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Friday 10 June 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XXI)

Yost: The Typewriter
That Talked to the Dead
The Yost is a marvellous typewriter. Magical, some might say. So wonderful that a Yost typewriter was once "successfully" used to communicate with the dead. Successful, that is, in the sense that a book emerged from these conversations across the great divide, from spirit to spirit to (physically) unmanned typewriter.
This story gets better. The person who operated – from his own grave - the said Yost typewriter during this remarkable occurrence was none other than the Yost’s co-inventor, George Washington Newton Yost himself.
It “happened” in 1895, four years after the famous American spiritualist Helene Petrova Blavatsky (above), the founder of Theosophy, had died, and just months after Yost’s own death.
Madame Blavatsky’s “text” (described as “furnishing strong, internal proofs of its apocryphal character”) was dictated by the long dead lady's spirit, and “obtained in independent typewriting on a Yost machine under the supervision of the spirit of its inventor, Mr G. W. N. Yost”.
Yost’s transcription of Blavatsky’s words from the grave led to Posthumous Memoirs … Dictated from the Spirit-World under the Supervision of G.W.N.Yost, published by Joseph Marshall Wade, of Boston, in 1896.
Apparently Yost couldn’t find anyone to work his typewriter to take down his own thoughts (or after-thoughts) from the beyond. Yost had died in New York on September 26, 1895, aged 64, and appears not to have made any further contact with the world from the hereafter thereafter.
Blavatsky, born Helena von Hahn, of German-Russian descent, in Yekaterinoslav (now Dnipropetrovsk) in the Ukraine, on August 12, 1831, died in London, aged 59, on May 8, 1891. She has been described as “one of the most extraordinary and controversial figures of the 19th century”.
“The influence of her life, writings and teachings on world thought has been significant” ... “[She] stands out as the fountainhead of modern occult thought, and was either the originator and/or populariser of many of the ideas and terms which have a century later been assembled within the New Age Movement. The Theosophical Society, which she co-founded, has been the major advocate of occult philosophy in the West and the single most important avenue of Eastern teaching to the West.”
Yost (above) was indeed a dedicated spiritualist. He built, at his own cost, a church in Corry, Pennsylvania, and employed a clergyman (nothing like taking safe bets). When Yost died, it was reported that he “Remained a firm spiritualist to the end”.
“Although a shrewd man of business, Mr Yost had a tendency in his nature which led him into abstract speculation and made of him a devoted Spiritualist. With a Chicago Spiritualist named Dr [Henry D.] Rogers, he formed a great friendship, believing that the doctor was able to communicate with the spirits of the dead and to record these conversations and interviews upon the typewriter.
“In spite of the conviction of his friends that Dr Rogers imposed upon him, Mr Yost maintained his intimacy with Dr Rogers in particular and his belief in Spiritualism in general to that last moment of his life.”
“Dr” Rogers apparently had some sort of fixation with typewriters and typewriter inventors. Fifteen months after Yost’s death, the swindler Rogers got into some strife with the family of Harriet E. Beach, the very wealthy (and very recent) widow of another famous typewriter inventor, Alfred Ely Beach.
Rogers had married Mrs Beach, 67, in Alexandria, Egypt, just 55 weeks after Beach had died. Mrs Beach said she had been guided by her dead husband, her dead parents and some dead other people in making her decision to marry Rogers and give him her money – presumably via a Beach typewriter!
But let’s get back to the remarkable Mr Yost. My excuse for mentioning him today is that it was on this day in 1890 that Yost was granted a patent for a guide, or “directrix”, for the type at the printing-point of his machine, improving the means of “hanging” the guide and providing a means of raising or lowering it “so that it may be used equally well with a platen containing one sheet or more than one”.
Yost, or someone working for him, found a better way of "hanging" the guide, and this is what it became:
Apart from the Yost, with its ability to type for the dead, George Washington Newton (NOT Napoleon, as sometimes is claimed) Yost was also the co-inventor (again with Franz Xaver Wagner) of the Caligraph, the first competitor for the Sholes and Glidden.
As well, he took upon himself much if not all of the credit for the Remington No 2 (above),tending, at least in his own mind, to put the combined efforts of Byron Alden Brooks and William McKendree Jenne into a lesser light (calling Brooks’ ideas “crude”). But, then, Yost gave no credit to Wagner for the Caligraph and Yost, either, claiming it all for himself.
Apparently the Caligraph was not as financially successful as Yost made out (allegedly because of a costly patents dispute with Remington). Edward Mead Johnson and James Wood Johnson, co-founders of Johnson and Johnson, got their fingers badly burned (and needed some of their own company’s sterile surgical dressings) after being persuaded by Yost to invest in his ventures. Here is a Johnson and Johnson office worker in 1895, using something other than a Caligraph!
But Yost was a man of many and varied parts, of which his role in the early development in the typewriter was only one. We have tended to look at Yost merely within the context of typewriters, but his primary interest was actually in the land, particularly in harvesters and mowers.
George Washington Newton Yost was the third child and second son of farmer John DeWitt Yost and his wife Patty Ann (nee Newton). George was born at Starkey, New York, on April 15, 1831. He attended Starkey seminary, but had to give up lessons because of inflammation in the eyes. The family moved to Cameron (now Thurston), where George worked on his father’s farm. He married Sophia Church Hayden at New Castle, Pennsylvania, on January 28, 1858.
In his younger years, George moved about the country with some regularity. In 1856 he was in Pittsburgh and between 1858 and 1860 in Richard Polt's home town of Cincinnati and Yellow Springs, Ohio. Then in 1863 he was briefly in Nashville, Tennessee, before settling in Corry, Pennsylvania, and finally in New York.
His first inventing and business interests were in ploughing and harvesting. He invented a plough in 1855 (aged 24) and a traction wheel in 1856, a ploughing steam engine in 1858, a cotton cultivator, a chain link and a soap in 1860, steam land propellers in 1866, and a harvester in 1868.
Conventional wisdom has had it that Yost and James Densmore (above) first came in contact with each other through the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, when Densmore was trying to get the machine into production in the early 1870s. But our "conventional wisdom" is based purely on our knowledge of and interest in typewriters. In fact, Densmore and Yost had formed a partnership in 1866, a year before Sholes had even started working on his typewriter, and nine years before Yost and Densmore formed a partnership on Broadway in New York to promote the typewriter (in June 1875). The signatures below are from the Acme mower patent of 1873.

