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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Collaborating with the Nazis: The Black Mark on Remington’s Typewriter History

There are many damnable acts in the chequered history of the Remington Typewriter Company, but none so execrable as Remington’s collaboration with the Nazis in World War II. In the First World War, it was absurd that Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes should briefly declare Remington an “alien company”. But there was nothing risible about Remington’s each-way bet with the Allies and Axis between 1941-45. Remington was at once supplying arms to the US Army while materially assisting the German Army and Air Force.
One American newspaper headed its article on the affair, “Hitler Aided by Remington Rand Plant in Reich”.
I became aware of this sordid business while following up on Richard Polt’s August 28 post on The Typewriter Revolution blog about his Remington Torpedo (Dynacord) typewriter. To my amazement my searches led to revelations about Remington’s secret machinations to keep its greedy hands on Torpedo’s German typewriter factory, which had been converted to produce Nazi war equipment. Remington had put the plant in the temporary care of three Nazi Party members, at least two of whom had close connections to Third Reich leaders Himmler and Göring.  
SS chief Himmler
The story was broken in American newspapers on July 13, 1945, by war correspondent and former Office of War Information operative Pat Frank (real name Harry Hart Frank, 1908-1964).  At the time Frank was working for the Overseas News Agency, which had been set up the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1940. The ONA was aligned to the British Security Coordination, the New York outpost of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, and it provided press credentials to British spies. It may have even collaborated with the predecessor to the Russian spy agency, the KGB. The ONA has since been accused of planting fake news in US newspapers, but in this Remington case the story was 100 per cent true.
Pat Frank at his Smith-Corona portable typewriter.
Would he have touched a Remington?
          Frank reported that “Remington Rand’s German subsidiaries produced war materials for the Nazis throughout the hostilities, according to evidence uncovered by [American] Military Government [AMG] officials [in Frankfurt]. [Remington’s] factories in Germany … were producing parts for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, including flak guns. Both of the [Frankfurt] plants have been sequestered, along with their cash assets and profits, by the AMG … Torpedowerke Aktien-gesellschaft before the war manufactured Torpedo bicycles and typewriters. It was entirely owned by Remington.”
          Frank might well have substituted the word “is” for “was”, for it transpired that Remington had basically “lent” its controlling interest in Torpedo to three Nazi Party members for the duration of the war. One temporary owner had been Helmuth Roehnert of the Rheinmetall-Borsig typewriter organisation, a director of the Dresdner Bank who was closely linked to Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), and Hermann Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe. Roehnert was a member of the Nazi production council under Albert Speer. Roehnert died before the end of the war. Another Torpedo part-owner was Max Wessig, also of Rheinmetall-Borsig AG and connected with Göring. Wessig had been involved with the Nazis from the time of the Spanish Civil War.
Hitler and Göring
At the head of this group was Fritz Heinrich Harms, who continued to manage the Torpedo operation throughout the war years.
          In late June 1945 Harms approached the AMG’s property control officer Lieutenant Abraham Richstein, asking that materials be provided for the resumption of typewriter production. He also wanted to be able to resume communications with Remington Rand in the US. But Richstein’s inquiries unearthed that because of a deal done between Remington and Harms in 1941 (just before Nazi Germany declared war on the US on December 11), Remington had been able to avoid being listed by the US State Department as an American company with assets in Germany.
          Harms told Richstein this was a mere “technicality” and that the “loan” of Remington’s majority stake in Torpedo was done “to avoid trouble”. Harms said James Rand himself had told Harms “to play ball with the Nazis”. Remington had retained an option to repurchase the stock at any future time – and did indeed regain the stock. The plants were valued at $US7 million and cash and bank deposits totalled $1.73 million, and the State Department was left with a decision as to whether Remington was entitled to the money.
