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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Oh Flower of Scotland: A Remington Rand Portable Typewriter

The Remington Rand and Olivetti typewriter companies, lured by British Government incentives and Scottish Industrial Estates Ltd to help revitalise immediate post-war industry, employment and the economy to the north of Hadrian’s Wall, donned tartan and set up factories in Scotland in 1949. While Remington Rand went west of Glasgow, to Woodside Crescent on the already well-established Hillington Industrial Estate, Olivetti camped east of the same city, in the new Queenslie Industrial Estate.
Glasgow Herald, September 7, 1955
Remington Rand certainly started off with great expectations. In 1955 it proclaimed:
Made in Scotland for the World.
From the Remington Rand
Hillington factory
come world-famous
Remington Rand products:
typewriters ...
Remington Rand rely on
Scottish craftsmen,
Scottish engineers,
and are proud to have brought
to Scotland an industry so worthy
of a great nation's skill and labour.
Olivetti stayed in Scotland more than 30 years, eventually selling its Queenslie factory to Smith-Corona-Marchant in 1981. SCM had, after 21 years, given up on making manual portable typewriters on Kelvin Way in West Bromwich, outside Birmingham in England, and its Scottish venture didn’t last all that long.
These thumbnails are scenes from the
Remington Rand factory in Hillington
Remington Rand expanded its Glasgow factory in October 1952, but hung in at Hillington only about 14 years, before announcing it was closing its facilities there on February 22, 1963, and laying off 1100 workers. Questions were asked about this in the House of Commons, possibly because of the British Government's original investment. But Remington typewriters were made in Holland thereafter.
What may well have hastened Remington Rand's departure from British shores was industrial trouble at Hillington. Remington Rand had a bad reputation for industrial relations in the US before the War, and apparently didn't improve matters when it crossed the Atlantic.
An aerial view of Hillington Industrial Estate, looking north, 1950s. The main Glasgow-Paisley railway line marks the division between housing in Glasgow and the industrial area, most of which lies in Renfrewshire.
Hillington was the first and largest industrial estate of its kind in Scotland, It was set up in 1934 by an Act of the British Parliament, and designated a "special area" in response to The Depression. Building started in 1937 and a year later 84 factories had been let.
Rearmament, followed by World War II, ensured that the industries on the estate thrived and provided employment for around 18,000 workers at its peak. Labour came mostly from Glasgow itself. The British Air Ministry had set out to treble British aircraft production and as part of this effort Rolls-Royce made Merlins at Hillington.
Hillington Industrial Estate remains a successful business location in the 21st century, helped by the proximity of the M8 motorway and Glasgow Airport. Retail units and service industries have taken over from many of the original factories.
It was at Hillington outside Glasgow that my latest prized possession, a Remington Rand Model 5 portable typewriter, was made.
Given that Richard Polt on his Remington portable typewriters page at The Classic Typewriter Page estimates almost half a million of these were manufactured, it's little wonder they are still so easy to come by - possibly no more so, I would suggest, than in Australia. As this particular model was made by the British straight after World War II (sometime between 1945-51), it would have been one of the first "new" portable typewriters to arrive in Australia during that period - when war-time importation restrictions were finally lifted. And, as such, there would have been a huge demand for them. It was a wide open market into which Olivetti also readily jumped, with its Glasgow-made Lettera 22s, but by then Remingtons were already in abundance. Underwood, Smith-Corona and Royal pretty much missed the boat. With their ready availability to this day, the Remington Rand Model 5s, as well as the later British-made Quiet-Riters, can be acquired relatively cheaply on Australian online markets. But one has to be extremely lucky to get one in very good condition. A lot of the Quiet-Riters, in particular, appear to have been thrashed through many years of heavy use. And with the Model 5, the grey, crinkle paintwork and the decals were not applied with the thought that they might continue to look fresh with age; it's almost impossible to get years of built-up dirt and grime off (or out) of the crinkle paintwork. When one looks at the grey Imperials, one has to imagine there was a surfeit of battleship grey paint available, at a low-low price, in post-war Britain.
As I have written in my typecast from this Model 5, I feel pretty fortunate to have finally got my hands on one of these in such good nick. I've never really doubted their typeability - though, especially with the Quiet-Riter, there must be a question mark over the quality-control of Remington production in Britain. I have had many of both models pass through my hands, and until now have never been totally satisfied with the Model 5s. However, with this one, which arrived last week, I feel I now have one with which I can feel quite content.
At first glance, the serial number on this one seemed a bit odd, at least to me. It's EB1849311. Richard Polt's Remington portables page indicates, through various models made outside the US, that the prefix "E" may well point to overseas manufacture (as in "E" for export?). This applies through a succession of models, from the compact to the "Home", "T" and "Par". The next letter in the serial number, "B", would indicate the "DeLuxe Model 5" - though I can't make out anything too "de luxey" about this machine.
Then the seven-figure number indicates, from the 1973 (British?) "Typewriter Age Guide" to which Richard refers, that my model was one of the very last made, in 1951. The number range for that year is 1832901 to 1859900. After that came "EBT", 1952-53 - I'm not sure what model that is. Richard points out that "'BT' prefix means foreign model sold to some extent in domestic field, December, 1940." In 1953, the Quiet-Riter numbers start. From all this, I am jumping to the conclusion that American production of the Model 5 stopped in March 1949, then resumed in Scotland the next year and continued until 1953.
Remington may have established a factory in Glasgow in 1949-50, but it was selling typewriters there much, more earlier ...


