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Wednesday 15 June 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XXV)


On this day in 1893, Harry C.Johnson, of Washington DC, was issued with a patent for a rather intriguing idea for typewriters – doing away with the need to use a shift key.
“This invention has for its object to provide for actuating both the capitals and small letters of a type-writer by the agency of one set of keys without the intermediate manipulation of additional mechanism in making the change from the capital to the small letter; and to these ends the invention consists of a key having two independent movements and which is capable of actuation by pressure upon the upper or upon the front face thereof without any stoppage or interruption in the operation; and it consists, further, of the combination, with such a key, of the particular or detailed mechanism to carry into effect this purpose …”
Don’t think it took off, Harry … but good try, anyway.
On the very same day – June 14, 1892 – another typewriter inventor with the name of Johnson was issued with a typewriter-related patent. This was the infamous Texas politician Jahu Worner Johnson (also known as, apparently, John Warner Johnson). In this (Houston-based) Johnson’s case, it was a joint application with William J.Borden, of Hico, for a book typewriter (something which, largely through the efforts of Elliott-Fisher, did eventually take off). Johnson and Borden were somehow related through marriage; not sure how, but Johnson may have been Borden’s brother-in-law. Johnson was married to the eldest daughter of Gail Borden, below,the inventor of condensed milk.
Anyway, their idea was for a machine “capable of use for the ordinary purposes to which type-writers are applied, but especially adapted and designed for typewriting upon blank books, thereby facilitating the making of official records and producing records that are more legible and compact than it is possible to obtain by handwriting”. The typewriter would employ a typewheel, with the blank book clamped to the back.
I can’t fully grasp 1870s Texas politics, so I’ll avoid trying to explain what Johnson did, or didn’t do, in Colorado County. His father-in-law, apart from his claim to fame (and fortune) with condensed milk, was the original surveyor of Galveston. He was also a publisher, which may explain the interest of Johnson and William Borden in book typewriters. In 1879, Johnson’s son, Gail Borden Johnson, then aged 19, started a newspaper in Colorado, Texas, called the Occasional. It became the Columbus Plaindealer. Father and son moved to Houston and started the Houston Post in 1880. J.W. Johnson was born in Harrison Country, West Virginia, on August 2, 1839. He died in 1919.
On this day in 1938, Superman made his first appearance, in Action Comics.
For more on his typewriting exploits, see a previous post “Superman’s Typewriter”.
Happy birthday, C.J.Kent.
On this day in 1904, the great photo-journalist Margaret Bourke-White was born in the Bronx. She died from Parkinson's disease on August 27, 1971, aged 67, at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, home of the Blickensderfer.
Bourke, seen above typing in her backyard, photographed many typewriters, including a grotesque shot of a severed hand beside a Triumph Standard after an Allied bombing raid in Germany on May 1, 1945. A year later, Bourke-White was in India, photographing Puran Chandra Joshi, secretary of the Indian Communist Party, with his secretary.
On this day in 1928, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Cuban revolution figure, was born in Rosario, Argentina. He died at La Higuera, Vallegrande, Bolivia, on October 9, 1967, aged 39.
I do not have images of Guevara typing (is there a typewriter on a shelf in the photo above?), but I happen I know he did use a typewriter.
In his younger days, Guevara was not only an avid rugby union player for the Club Universitario de Buenos Aires, but he typed up many rugby articles for local newspapers and other publications. The Argentinian “Pumas”, claiming to take inspiration from Guevara’s revolutionary example, finished third in the last Rugby World Cup, four years ago. In the photo below, one can see that, even at this age, Che had the rugby player's cauliflower ears.

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