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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

When Four Great Rivals Joined Forces for a Common Cause: The Educational Bureau of Portable Typewriter Manufacturers


The L.C. Smith-Corona, Remington, Underwood and Royal typewriter companies gave a brief pretence of unity, and of appearing to bury their hatchets, in the northern summer of 1928, all for the cause of getting portable typewriters into American classrooms. The four fierce competitors in the typewriter market formed the Educational Bureau of Portable Typewriter Manufacturers, with headquarters in New York City at 247 Park Avenue, Manhattan. The organiser and first director was Frank Nicholas Kondolf (right, 1863-1944), who had been president of the Remington Typewriter Company until replaced in mid-November 1922 in a peace deal struck between shareholders and the board of directors.

From 1931 the EBPTM was under the control of Joseph Lee Sweeney (left, 1891-1964), originally from Owensboro, Kentucky, who in 1919 had worked on a shorthand machine for the Stenotype company in Indianapolis and had been patenting typewriters since at least 1923. Before moving to the EBPTM, Sweeney had organised the Master Reporting Company in New York, offering the services of expert stenotypists. Sweeney quickly tired of trying to keep an uneasy peace between the four major typewriter manufacturers in the EBPTM, the more so when his suggestions to them that they accept a typewriter keyboard specifically designed for school use were ignored. Sweeney quit the bureau and in 1938 patented two “educational” typewriters (below). For one of these typewheel projects, Sweeney joined forces with the ubiquitous Harry Bates of the Bates Laboratories Inc (Bates’s typewriter enterprises have been extensively covered previously on this blog).

In forming the EBPTM, each company put up $8000 to get the bureau’s operations started and forked out an additional $19,000 each to continue the promotional campaign to the end of 1930 (the total represents $1.645 million in today’s money). Much of this $108,000 went toward advertising, with five different advertisements placed in publications such as Boy’s Life in November and December 1928, The American Magazine, The Literary Digest, Cosmopolitan, The Nation’s Schools and St Nicholas: An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks. Among those endorsing the campaign was Patty Smith Hill, (1868-1946), an educator who stressed the importance of the creativity and natural instincts of children. She was on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers’ College from 1906-36. Another was Angelo Patri (1876-1965), a 1904 Columbia graduate who set out to engage students with tasks that went beyond book learning. He wrote a syndicated column on child psychology, “Our Children”, for newspapers and magazines. Others were educational psychologist Frank Nugent Freeman (1880-1961), who taught at the University of Chicago from 1909-39 and served as dean of the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Education until 1948, Claude Anderson Phillips (1871-1960) of Missouri and Michael Vincent O'Shea (1866-1932) of Wisconsin.


Freeman worked closely with the leading force behind the short-lived EBPTM exercise, Benjamin DeKalbe Wood (1894-1986), an educator, researcher and director-professor at Columbia, and the man who had convinced the four major typewriter companies to join together on this project. With EBPTM backing, Wood and Freeman embarked on a typewriters in schools experiment – almost certainly the largest systematic investigation of the impact of placing writing technology in a classroom environment ever undertaken anywhere at any time. In the first year of the experiment, 24 schools, 239 teachers and 8824 students were in a control (non-typewriter using) group and 1993 typewriters were supplied to 27 schools with 180 teachers and 6125 students in the experimental group (1839 typewriters were allocated to students, a ratio of about two typewriters to every seven students, and 154 to teachers). The performance of the students in the experimental group was tracked for a second year, when 100 more typewriters were supplied. Typewriters were used to do work in all subjects, including art. Students were also taught about care of the typewriters. The experiment started in September 1929 in public schools in Albuquerque, Altoona (Pennsylvania), Chicago, Elizabeth and Montclair (New Jersey), Pittsburgh, Roslyn (NY) and Springfield (Massachusetts), and in private schools in New York City, Philadelphia, Utica (NY) and Chicago.


