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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Henry Harper Benedict's 1903 History of the Typewriter

This paper was delivered 110 years ago on Thursday of this week. 1903 marked the 30th anniversary of the deal signed by James Densmore and E.Remington & Sons to manufacture the Sholes & Glidden typewriter.

In 1903, the Herkimer County Historical Society asked Remington Typewriter Company president Henry Harper Benedict to deliver a paper on the evolution of the typewriter. The society's interest stemmed from the Remington Typewriter Company's factory at Ilion falling within the boundaries of Herkimer county, in the state of New York.
The society, however, asked Benedict not to concentrate solely on the Sholes & Glidden and the Remington, but to look at other early machines as well. Benedict didn't entirely follow those instructions, and fell short of being completely objective, but nonetheless came up with a most interesting paper. Some pertinent points about this document:
 Henry Harper Benedict was the man who in February 1873 gave the word which convinced Philo Remington to commit E.Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York, to make the Sholes & Glidden.
Benedict was born at German Flats, Herkimer County, New York, on October 9, 1844, and educated at local public schools, the Little Falls Academy, Fairfield Seminary, Marshall Institute at Easton, and finally Hamilton College, Clinton. He entered Hamilton in 1865 and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1869. In 1923 he was also made a master of arts and a doctor of law. 
Immediately after graduating from Hamilton College, in 1869 Benedict joined E. Remington & Sons as a bookkeeper and rose through the ranks to become Philo Remington’s private secretary and treasurer of the Remington company’s sewing machine division.
In 1882 Benedict joined Clarence Walker Seamans and William Ozmun Wyckoff to form Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict to make and market Remington typewriters. Benedict became president of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict from 1895 and was also president of the Remington Typewriter Company from 1902 until retiring at age 68, in 1913, a multi-millionaire and Remington's largest shareholder. Benedict died, aged 90, on June 12, 1935.
. Benedict says he researched and wrote a history of the typewriter in the early 1880s. This appeared under the heading of  "The Evolution of the Type-Writer" in Belford's Monthly in April 1892 (this is apparently available online, but I cannot access it). For this later paper, Benedict relied heavily for an "update" on two of his employees, Oscar Woodward and Robert McKean Jones.
Woodward had been the principal examiner of typewriters for the United States Patent Office in Washington before joining Remington and the Union Trust in New York at the turn of the century. Woodward (born Pennsylvania, 1857; raised Ottunwa, Wapello, Idaho) was put in overall charge of development of the Remington Visible. Under the Union umbrella, Woodward worked on the Densmore and Yost typewriters (particularly on the Yost frontstrike machine in 1907). Benedict called Woodward 'the best authority in the world on typewriter patents'.
McKean Jones, a linguist and typographer with Remington, in the 1920s became the manager of Remington's development department. He was born in Wirral, Cheshire, England, in July 1855. McKean Jones is best known for his Japanese (katakana) and Chinese ("chu-yin tzu-mu") phonetic alphabet typewriters (adaptations of existing Remington typewriters). Benedict says McKean Jones was, in 1903, 'the most prolific writer on typewriter topics' and 'perhaps the best authority [on typewriters] in the world'.  With Wyckoff, McKean Jones wrote a history of the typewriter in (Johnson's) The Universal Cyclopedia of 1900. I will post this tomorrow. McKean Jones died in his winter home in Stony Point, New York, on June 19, 1933. 
. Benedict's 1903 paper includes writing machines developed in the United States (including, surprisingly, the one from Abner Peeler), Britain and France, but excludes Italy (notably Pellegrino Turri di Castelnuovo, 1808, but also Pietro Conti and Giuseppe Ravizza), Germany and Austria (Peter Mitterhofer), Russia (Mikhail Ivanovich Alisovand Brazil (Azevedo). Clearly, inventions made in these countries were unknown to Benedict, McKean Jones and Woodward at the time this paper was delivered. They were also unknown to Friedrich Müller when Müller published his Schreibmaschinre und Schriften-Vervielfältigung in Berlin in 1900 (as far as I know, the first general typewriter history book written*). They were still unknown to George Carl Mares when he published his The History of the Typewriter: Being an Illustrated Account of the Origin, Rise and Development of the Writing Machine in London in 1909. And they were still unknown to Charles Vonley Oden when he published Evolution of the Typewriter in New York 1917 (available online).
*An F.S.Webster Company catalogue of typewriters of the day, called Typewriters of All Kinds and Our Galaxy of Starswritten by Frank E.Kneeland, was published in Boston in 1898. It is no longer available online. Also E.N.Miner of the Typewriter Headquarters, New York, published a small booklet at about this same time.
The Italian inventions were revealed in Venetian Conte Emilio Budan's Le Macchine da Scrivere dal 1714 al 1900: Loro Storia e Descrizione Illustrata (Milan, 1902) and his 1911 essay I Precursori Delle Moderne Macchine da Scrivere (1713-1880). But English-speaking typewriter historians did not become aware of them until the early 1920s. They were first mentioned in the English language in Typewriter Topics' A Condensed History of the Writing Machine: The Romance of Earlier Effort and the Realities of Present Day Accomplishment (New York, 1923).
Nevertheless, the Benedict paper did make mention of some inventions which had, until the turn of the century, been lost in the clouds of time (and the flames of the Patent Office). Most notable among these was William Austin Burt's 1829 typographer.  Re-discovering and giving long-overdue prominence to the Burt invention was undoubtedly the work of Woodward, and that incredible story is told by Benedict in this document. Because of this, Burt's invention was included in Mares and Oden. McKean Jones and Wyckoff had also mentioned Burt in their 1900 Johnson's Universal Cyclopedia entry.
Although it is not, oddly enough, acknowledged by either Typewriter Topics in its A Condensed History, or, more pointedly, by the Herkimer County Historical Society itself in its The Story of the Typewriter 1873-1923 (both 1923 publications marking the 50th anniversary of the first Sholes & Gliddens), Benedict's paper unquestionably contributed a great deal to the research for both of these books. It would no doubt have also been of great value to later historians, such as Martin and Adler.


TonysVision said...

Thank you for the link to that document of Oden's, which includes a set of drawings of typebar mechanisms. The drawing of the Royal No. 10 typebar system is especially interesting to me, as I work out how to repair the linkage for the "e", which suddenly quit on me in mid-document a few days ago. Regarding Benedict's talk, lacking lantern slides of similar illustrations I can only imagine the steel-like determination required of the audience to remain awake through those explanations of mechanisms that left me cross-eyed.

Thanks for another great post and resource. I'm wondering if a new work on the history of the typewriter may emerge from your work in the future.

shordzi said...

Great article, thank you! Source?

Robert Messenger said...

Did you receive my email on sources?