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Friday, 8 April 2011

The Invisible Typist: What Will They Think of Next?

The caption for this October 1947 news photo stated, “A demonstrator pointing out the record roll on the auto-typist. The invisible typist. The typewriter which types by itself has come to the aid of under-staffed offices. Letters are individually typed, and selected paragraphs from a record roll, very similar to that of a pianola, are marked by numbers and dialled on the auto-typer. If necessary spaces are left for individual names or figures to be inserted and it is all done at two and a half times the speed of the fastest human typist with complete accuracy.”

The Early Office Museum website tells us that the Auto-Typist was introduced in 1927, produced in the 1930s by the Schultz Player Piano Company and later by the American Automatic Typewriter Company. “The Auto-Typist consisted of two machines. A perforator was used to punch a wide paper roll. The paper roll was read by another machine housed in a special typewriter desk. The latter machine controlled the keys of a standard manual or electric typewriter through a system of pneumatic bellows, hoses, and valves. The operator could customise a form letter by pushing numbered buttons on a control panel to select paragraphs to be included. Auto-Typists were still marketed in 1951 and in use during the 1960s.”
The July 1939 issue of Popular Science magazine said, “Typewriter Works Automatically: To speed up routine office correspondence, such as form letters, reminders of overdue accounts, and similar business forms, an automatic typewriter recently placed on the market types prepared paragraphs of text on letterhead stationery, making it necessary for a stenographer only to fill in the salutation, address, and additional dictated material meant for a specific addressee. Electrically operated, the machine has a control dial with which any one of several prepared texts may be selected at will for automatic typing on stationery inserted in the machine.”
Other experts tell us that, “The Auto-typist is a basically a pneumatic ‘player typewriter’ that playbacks paper rolls or punched cards … The American Automatic Typewriter Company was owned by Otto Schulz of Chicago's M. Schulz Piano Company [which] began building the Auto-typist in 1932. [It] had a roll-operated console which could be connected to one or many slave units. Each slave unit had a pneumatic action with pull-down wires connected to the keys of a typewriter. Auto-typists were used for duplicating letters for bill collecting, advertising, mass mailing, etc. As each letter was typed individually on a real typewriter, it had a hand-typed look that improved its chances of being read, when the recipient might discard a ordinary mass mailing produced on a ditto or mimeograph machine. Users created their own headings, paragraphs, or complete letters on
a small mechanical roll perforator controlled by a typewriter keyboard. The fanciest Auto-typist console was equipped with an automatic selector mechanism enabling the operator to choose the desired paragraph or complete letter by turning a dial. The roll mechanism was based on the Western Electric Piano Company's ‘Selectra’ used in their coin-operated pianos in the mid-1920s, originally patented by Russell I.Wilcox, who later developed jukebox record selector mechanisms.
“The Auto-typist wasn't really obsolete until modern computer printers enabled a similar hand-produced look.”
Here is an advertisement from the American Automatic Typewriter Company:
It is also explained that in the 1940s, “the Auto-typist system was great for boilerplate. Using a perforator, text was prepunched into player piano-like rolls. When needed, the documents were typed on a typewriter that read the rolls. As the roll passed over slots in a bar, a valve opened and negative pressure in a hose collapsed a small bellows that pulled down the typewriter key."
“Boilerplate is a phrase or body of text used verbatim in different documents such as a signature at the end of a letter. Boilerplate is widely used in the legal profession as many paragraphs are used over and over in agreements with little modification or no modification. Boilerplate is stored by the word processor on disc and copied into the document as needed. The function that inserts boilerplate in Microsoft Word is called 'AutoText' and Word can be the default editor for writing Outlook e-mail. In the Eudora e-mail program, boilerplate is called 'stationery'."


Bill Hart said...

I have a unit circa 1964. Up to 30 selections. Did you know that a similar unit controlled Abe Lincoln at Disneyland?

Anonymous said...

Otto Schulz was my great uncle. I'm familiar with the Schulz pianos, we had one. While I knew about the Auto-typists, I had never looked into it until now. Thanks.

- Carl Schulz