The experiment showed children could learn to type before they were able to develop writing skills. Children who had trouble coordinating their fingers at an early age developed a dislike for handwriting, but those who used a typewriter got a head start in self-expression. They also had a much higher output and a higher quality of work. They found typing to be glamorous and had much improved spelling, grammar and arithmetic. As well, they formed good habits in concentration and had excellent neatness.

Ben D. Wood, left., and Frank N. Freeman.

As a result of the experiment, Wood and Freeman published through MacMillan in May 1932 An Experimental Study of the Educational Influences of the Typewriter in the Elementary School Classroom. Their work was quickly followed up in August 1932 by the second book in a two-volume report, Ralph Haefner’s The Typewriter in the Primary and Intermediate Grades
(also MacMillan). Haefner (right, 1894-1986), a New York teacher, had worked in conjunction with Wood and Freeman. The two books are available to read in full online. Rollo George Reynolds (1886-1958) of Columbia acted as an administrative adviser for the experiment. 
Wood was a pioneer in learning technologies and automated testing methods. Born in Brownsville, Texas, he graduated from Columbia in 1922 with a MA in philosophy. From 1927 he headed Columbia's collegiate research bureau. At the start of An Experimental Study of the Educational Influences of the Typewriter in the Elementary School Classroom, Wood and Freeman acknowledged, “This investigation was made possible by two grants, secured through the Typewriter Educational Research Bureau [that is, the EBPTM] … These two grants, one made early in 1929 and the other in the summer of 1930, were made as outright gifts for the support of the research program, and were set up as irrevocable trusts under the exclusive control of the undersigned [Wood and Freeman] as directors of the investigation.” Wood and Freeman said the four typewriter companies had made available 2100 portables (525 each) to use in the experiment. The authors thanked the companies for “their effective cooperation in avoiding publicity and in maintaining the scientific integrity of the experiment … ”


Wood believed a person's ability to think was innate, not acquired, and he considered thinking was based on a knowledge of facts. Associated Press in New York in March 1967 reported that Wood, after half a century of work in the field, had “brought to stake many of academia’s sacred cows”. AP said Wood believed “teachers spend too much time teaching … [He] has long insisted that the task of the teacher is not to follow a rigid curriculum, but to get the student to learn by thinking”. AP quoted Wood as saying, “A child’s mind is not an empty basket to receive what the teacher pours into it. It has taken us more than 2000 years to appreciate the lesson of Socrates – that education is the stimulation of creative thinking.” Wood went on, “Our schools are turning out intellectual paupers who come to depend on the teacher. Curiosity is a precious gift, and we must be careful not to vaccinate the child against it.”


In August this year Seattle education writer Audrey Watters published a new book, Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning, in which she devoted a chapter to the EBPTM. Watters, an independent scholar, is author the Hack blogs. Watters wrote that the four companies involved “agreed to contribute equally to the bureau, which, according to its initial arrangement, would not sell typewriters or be operated for financial gain. Although they were underwriting the research, the typewriter manufacturers promised to abstain from directly marketing their products to the schools participating in the experiments or from using Wood or Freeman’s names in their advertising materials. Nevertheless there were numerous episodes when salespeople did approach the schools – ‘bootleg typewriter activity’, as the head of the Columbia University bookstore described some of the attempts to peddle products to the students and parents at Horace Mann School, a private school with ties to Columbia’s Teachers College where some of the typewriter research was being conducted. The companies were admonished for this behavior, but there were no real consequences.” 
Watters went on, “After the initial flurry of good publicity from the release of the Wood-Freeman report, the typewriter companies became increasingly frustrated with the bureau’s direction and the slow pace of adoption of typewriters by schools, most of which found making any purchases of any instructional devices utterly unfeasible during the Great Depression. The majority of the sniping in the correspondence to the Educational Bureau of Portable Typewriter [Manufacturer]s involved one manufacturer accusing another of improper behavior, as everyone involved was trying, if nothing else, to keep their heads above water during desperately difficult economic times.” The Wood-Freeman experiment is also covered in The Computer and the Page: Publishing, Technology and the Classroom by James Robert Kalmbach (1997).