          On April 10, 1946, another ONA correspondent, Robert Gary, reported that “The persistent efforts of Remington Rand  … to retain the same general manager who ran the firm’s German subsidiary during the Nazi regime, have at last been crowned with success. The manager, Fritz Heinrich Harms, is back in the opulent offices [in Frankfurt] of the Torpedo Works, the German counterpart of Remington Rand, this time with the official blessing of the American Military Government.” Gary said the AMG had removed Harms in late November 1945, and investigated his Nazi ties for two months.
          Harms’ “unexpected” restoration, wrote Gary, “has taken place after extraordinary transocean pressure [had been] exerted by Remington officials here and in the United States”. An examination of Harms’ case record had revealed “interesting data concerning Harms personally and his company’s international manipulations during the pre-war and war years.” Harms admitted joining the Nazi Party in 1937, claiming he did so to “protect the Torpedo works and the majority stockholders, Remington Rand, from hostilities on the part of the Nazis, and to secure profitable work for them [the stockholders, that is].”
          Harms, who met high-ranking Remington officials in New York in 1939, insisted he had done nothing to assist Nazi war production. Yet, as Gary pointed out, “Torpedo Work was up to its neck in war work, producing engine parts and other aeronautical apparatus.” During this time Harms was paid an annual salary of $US85,000.
          Just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, Remington transferred $289,000 worth of its shares to Harms to ensure Torpedo Works would not be declared an enemy concern. After Harms was removed by the AMG from his role as Torpedo Works general manager, he was temporarily replaced by a Remington official from the US, Donald Brown, who worked hard to get Harms reinstated. In mid-December 1945, Remington Rand president James Rand himself intervened, cabling the AMG special board investigating Harms that he was “anxious” to have Harms back at work. With that urging, Brown and Harms called on AMG deputy director Major General Clarence Alcock, and in mid-January the AMG voted to restore Harms.
Left, 8th Air Force bombing of military installations in Frankfurt. Right, a café in Frankfurt, 1945.
          Not surprisingly, this business is not recorded in any of Remington’s various histories, nor is it to be found in the section on Torpedo in Leonhard Dingwerth’s Die Geschichte de deutschen Schreibmaschien-Fabriken, Band 1 (2008). However, Dingwerth outlines the takeover of Weilwerke AG (Torpedo) by Remington, announced in US newspapers in mid-April 1932. He says Remington retained control until 1978, which, given what happened between 1941-46, is not - at least technically - entirely true. Nonetheless, given the arrangements Remington made with Harms and his Hitler henchmen, the reality is that Remington did still own the Rödelheim factories throughout the war.
          Of the war years, Dingwerth writes, “During the Second World War, the Weilwerke initially continued the production of typewriters. Mainly the models Torpedo 6 and 17 were manufactured …  The factory also produced other goods for the German armaments industry. In 1942, parts of the plant were relocated to Zeist in Holland, a small town near Utrecht, to ensure continued operations. In the beginning, stockpiles that were mainly shipped to Holland were included in the outsourcing in 1943, which also included parts of the machinery production. Until the end of the war, the Dutch factory produced the Torpedo 17.
Frankfurt Cathedral amid rubble after Allied bombing, 1944.
          “In 1944 the Weilwerke were hit hard by bombs. The main plant in Rödelheim was destroyed with all facilities to about 90 per cent … After the war, the rebuilding of the work in Rödenheim began very soon. The work was financed by Remington, but carried out by the company itself … Soon the typewriter production in this factory could be resumed in a modest amount at first. Since raw materials and spare parts were in short supply, the first machines were often assembled from components of different models.”
          With breathtaking gall, at the end of the war Remington Rand accepted British Government money and Scottish Industrial Estates Ltd help to set up a factory west of Glasgow, on Woodside Crescent on the Hillington Industrial Estate. Even before Remington’s pact with the Nazis, in 1940-41 the Luftwaffe had killed thousands of Glaswegians in bombing raids, with planes using equipment made in Remington’s factory. Conveniently – and in the very short space of just three years - Remington’s role in colluding with the Nazis had already been erased from collective typewriter knowledge. But this black mark against the company’s name must now return to haunt it.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Canberra Typewriter Fest Under a Bubble

