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Thursday, 11 August 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (LXXXII)

Today we salute the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC and its collection of beautiful typewriters.
It was on this day in 1846 that the Smithsonian Institution was chartered by the United States Congress.
Thus today marks the 165th anniversary of the Smithsonian being established.
The National Museum of American History, 14th and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington DC, is open every day except Christmas Day, 10am-5.30pm. The museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, includes many fascinating typewriters.
The collection notably includes Christopher Latham Sholes’s “improved prototype resembling a toy piano in appearance, which is now in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History”. It also has this early marketed model (above).
The Smithsonian is named after James Smithson (1764-1829), a British mineralogist and chemist.
In Smithson's will, he stated that should his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, die without heirs, the Smithson estate would go to the government of the United States to create "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men". After the nephew died without heirs in 1835, President Andrew Jackson informed Congress of the bequest, which amounted to 104,960 gold sovereigns, or $US500,000 (about $10 million today). The money was invested in state bonds, which defaulted. After debate in Congress, Massachusetts Representative (and former President) John Quincy Adams successfully argued to restore the lost funds with interest. Congress also debated whether the federal government had the authority to accept the gift. Congress accepted the legacy bequeathed to the nation and pledged the faith of the United States to the charitable trust on July 1, 1836.

In its issue of December 1990, Smithsonian magazine paid tribute to the typewriter.
The article was written by Jake Page, of Northern Colorado, a founding editor of Doubleday's Natural History Press, as well as editorial director of Natural History magazine and science editor of Smithsonian magazine. He has written more than 40 books on the natural sciences, zoological topics and Native American affairs, as well as mystery fiction.

The Smithsonian’s website also has an article about the typewriter, which ends by asking: “When Is a Machine Obsolete?”
“Yet typewriters still have a place in most homes and offices … It may be that in 10 or 20 years the typewriter will seem quaint and old-fashioned [not sure when this was written].
“But many people are quite attached to their typewriters, some even stubbornly holding on to manual machines with the same dedication seen in fountain pen users in this day of the felt tip pen!”


Cameron said...

Great post! The Smithsonian has quite an interesting collection.

I am a relatively new visitor to your blog, having read your posts only for a couple of weeks, and am very impressed with the depth of your research and documentation on typewriters and their creators. Fascinating reading.

Richard P said...

Thanks for reproducing that whole article, it's good to have it available.

Gorgeous S&G they have, and the Beach machine is amazing. (Its keyboard is "standard"? There weren't any standards back then!)

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Cameron and Richard. I think the article is particularly interesting because of when it was written. A lot has changed in typewriter use/collecting since then, so it's handy to get a gauge on the situation 20 years ago.