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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Torpedo Typewriters

The origins of Torpedo Büromaschinen Werke AG are in the establishment in 1896 of Peter Weil and Company, by brothers Peter and Heinrich Weil, to make bicycles called the Weil-Räder and Torpedo-Räder. Production started with nine employees in a 500-square-foot building in Rödelheim, a district of Frankfurt am Main.

In 1907 the Weils decided to expand into typewriter production and took over the Johann Voelker company of Neu-Isenburg, which had been making the Hassia typewriter, designed by Hermann Wasem, since 1904.
Torpedo called this its Modell 1 and had Wasem design a Modell 2 for it.
Weil-Werke was incorporated in 1908 with 1.2 million marks in capital.
Courtesy Georg Sommeregger
The early Torpedo standard-size machines were exported under the brandname Regent. This was a name Torpedo would retain, and use again in the early 1930s when it exported its first portables.
Blue Bird Modell 15a
Also starting in the 1930s, it made portables for export branded Blue Bird, and the Blue Bird was again employed when the magnificent Modell 18 appeared in the mid-1950s.
Blue Bird Modell 18
Just as Underwood had expanded into Germany by taking over Mercedes in 1927, and Royal bought out Orga-Werke, Remington Rand took over Torpedo’s typewriter arm in 1931. The new corporate name became Remington Buromaschinen GmbH, but it continued to market typewriters as Torpedos.
Modell 15a
Remington’s first decision was to have Torpedo enter the portable typewriter market.
Remington sent one of its most experienced typewriter design engineers to Rödelheim to design a series of portables for Torpedo, all variations on one theme but called Modells 15, 16 and 17 (serial numbers apparently didn’t differentiate). These are believed to be Germany’s first four-bank portables.
The glorious Remington-style Klein Torpedo model above features in Richard Polt's Collection:
To the naked eye, the only differences in the earlier portables are that the Modell 16 is marginally higher and has a slide on the paper plate and the 17 has a collar around the typebasket rather than a distinctly Royal-like flat top deck.
Their designer was Herbert Etheridge, who had designed many improvements for the Bar-Lock typewriter company in London before World War I. In 1916 he immigrated to the United States. After working for Torpedo, Etheridge returned to England in the late 1930s and, appropriately, designed typewriters for Imperial.
It was appropriate because Torpedo had sold the rights to Etheridge’s portable typewriter designs to Imperial in the early 1930s, and from it Imperial made its first Good Companion. The more basic of the three designs was also made as the Deutsche Remington. Here is one from Alan Seaver’s Machines of Loving Grace collection:
Below is the Torpedo version with the same shaped collar
Here it is, sans collar, as the Torpedo Modell 17:
And here it is with slight variations (further curving of the collar, upright lever, side handles) as the Imperial Good Companion ("Model 1"), also from Alan Seaver's Collection at Machines of Loving Grace
F.H. Harms took over as director of the Remington-owned organisation in 1934 and in 1938 bike production moved to Hanauer Landstrasse. On January 29, 1944, an Allied bombing raid destroyed 87 per cent of the Rödelheim typewriter factory.
A temporary operation was possible in Groß-Karben by 1945, and later that same year Torpedo workers began rebuilding the original factory. In 1946 production resumed at Rödelheim, and by the middle of 1947 Torpedo had a workforce of 543. In two years this number had almost doubled to 1016 and in early 1950 it was 1259. In March 1953 the number reached 1790 and in 1956 2200.
Torpedo’s stocks were lifted, too, when in 1955 Hanne Friess won an international typing competition in Monte Carlo using a Torpedo Solitaire and claiming the world title.
At this point, Torpedo’s resurrection as a major maker of portable typewriters was completed. Andreas Salzberger took over as head designer and the Modell 18 finally succeeded the pre-War Modell 17. And what a beauty it is!
Will Davis once stated, “I can type faster on this particular machine, error-free, than any other in my collection. Beautiful looks and wonderfully snappy key action.”
By 1958, Torpedo had produced more than a million typewriters (some estimates are as high as three million) and in 1960 an electric typewriter was introduced. But in 1964 Remington Rand moved typewriter production to its facilities in Holland and in 1966 the factory in Rödelheim was closed.
Later models include the Modell 30 and one that looks very much like a Triumph:
This Dutch-made Torpedo from Mark Rosenzweig’s collection shows how closely related the last Torpedo portable is the Carl Sundberg’s Remington Monarch and Envoy III series designs (the keytops are identical):
A far cry from the Modell 18. So let's feast our eyes on some more of that beautiful machine:
Torpedo advertising:

 

29 comments:

Dwayne F. said...

Of all the interesting typewriters I own, the Torpedo 18 is my favorite writing machine for its light and precise action. We'll see if a project Alpina or Facit can dethrone it.

Thanks for the great post and the marketing literature.

Martin A. Rice, Jr. said...

Georgeous, and informative! I consider myself quite fortunate to have snagged a blue and gray torpedo 18 about 3 years ago.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Dwayne and Martin. Yes, I have to agree here with Will Davis's assessment, it is a fantastic typewriter to use. Anyone who owns one is fortunate. Not sure yet about matching up with an Alpina, though - I'll reserve judgement on that!

Richard P said...

Very interesting, thanks. It's a great line of typewriters.

I got the chance to check out Alan's "Deutsche Remington" in person and was surprised to find that it has a basket shift, like the postwar Torpedos. So that is a major mechanical difference between that early model and the other model that was the basis for the Good Companion.

However, as I understand it the Good Companion 5 uses basket shift, and presumably is based on the basket-shift Torpedo. Rob Bowker or some other connoisseur can correct me if need be.

notagain said...

Very interesting and informative. I lucked into one recently myself. It is snappy.
Is that a motorcycle in the ad? Also what is that giant wall of iron with a keyboard embedded in it in the lower corners of the ads?

Richard P said...

The huge thing is probably a Taylorix version of the Torpedo office machine. Info here.

Nat said...

Thanks so much for posting this!
I've recently acquired a red Torpedo beauty very much like the modell 30 you've shown in this post (the green one) only that the one I have is glass keyed.
I'm trying to track down the model name and history, so does that still make it a modell 30?
Cheers!

Ale said...

Hi, I just bought a Torpedo typewriter, similar to the green one you have above the last pictures. It's portable as well, and it has that little logotype. I think it's not the same one though.
I don't know how old it is and I would love to know it. If you could give me some information it would be nice. Thanks!

Robert Messenger said...

Sorry, I can't date it without seeing it. You will have to send an image. Thanks.

Ale said...

Sure, I have some of them, but I just don't know how to put them here, would you please tell me how, or give me an email. Thank you!!

Robert Messenger said...

Use the link at my name on "About Me" on the post, then click "email".

Ale said...

Done, I already sent them

Dan De Lion said...

Today I found out my Mother had sold my Torpedo portable on ebay in December without consent and i'm pretty devastated. I'm not sure which period it straddles as the styling looks from the thirties but the emblem looked fifties and shares similar top cover styling to the blue bird and dutch made torpedo. Any clues?
Here's the ebay listing ... unfortuantely i don't have any better photo's than the ones my mum took.
http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/261138018028#ht_3638wt_1167

Robert Messenger said...

Sorry to hear about your loss, Dan, but I have to say your mother got a very good price for it. I just hope she didn't fool the buyer by saying it was from the late 1800s. More like late 1940s, at the very best.

Dan De Lion said...

Thanks Robert, She was a little clueless but did get some helpful mail telling her she was way off the mark and she did to her credit postscript it into her text. Thanks also for the carbon dating... I'm glad it wasn't a pre war model. Will get myself another in good time.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Dan. I will be selling some of my own Torpedos of this vintage soon, so I'll let you know.

Arnoldus said...