Richard P said...

Thanks very much, Robert -- although I was aware of the British-made Remingtons, I confess I didn't know the factory's location in Great Britain.

The best way I've found to clean crinkle paint is Scrubbing Bubbles and a toothbrush, followed by mopping up with a clean rag. Repeat, repeat, repeat ...

Bill M said...

Very nice post. I never knew Remingtons or Olivetties were made in Scotland. I also never knew how many thousands of people worked in the typewriter factories.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Bill. Like Richard, I knew Remingtons were made in Britain, but not exactly where until I started digging yesterday, I'd originally assumed England, like SCM. I was surprised to find they were such near neighbours in Glasgow to Olivetti. As for US brands, I'm assuming labour-production costs had risen markedly in the US post-WWII. I gather the Scots were just happy to have a job!

Andy ormiston said...

Not only typewriters but later electric shavers were made in the Hillington Remington Rand factory.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Andy. I've not yet started to research the history of electric shavers and am not likely to. But you will see in both the article and the advertisement from the Glasgow Herald of 1955 that electric shavers are mentioned.

Baron Moontrap XXIII said...

Any advice on ribboning these old fellers? I am curently resigned to re-ribboning the original 1.6 inchish spools with generic 1/2" ribbon.

Anonymous said...

Hi, we are in England and have found what we think is a typewriter like in your pictures above with a made in Gt Britain label on the back but on searching can't find anything much about it and the serial number doesn't bring anything up (EBT108731). Don't want to scrap it because its in good condition but needs a good clean. Still works and nothing is missing. Any ideas of what we could do with it as yours is the only site that seems to have any relevant information?

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Anon. Your EBT108731 was made in 1952. The Typewriter Age Guide says the model is a "No 5 De Luxe". If I were you I'd clean it up and keep it, but that's just me.
Hi Baron Moontrap. Yes, re-ribboning the existing spools is one way, but this size spool and ribbon can still be bought on eBay

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert - loved your post very interesting to read especially since I have just bought a typewriter exactly the same as yours in equally good condition! It's serial number is EB1818110 although I have also found N-13602 on the inside of the case. Puzzeling...... I'm also thrilled since I live in Scotland and knowing my machine is a Glaswegian makes me very happy!

Robert Messenger said...

So glad to be of some service. I have some Scottish blood coursing through my own veins.

Grub said...

Thank you for this post! I've just picked up one, identical to the one you've photographed, from Hay Festival for £35. Haven't tested it to see if it works yet, but outwardly it looks in good nick. Code: EBT120433 - any help dating it much appreciated. Glad you clarified, wasn't sure if it was a B or an R at first.

mell said...

Scouring the net for info to assist with the selling mine, t'was pure luck I stumbled upon your writings.Very interesting, and your shared knowledge is much appreciated - I cant help looking at my deluxe model 5 a little differently now.
Belonging to my father since new it has been much travelled - Singapore, Germany, Holland....even Iraq, and all the time much used. Yet despite its age I'm pretty certain it could do it all again with ease. Just takes that one caring owner, regular servicing and it really can/did last him a lifetime!
Oh, your 'deluxe' bit if a model 5 is a self starter paragraph key - an exclusive feature which indents 5 spaces at a flick of the key - can be used for columnar work and listings - It is accurate, speeds up typing and makes your work easier.I copied that from my Operating Instructions, but that along with touch regulator and geared typebar mechanism I'd say it was oozing 'Deluxe'!! Thanks again for such detailed writing. Mell

Pat Kumor said...

Where do I look to find the serial number? On my Remington Rand typewriter made in Great Britain

Pat Kumor said...

Can you tell me how to find the serial number on my Remington Rand typewriter made in Great Britain?