VERY excited about a typewriter event coming up in Canberra on September 22. It's under an actual (BIG) Bubble at Haig Park. I will be exhibiting some historically significant typewriters, including a Remington 2, a Blickensderfer 5, author Miles Franklin's Corona 3, a downstroke Oliver and a Salem Hall index typewriter. There will also be typed letterwriting and a Type-In. Sounds like a lot of fun. Here's what the Bubble will look like:

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Great Typewriter Explosion of 1919

It’s 100 years since the great typewriter explosion cleared almost everybody out of Everybody’s Theatre on Cathedral Square in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Everybody’s Theatre was screening Everywoman at the time, and every woman, man and child in the audience headed for the front exit. The rear exit was on fire, all the windows were shattered and the back wall dividing the theatre from a typewriter workshop at the adjoining 5 Chancery Lane had bulged out to the point of collapse.
Quite apart from smoke and burning debris, there was still a smell of Chloro-Menthene in the theatre air, sprayed as a precaution against the Spanish influenza epidemic.
Only the orchestra stayed in their seats, continuing to provide musical accompaniment as the silent allegorical film rolled on. The musicians were just a few yards from where the explosion had occurred.

The typewriter workshop, which was operated by a man called W.J. Bull, was in ruins, with walls blown out and the ceiling falling in.
What had caused the massive explosion was 17-year-old Charles Edward McGlashan cleaning a Rex typewriter with benzine. At 2.45 on the afternoon of August 23, 1919, the volatile, highly flammable petroleum distillate Charlie was using as a solvent ignited. 
Poor Charlie was thrown backwards, cut to shreds and badly burnt about the face. He was quickly carted off to hospital.
Charlie McGlashan, born in Dunedin on Christmas Day in 1901, gave up typewriter work, moved to Kaikoura and became a motor mechanic. He lived to an old age and died in 1975. It probably became more difficult for him to explain the “Doris” tattooed in a heart on his left forearm to his wife Caroline than the scalded typewriter scars on his face.

 Illustration by Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell (1862-1924), American artist and writer.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Work in Progress: Guess the Typewriter Model

Working on a personalised typewriter for a third grand-daughter - the first two have been an enormous success (well, the grand-daughters just love them to bits!). This one has been primed before being painted predominantly pink, with sparkles and possibly rainbows and unicorns.
You can tell from this photo which colours she prefers:

I picked this one up cheap in Chiltern in Victoria last week - working nicely, but fairly battered. Can anyone guess what model it is? Some of these models were made in Pakistan, but this one comes from the original country of manufacture, also starting with the letter "P". Come on, it's as easy as "A ..."
This is the previous effort, which went to an eager young author in London, England, and has been greatly appreciated:

Monday, 5 August 2019

Alphonse Mucha and the Bar-Lock Typewriter Posters

Flicking through the pages of The New Yorker edition of July 8 & 15, I came across an image which, at first, I thought was of a poster for the Bar-Lock typewriter. Instead, it was a Sarah Bernhardt poster, created in 1894 by Alphonse Mucha, the most celebrated graphic designer of the Art Nouveau movement. The Bernhardt-La Plume image appeared with The New Yorker’s A Critic at Large column, written by Hua Hsu and titled “Beauty in the Streets: How Posters Became Art”. It related to an exhibition, “Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau/Nouvelle Femme” which opened at the Poster House - the first museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to posters - at 119 West 23rd Street, New York City, on June 20 (and continues until October 5).
At a quick glance, it’s easy to see the likenesses between the Bernhardt poster and the early British Bar-Lock poster “Fate the Key to Fortune”. With the Bernhardt artwork, Mucha introduced the innovative feature of an ornate rainbow-shaped arch behind the actress’s head, almost like a halo, which focused attention on her face. This becomes a bright yellow light surrounded by flowers around the head of the woman in the Bar-Lock poster. While Mucha continued to use this style in later posters, so too did Bar-Lock, most notably in its “Supremacy - Truth” and “Visible Writing” posters, as well as in its “Father Time” poster.
As with Mucha's work, the people in Bar-Lock posters aren’t always shown using the product they’re advertising, but they often look enraptured. The curvaceous women have long, wavy hair, and look bold and independent.
Still, while Mucha went on from Bernhardt and art to create purely commercial posters, including for bicycles, it’s highly unlikely that any of the Bar-Lock typewriter posters are his – we almost certainly would know about it if they were. No typewriter posters appear in his extensive catalogue of 119 works. But given the timeframe is right, it seems highly probable Mucha’s work directly inspired and influenced the Bar-Lock artists. After all, in 1901 Mucha had published Documents Decoratifs, a guide for aspiring artists and designers to replicate le style Mucha. It became an Art Nouveau bible, widely used in art schools and factories.
As far as I know, the creators of the Bar-Lock poster artwork have never been positively identified. The earlier posters, for the US (Columbia) Bar-Locks (left), were produced by Wagstaff & Co of New York. Since the Richardsons in London did not take full control of the Bar-Lock name until November 1913, it’s possible advertising artwork was shared across the Atlantic, with machines sold in Britain from 1895 labelled “Royal Bar-Lock”.
After striking a deal with Charles Spiro in New York, the Richardsons first sold Spiro’s typewriter in Britain in 1888, simply as the “Bar-Lock”. The Richardsons did not add “Royal” to the brand name until after they acquired Queen Victoria’s patronage. This allows us some idea of the timing for the appearance of the various posters.
Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in Ivančice in Moravia (not Bohemia), then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1860. He went to Paris in 1887, but it was not until the end of 1894 that his career took a dramatic and unexpected turn. On December 26, Bernhardt made a telephone call to Maurice de Brunhoff, manager of the publishing firm Lemercier, which printed her theatrical posters, ordering a new poster for the continuation of the play Gismonda. She wanted it ready by January 1, 1895. Because of the holidays, none of the regular Lemercier artists were available. When Bernhardt called, Mucha happened to be at the publishing house correcting proofs. Brunhoff asked Mucha to quickly design the new poster for Bernhardt. The poster was more than life-size at more than two metres high, with Bernhardt in the costume of a Byzantine noblewoman, dressed in an orchid headdress and floral stole, and holding a palm branch in the Easter procession near the end of the play.
Mucha’s new-found fame coincided with with a poster craze that swept through Europe and the US in the mid to late 1890s. Magazines, galleries and clubs quickly emerged to respond to this appetite. At parties, women dressed up as their favourite posters and others guessed which ones they were. Posters even influenced the colours used in turn-of-the-century clothing.
The Bar-Lock posters lack the fine, detailed draftsmanship in the backdrops in Mucha’s work, such the Byzantine mosaic tiles in the Bernhardt-La Plume poster.  But some match Mucha’s delicate pastel colours, and the words are distinctly stylised and ornamented. Mucha’s Bernhardt poster appeared on the streets of Paris on January 1, 1895, and caused an immediate sensation. This was, remember, the same year the Royal Bar-Lock took its new name.
Bar-Lock posters remain among the most outstanding examples of typewriter-related artwork ever created. The likelihood that they were inspired by Mucha's early work makes them, I believe, all that more interesting and desirable.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Typewriter Wizard Albert Tangora: Boy Wonder to World Beater