Hi Robert. A few years ago I bought a Torpedo typewriter that has been used by the US Army, probably during WWII. I bought it for 5 euro at a fleemarket in the village I live in, just near Rotterdam/Dordrecht in Holland. It's coloured army-green and faintly on one side it states: "US Army For school use only". The very same model, same colour, appears in Saving Private Ryan in the field office scene whith soldier Upham. Now 'my' serialnumber is 672093. Which according to the typewriterdatabase belongs to machines from the 50's, not WWII? I'm trying to find out more about my Torpedo, but without much luck. So maybe you can tell me more?

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Arnoldus. Do you know what model it is? Going by the serial number I'm wondering whether it is an 18 or 20. both of which are post-war. I take it it is a portable?

Anonymous said...

Hi

We found a Torpedo 30, pink and white that is in good condition. Was wondering how much can this be Worth?

Anonymous said...

We have a torpedo typrighter blue and silver was wandering how much its worth

Anonymous said...

Hi, we have a Torpedo typewriter that is very similar to the one at the top of your page. The only differences are that it says 'Torpedo-Werke A.-G., Frankfurt A.M.' under the Torpedo logo and the ribbon colour selector is red instead of orange. The serial number is 401734. Any serial number list that I can find stops at 400000 and starts at 405001. Can you tell me if this is indeed a 1941 model and do you know why there's a gap in the number lists just for that period?

Thanks,

Aidan

Anonymous said...

Another question...

The carriage advance(?) string at the back of the typewriter is broken - do you know where I could find a photo as to how this attaches to the roller mechanism?

Thanks again,

Aidan

Robert Messenger said...

You may get a better idea about which model you have by looking at http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/a-volley-of-torpedoes-14-great-german.html
From what you say it is either a 15, 16 or 17, and it is a 1941 model. Torpedo "re-set" the serial number sequence to cover all models under one sequence in 1942.
With the drawband, you must re-set the mainspring (test you are winding it back in the right direction by letting it go after a few turns to make sure it 'zings' and not 'flops' back). When you have sufficient tension in the mainspring, reattach the drawband. If the drawband is snapped in half, it may be necessary to replace it, using, say, thin fishing line. Close inspection will show you how the drawband attaches to the right side under the carriage. The drawband must then be pushed under the carriage in exactly the right way to meet the mainspring on the left, without impeding anything under the carriage. Test the drawband moves freely under the carriage. Re-set the mainspring (you may need more than two hands to do all this) then reattach the drawband to the mainspring.

Robert Messenger said...

Aidan see http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/reattaching-drawband-to-mainspring-on.html

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the information on reattaching the drawband. I really appreciate the trouble you went to in writing up that article. It looks like I'll have great fun replacing it but at least I have instructions now so there's some hope of success.

I had a look at your other post and it looks like we've a model 15 as it has the swoop between the turrets (it looks just like the 1931 model under your pre-war heading). Is that not odd for 1941 seeing as model 18 came out in 1936?

Greetings from Ireland - we're still recovering from our defeat at the hands of the All Blacks last weekend :)

Aidan

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the information on reattaching the drawband. I really appreciate the trouble you went to in writing up that article. It looks like I'll have great fun replacing it but at least I have instructions now so there's some hope of success.

I had a look at your other post and it looks like we've a model 15 as it has the swoop between the turrets (it looks just like the 1931 model under your pre-war heading). Is that not odd for 1941 seeing as model 18 came out in 1936?

Greetings from Ireland - we're still recovering from our defeat at the hands of the All Blacks last weekend :)

Aidan

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Aidan. Some of the comments on the latest post about reattaching the drawband might also be useful to you. RM

waleed abdou said...

Hallo my name is walid recently i bought torpedo 6 type writer and i was wondring if can some one help to know some information. 1- when did it made and where? how much did it cost back then? what was it made from? who used to buy it?

waleed abdou said...

hi recently i bought torpedo 6 type writer and i was wondering if some one can help me to gather some in formation about.first when it was made and where? second who was the owner of the company back then? third what was it made from? finally who used to buy it