Images from Wood & Freeman's book:







Images from Haefner's book:














Sunday, 19 September 2021

Lazarus, the 1950 All-Black Olivetti Lexikon 80 That Came Back From The Dead

Less than a week ago, nothing worked. The carriage refused to move (after all, it had a very large concrete-hard wasp's nest stuck in it). The shift keys wouldn't budge, the typebars stayed put. The innards were full of rust and densely thick rubbish. To paraphrase the Monty Python Norwegian Blue parrot skit, it was stone dead, definitely deceased; it was demised, it had ceased to be, it had expired and gone to meet its maker; it was a stiff, bereft of life, resting in peace, its metabolic processes were history; it was off the twig, it had kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This was an ex-typewriter.

Now it's like Lazarus, it has risen from the dead. It has been reborn. It's typing beautifully. It's a 1950 (serial number 2096861) Ivrea-made Olivetti Lexikon 80 and it was worth all the effort. 

What it was like:













Below, after the first first wash:

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Typewriter Needed in Tapachula Crisis


An Olympia SG3 typewriter is being used this week in the main square of Tapachula in the Chiapas state of Mexico to fill in 
regularisation forms for migrants who are part of a caravan hoping to reach the United States. Hundreds of Haitian and Central American migrants remain stranded in the square in search of solutions to their situation, and in need of employment and food. The typist is filling out a form headed “Regularisation by expired document or performing unauthorised activities”, a “procedure form for the regularisation of immigration status in the modality by having [an] expired document or performing unauthorised activities.” It is applicable to the foreign person with irregular immigration status who has an expired immigration document or who performs activities different to those authorised so that he or she no longer satisfies the requirements by which a determined stay condition was granted. The Mexican Government asks that the form for procedure presentation to request an immigration stay should be filled out electronically through its website, but most of these stranded migrants have no access to the internet. So for them a typewriter and typist are required

Newsweek quoted Associated Press today in saying migrants have repeatedly clashed with Mexican authorities as they've attempted to leave Tapachula to continue travelling north amid an enormous backlog of asylum cases. More than 77,000 people have applied for protected status in Mexico this year, 55,000 of them in Tapachula. Activist Luis Villagrán of the Centre for Human Dignity estimates there could be as many as 100,000 migrants stuck in Tapachula, nearly one for every three of the city's residents. Frustrated with a system that was already behind and further bogged down by the pandemic, hundreds of migrants have attempted to leave the city this month.


Mexican authorities have stopped the migrants each time they've attempted to leave, sometimes violently. Threatened by the US with tariffs if it fails to slow the flow of migrants to the border, Mexico has deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents in an attempt to contain migrants in the south. As many of the migrants clashing with authorities are travelling as families, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has voiced frustration with the containment strategy, saying it's not sustainable.

Unable to find other work because they still lack legal status, Haitian migrants sell meals, soft drinks, clothing and offer services such as haircuts, manicures and tailoring under umbrellas in the street market.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Where Is 'Wasp's Nest' in the Lexikon Typewriter?

Where is “wasp’s nest” in the Lexikon? In our The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, third edition, 1974, it’s under “W” and way back on page 2390. In this Ivrea-made Olivetti Lexikon (no serial number yet spotted), it was found under the carriage. This is a machine that has been brought into my typewriter workshop to see if I can get it typing again. Not alone was the shift key not shifting, none of the other keys would budge. Nor would the carriage. I figured there was some sort of “foreign” matter jammed in between the carriage and the escapement rack. Sure enough, it was a rock-solid wasp’s nest - and I mean ROCK-solid. The wasps had brought the wet red clay into the machine and made the nest – you can see from an emboss on part of the nest where they built it on to the machine.

Watch this space for word on when I get it working again. I’m keen to save it, because it has the embossed brandname on the paper plate and nickel rings on the keytops. But it will take some saving …