Marking the Centenary of Tangora’s 
World Amateur Title Win
Tangora at 14, 1917
Tangora at 22, 1925
Take your pick - 147 words a minute for an hour under one set of rules, 142 under another. Either way, Albert Tangora most probably remains to this day the world's fastest ever operator of a manual typewriter. Tangora was just 13 years and two months old when, in September 1916, he left Paterson Central High School and started taking typewriting lessons at the (still extant) Spencer's New Jersey Business School, then run by Bushrod Hamilton Spencer (1864-1948) at 160 Market Street, Paterson.
Paterson college president B.H. Spencer.
Within seven months Tangora was the Eastern States novice speed typing champion, after winning the title with an average of 91 words a minute over 15 minutes at the New England Business Show at the Boston Mechanics Building on April 9, 1917. He actually typed at more than 100 words a minute, but made 30 errors. Six months later, on October 15, at the international championships at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, Tangora added the world novice title with an average of 110 words a minute, an improvement of 19 words on his effort in Boston. He typed at 119 words a minute, but made 27 errors. Newspapers described his progress, 13 months after taking up typing, as “astounding”.
Tangora suffered a lapse in 1918, when he graduated to the amateur division and finished a distant ninth in the world championship, with 117 words a minute. Even putting aside his 34 errors, he was still well behind Rose Bloom, who won with 142 words a minute over 30 minutes. But Tangora made amends the following year, 1919, winning the world amateur championship with an amazing 133 words a minute, which, even taking into account his 26 errors, meant he had typed faster than the winner of that year’s professional title, Bill Oswald (who upset Margaret Owen’s plan of delaying her wedding so she could regain the world title).
Tangora had to wait until 1923, however, to topple the great George Hossfeld as world professional champion. He won that title with what remained the highest championship one-hour score until the advent of electric IBM machines in 1941 – averaging a staggering 147 words a minute. The scoring system was adjusted in 1924 but Tangora continued to dominate, holding the title for two more years and regaining it in 1928. Naturally, he insured his hands for $100,000 ($1.464 million in today’s money).
The 1.5 million dollar hands
Tangora switched from Underwood to Royal in 1935 and won three more world championships. Tangora produced an effort of 142 words a minute to finish second behind Margaret Hamm’s IBM in 1941, and that effort remains the highest score with a manual typewriter under championship conditions, with the revised scoring system.
Nonetheless, when Tangora died of a heart attack in Evanston, Illinois, on April 7, 1978, aged 74, newspapers reported that “His record at 147 words per minute for one full hour, established in 1923, is still in the Guinness Book of World Records.” The Chicago Tribune added it was “believed to be still unbroken”. After serving in the US Navy as a lieutenant in World War II, Tangora had been running his own typewriter business in Evanston for some years before he died.

Jean Porter and Sally Biddleman, both 17, time Albert Tangora at 140 words per minute at the world championships at the Jones Commercial High School in Chicago in 1936.