Newman R. Marshman’s entry in a Dictionary of Biography of Typewriter Inventors would tell a sad story, of many misses and one hit: The Sun index, which Marshman invented with Lee Spear Burridge in 1884.
And that pretty much sums up Marshman’s life. At 34 he was a professor of music. At 44 he was a successful typewriter manufacturer and designer. At 84 he was a penniless servant in the Baptist Home for the Aged in New York City.
In the 53 years between 1877 and 1930, Marshman had tried making his fortune by inventing almost everything he could think of: revolutionary musical instruments, toy theatres, adding machines, cash registers, typewriters, coal-carrying bags and finally, in 1908, before he wiped his perspiring hands from the toil of all this profitless inventing, hat sweatbands.
Today, the internet tells little else but utter lies about Marshman. Many hundreds of entries say he and Burridge were African-Americans who invented the typewriter. They didn’t, of course. And every federal and state census from 1850, when he was four-years-old, until 1930, when he was 84, lists Marshman as white. But try telling that to the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition, with its “We Did It – They Hid It” list.
Indeed, Marshman’s most lasting legacy isn’t even a typewriter. If you go looking for a Sun index on eBay, you won’t find one. What you will find in fairly plentiful supply – albeit at a very high cost – are Mechanical Orguinette Company musical machines, originally designed by Marshman. Yet, cruelly, Marshman’s name is not now associated with the development of orguinette.
Orguinette? I hear you cry. Yes, it’s a small portable reed organ mechanically played by turning a crank. These table organs produced sound through a set of vibrating reeds, activated by air pressure or suction from a hand-cranked bellows system. The music is recorded on paper sheets or rolls, cardboard disks or pinned wooden cylinders.
Australian historian John Wolff explains here: “The organettes have an important place in history as the first affordable instruments for the mass distribution of recorded music. They were made in enormous quantities and in a great variety of styles, beginning in the late 1870s and continuing until superseded by the gramophone in the early 1900s … The musical arrangements were often surprisingly effective, in spite of the very restricted scale.”
I believe this could possibly be the only known photo of Marshman, demonstrating his orguinette.
What we do know for certain about Marshman’s life is that he was born in New York City in 1846, the son of an English-born real estate agent, Benjamin Marshman (1810-), and his Pennsylvania-born wife, Rachel Newman Marshman (1812-). In 1850 Marshman was living with an aunt, Ellen Marshman, and his two brothers, Benjamin and Robert. In 1870, aged 24, and with his whole family now reunited, Marshman was working as a clerk in a store, an occupation he would return to in the Baptist institution 60 years later.
The three sons, along with two of their wives, were living with their widowed mother in 1880 – Marshman had married Josephine in 1873 and listed himself as a professor of music.
By this time Marshman had already invented and applied for a patent for his orguinette (in 1877). Through his involvement with this machine and with the Mechanical Orguinette Company, Marshman became associated with Mason J. Matthews, a man far better treated in the annals of mechanical musical instrument making that Marshman. In 1878, Marshman and Matthews joined forces to invent a player harmonica – and took out the first-ever patent for such an instrument.
As with the player piano, the music for a player harmonica was "written" as a series of holes punched in a roll of paper. The player blew into the mouthpiece while turning handles that wind the paper roll through the instrument, determining which notes are to be sounded.
Marshman continued working in this area, and in 1881 invented a flute organ, followed by yet another musical instrument in 1883. But by this time Matthews had linked up with George B. Kelly, another inventor far better known in mechanical musical instrument-making history that Marshman.
Until 1877, just before the Mechanical Orguinette Company was founded and Marshman invented his orguinette, Kelly (above) had been a reed organ action contractor at the Mason & Hamlin factory in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. Together with his partner, Edward Rand, and his nephew, John Given, he began a small independent business, manufacturing music rolls for various styles of organette, and in 1880 this was incorporated as the Automatic Music Paper Company. Matthews and Kelly patented a development of Marshman’s machine in 1881 and in 1886 Kelly invented a wind motor, thus doing away with the small handle.
By 1881 Marshman had moved on to toy inventing, in particular a Punch and Judy toy theatre. Through this venture, he began a long-lasting partnership with one of the greatest typewriter inventors of them all, Lee Spear Burridge. They combined to work on a Burridge toy in 1882 and jointly patented a toy in 1883.
After this Marshman and Burridge started work on the Sun index typewriter, which went into production in 1885.
The Sun index was enormously successful and, according to A Condensed History of the Writing Machine (1923), the sizeable profits it made allowed Burridge and Marshman to be kept almost fully occupied for the next 15 years. During this time, A Condensed History states, Burridge and Marshman produced and tested 685 prototypes as they tried to perfect a typebar typewriter.
In 1893 Burridge and Marshman also began working on an adding machine and a cash register, followed by an adding-recording machine the next year.
As well, in 1895, Marshman and Burridge offered John T. Underwood an early version of what was to became the famous Sun typebar typewriter. Burridge eventually produced this fine machine by himself, in 1901, but Marshman’s involvement with its early development will explain why his name is often linked with it.
At the same time, Marshman and Burridge (above) assisted Halbert E. Payne with a typewriter he was hoping to get built by the Davidson Writing Machine Company. Payne, whose earlier ties with Davidson had been through the development of the Yost typewriter, eventually went on with the work by himself.
Putting these projects to one side for the time being, in 1896 Marshman and Burridge tried to convince Underwood to give up, or at least add to, its line of conventional typewriter ribbons with typewriter inking substitutes. Some of these Marshman-Burridge ideas were quite bizarre.
Also in 1896, Marshman and Burridge offered a swinging typeshuttle typewriter design to the American Typewriter Company, makers of the American, American Visible and American (Armstrong).
Burridge and Marshman went their separate ways after this. While Burridge concentrated on the Sun typebar machine, Marshman made three attempts, two in 1898 and another in 1900, to come up with his own index typewriter. One of these designs was remarkably similar to the American index.
A patent for his typebar machine was issued on this day (October 31) in 1899.
With the failure of his third attempt, as well as of the coal-carrying bag (1905) and hat sweatband, Marshman returned in 1910 to his first pursuit, musical instrument inventing. But by 1915, aged 69, he was out of work.