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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Typewriter Partnerships Made in Heaven (1): When Wellington met Charles


George Carl Mares pointed out in his The History of the Typewriter (London, 1901) that the rapid growth of the typewriter industry in the United States in a decade from the late 1880s "was massive, both in terms of numbers of machines produced and in sales".

Inevitably, the industry began to spread beyond the US. It crossed the border into Canada with the Horton (above) in 1883, and was maintained in that country by the Williams Manufacturing Company, which had plants in Montreal as well as one making sewing machines and typewriters for the US market close by at Plattsburgh, Clinton County, on the Saranac River in Upper New York State. Williams Manufacturing had been established in 1863 by Andrew Williams (photo below: born Ormstown, Quebec, August 27, 1828; died Plattsburgh, October 6, 1907), a Canadian of Scottish descent who had settled in the US and was to become a Republican Congressman (1875-1878). He ran the company with his business partner and fellow politician, Smith Mead Weed.

The typewriters made at the Williams Canadian factory were for the Imperial Writing Machine Company of Montreal, headed by Charles Carroll Colby, of Quebec. Colby (photo below: born Derby, Vermont, December 10, 1827; died Standstead, Quebec, December 10, 1907) was a lawyer, businessman and politician – oddly enough, in the circumstances of his business dealings, a supporter of the introduction of tariffs to reciprocate against those imposed by the US.
In 1892 Colby met Wellington Parker Kidder (photo above: born Norridgewock, Sumerset, Maine, February 19, 1853; died October 2, 1924) - inventor of the Franklin and of the Wellington thrust-action typewriters - through a business acquaintance in Boston, where Kidder lived, at Jamaica Plain. The Wellington seen above is from the Vintage Typewriter Shoppe. Kidder and Colby agreed Colby should market the Wellington – patented in the US on March 29, 1892 - as the Empire and have patent and distribution rights outside the US. As well as distributing the Empire throughout the then British Empire from Canada, Colby sold 10-year rights to German bicycle pioneer Heinrich Ludwig Kleyer (photo below: born Darmstadt, December 13, 1853; died Frankfurt, May 9, 1932) in Frankfurt in 1898, the machine eventually becoming in 1900 the first Adler. Kidder and Colby went on to another joint venture, producing the Noiseless typewriter.

Taking their lead from the like of George Washington Newton Yost, the enterprise of Kidder and Colby enabled the manufacture and sales of the typewriter to really expand worldwide from North America, starting with the market for them reaching Continental Europe and Britain. By 1894 there were 15 non-US patents for the prototype of the Empire, the Wellington. The Imperial Writing Machine Company set up a London office in 1901, headed by George H.Bland of Montreal, as well as headquarters in Brussels. When Colby died at the end of 1907, he was succeeded in his presidential positions with various Kidder-driven undertakings, such as the Noiseless, by his eldest son, Dr Charles William Colby (1867-1955), the first chair of history at McGill University, Montreal.

The typewriter industry had first reached Britain with the manufacture of the Waverley at Clapham in London and the Maskelyne (above) in 1889, followed by the English a year later and the Salter (below) made in West Bromwich, outside Birmingham, in 1892. The Empire was one of the first imported machines into Britain, starting in late 1892, and from there it reached other parts of the British Empire, including, eventually, Australia. After World War II, a portable typewriter made at the old Salter factory under licence from Paillard of Switzerland, the Hermes Baby-lookalike Empire Aristocrat, became very common in Australia and New Zealand. One of these was used by Frederick Forsyth to write The Day of the Jackal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Found your site as I was searching the Williams Manufacturing Co. in regards to a sewing machine made by them Pat July 13 1893 / Aug.29 1893
Cab. made by same company May 1 1877 which is so ornate and a beautiful piece.
All belts for machine are inside.
Anyone who is interested or has info re this machine please contact me in Canada at
Thank You