Yost and Densmore spent five years working together in the oil business and co-patented a car to transport petrol in 1866. Yost set up the Corry Machine Company on January 21, 1868, and subsequently the interest of Yost and Densmore switched back to the land. In 1873 they co-designed a harvester for their Acme Mower and Reaper Company. This was just after Yost became involved with Sholes. Yost also invented the Climax Reaper and Mower, and the two machines (seen in images above) were manufactured in Corry, Syracuse, Wellsburg and Chicago.
The Corry Machine Company was founded to build Yost’s reapers and wagons. A capital stock of $500,000 was authorised, but was shortly increased to $1 million. On March 18, 1870, the company was reorganised as the Climax Mower and Reaper Company. It was sold to one of Yost’s partners, Franklin William Andrews, on June 27, 1873, and Andrews sold it to the Titusville Novelty Iron Works of Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Yost had previously got plenty of outside backing for this venture. In 1870 he had applied for an international patent for his mower and reaper, naming in his project a group of Pennsylvania supporters, including Andrews and Lyman Stewart, who would later find fame and fortune as the co-founder of Union Oil, and who shared with Yost an interest in Christian fundamentalism.
English dramatist Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan was born in South Kensington, London, on this day in 1911. He died in Hamilton, Bermuda, on November 30, 1977, aged 66. He is known for such works as The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948)and Separate Tables (1954). He was also a screenwriter, including for The Prince and the Showgirl, Goodbye Mr Chips, The Yellow Rolls Royce and Brighton Rock.
This is Rattigan’s Royal portable. In January, the BBC reported that Rattigan gave the typewriter to friend and partner Adrian Brown in the 1950s, and that it had become a stage prop in a play performed in London this year. It is believed the Royal was used to type the play Less Than Kind in 1944. Brown directed the play in this year’s London production. He had previously donated it to Trinity College in Oxford, where Rattigan studied in the 1930s.
Cast members Sara Crowe and Michael Simkins are seen here with Rattigan’s typewriter. Crowe said having the typewriter on stage gave the play a “special atmosphere”.
Canadian-born American writer Saul Bellow was born Soloman Bellow in Lachine, Quebec, on this day in 1915. He died in Brookline, Massachusetts, on April 5, 2005, my 57th birthday. Bellow won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize.


notagain said...

escalating the limerick wars? ;-]

Robert Messenger said...

Gotta lift the standard ... the opposition hasn't got a ghostly chance :)

Richard P said...

My goodness, this has got to be your richest and most impressive blog entry ever! But your limerick's meter is off! :)

Just one note for now: I knew Saul Bellow, and took a couple of courses from him when he was teaching at the University of Chicago. He had the art of finding highly original and insightful turns of phrase. It's good to see him at the typewriter.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Richard - and I agree about the meter! I had a fright that I might have been completely "scooped" on the typing for the dead story when I read your Yost entry on The Classic Typewriter Page, but noted Bob had gone as far as the Yost obituary and Dr Rogers. I have read that Bangs book and despite even more typos than my own book found it quite entertaining. I haven't seen the Weekly World News story on the "idea".

Robert Messenger said...

BTW, on the subject on my own book, I received an email from Jos this morning - he has just read the latest ETCetera. The signs for a renewal in interest are good!