Steiger’s next set of five patents, in 1901-1903, were assigned to Augustus L. Hoffman, Frederic S. Converse and Frederic J. Leach, trustees of Lyons, New York. But trustees for whom, exactly? Yost, perhaps? Or the allegedly bankrupt Jackson?
Steiger next moved to the Union cartel, assigning designs to it from 1903-1911. It is from this association that the idea Steiger designed the Monarch typewriter emerges. Steiger also assigned patents to Remington and Wyckoff, Seamans and Benedict during this period.
Will Davis tells us that it was in 1903-1904 that Union was in the process of developing the Monarch. “In late 1904 the Monarch appears and immediately sells wonderfully.” Will adds that in 1921, the Monarch-pattern machine was rebranded as Smith Premier.
A very long and involved tale certainly centres around Andrew Wilton Steiger. And at the end of it, do we know who really did design the Yost, the Jackson and the Monarch? Actually, no!
Another typewriter component designer who had a long and interesting life, but not always in designing typewriter parts, was Lucien Aaron Brott of Groton, New York. Brott, born in New York in 1847, at the age of 20 went on a voyage to the Indian Ocean on a whaler called the Young Phoenix (below).
In January 1876, Brott’s ship rescued 44 survivors off the Strathmore, after it had become stranded on the Crozet Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. These people had lived on birds flavoured with gunpowder and sea water for six months. The Young Phoenix took them to Mauritius.
Brott returned to New York, settling in Ithaca, where he found work as a machinist in 1880 and later in life as a carpenter. He invented a mechanical musical instrument in 1882 and barrels for the musical instrument in 1889 and a vacuum engine in 1891.
In the late 1880s, Brott went to work for Lucien Stephen Crandall at Crandall's Groton factory and, with his involvement in the typewriter industry, took an interest in typebars. In the mid-1890s and early part of the 20th century, Brott designed a type magazine, composite typebars and machines to produce typebars.
Brott was issued with a patent (above) for this ribbon movement mechanism for the Crandall on this day in 1889. In his specification, he wrote, “Heretofore the ribbon has, in passing from spool to spool, been led so near the impression-cylinder [platen] and the paper passing around the same, that there was great danger of blurring or smearing the paper as the carriage was moved along, as also the ribbon was not bent around the type-cylinder [typesleeve] enough to give a clearly-defined and well-cut edge to the letter as it was printed. In addition to this, it was not possible to see the last word or letter printed without the use of a movable carrier for the ribbon, which was provided with a special key for its operation, and this added expense and complication, both of which it is desirable to avoid.
“The object of my present invention is to so hold the ribbon at a distance from the impression-cylinder as to clearly reveal at all times the matter last printed, and at the same time to effectually prevent any possibility of any smearing or blurring of the paper as the carriage makes its forward movement, and also to retain the ribbon taut, but yieldingly, in the path of the type-cylinder, so that as the latter makes its forward stroke the ribbon is readily carried with it, yet is wrapped so tautly around the face of the type-cylinder as to insure a clean and clearcut impression, with no portion of the ribbon in contact with the paper except that immediately pressed down by the raised type, and which will also be drawn back to its normal position as the type-cylinder falls back ready for a fresh impression.”
Brott died in Tompkins County on November 17, 1914.
American gossip columnist Louella Parsons was born Louella Rose Oettinger in Freeport, Illinois, on this day in 1881.
She died, aged 91, in Santa Monica on December 9, 1972.
Parsons was an influential arbiter of Hollywood mores, often feared and hated by the individuals, mostly actors, whose careers she could negatively impact via her radio show and newspaper columns.
One of those actors who may have feared and hated Parson was Lucille Désirée Ball.
The American comedienne, film, television, stage and radio actress, model, film and television executive was the star of sitcoms I Love Lucy, The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy and Life With Lucy.
Ball was born in Jamestown, New York, on this day in 1911, 100 years ago today. She died, aged 77, in Los Angeles on April 26, 1989.
Andrew Warhola Jr, better know as Andy Warhol, was born on this day in 1929 in Pittsburgh.
Warhol was painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. He died, aged 58, in New York City on February 22, 1987.


Richard P said...

All I really know about the Jackson is that I want one. Let me know if you spot one in New Zealand or somewhere! :)

Ironically, the Crandall ribbon mechanism was apparently not "visible" enough, because they came out with the Crandall Visible on which, as I can attest, there is a functioning ribbon vibrator that moves horizontally back and forth.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks, Richard. I haven't had much of a chance to look at Trade Me lately, Moya's the pity. But yes, it's just the sort of place something like this might pop up one day.