Sholes and Glidden setback
Howe’s ‘One-Finger Typewriter’
The ‘mythical’ EdlandUnwary typewriter historians have been known to place undue significance on this date. It was on this day in 1868 that Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Willard Soulé were issued with the second of their patents for what would become, six years later, the Sholes and Glidden typewriter.
However, this second patent didn’t represent another step forward in their progress toward and S and G. Rather than advancing the project, it was a step backwards, to an earlier “crude” prototype (below).
Since this first prototype failed to stand up to the pressure of heavy use, the problems with it lead to a major falling out between the S and G’s chief promoter, James Densmore, and one of the machine’s designers, Samuel Soulé. So serious was the situation, Densmore walked away from the entire project for a time.
Happily, Densmore returned – there was too much at stake for him not to – and Soulé committed to sell Densmore his remaining one-quarter stake in the enterprise for $500. Densmore eventually paid Soulé after Soulé had moved to New York. Apparently Soulé had visions of working on a typewriter of his own design.
Soulé’s name thus ceased to be attached to the Milwaukee typewriter, and it would become the Sholes and Glidden, not the Sholes, Glidden and Soulé. (Some might suggest, with every good cause, that it should always have been known as the Sholes and Densmore anyway).
Soulé, already forgotten in the scheme of things, died in Brooklyn on July 12, 1875, a little more than a year after the S and G reached the market. He was still a relatively young man of just 45.
Soulé was a draughtsman and civil engineer and possibly more qualified to work on the Milwaukee typewriter than anyone else involved. Yet he appears to have had somewhat less of an input into the development of the S and G than Sholes, Glidden, or, for that matter, Densmore or Mattias Schwalbach. It could even be argued that Charles Edward Weller had more say. (Even Thomas Alva Edison, below, made certain claims for credit.)
Still, Soulé’s name is on those first two patents, alongside those of Sholes and Glidden, and there it shall remain, to further confuse any future research into the origins of the first practical typewriter.
The first patent issued, on June 23, 1868, was the one we celebrated with the World Typewriter Day last month. It was for a second prototype (below), an improved version with a kick-up or direct action.
The second patent, issued on this date, covered a prototype completed the previous September, with an elaborate and highly suspect stringing arrangement (plus a basic ABC keyboard configuration).
In the summer of 1868, Soulé, who had been chief engineer of the “direct action” machine, accompanied Densmore to Chicago to have 15 models made from the two prototypes. Edward Payson Porter, who owned a school for telegraphers in the Windy City, had the units tested by his students. Porter and Densmore gave the machines the big thumbs down.
According to Richard Current’s The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It (1954), Densmore and Soulé were soon at one another’s throats, arguing “violently” over this setback. Densmore decided to have no further dealings with Soulé, or Glidden, but to henceforth rely entirely on Sholes.
This forced Sholes back to the drawing board. From 1869 onward, Sholes worked almost alone, while Glidden retained his mostly financial interest. Sholes told Densmore “possess your soul in patience”. The third patent for the S and G would be issued three years later, in 1871. And it would have on it Sholes’s name alone.
This was the design the New York gun makers, E. Remington and Sons, would turn into reality.
Within 20 years of the third S and G patent, the quest to perfect a much different type of typewriter was in full flight. We look at two designs for such machines today.
On this day in 1891, Frederic Webster Howe, the famous gun engineer, was issued with a patent (above) for what the Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology (1996) calls a “one-finger typewriter”.
Sadly, Howe (his first name is usually incorrectly spelled Frederick) had died, aged 68, less than three months before his patent was issued.
Howe was born on August 28, 1822, in Danvers, Massachusetts. The son of a blacksmith, he attended local schools until he was 16, and then entered the machine shop of Gay and Silver at North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, as an apprentice. In 1847 he joined Robbins, Kendall and Lawrence of Windsor, Vermont, as assistant to Richard S. Lawrence in designing machine tools. A year later he was made plant superintendent.
During his time with this firm, Howe designed a profiling machine which was used in all gun shops in the US: a barrel-drilling and rifling machine, and the first commercially successful milling machine. Robbins and Lawrence took a set of rifles built on Howe’s interchangeable system to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. This resulted in a visit by members of the British Royal Small Arms Commission to America and an order for 150 machine tools, jigs and fixtures, to be installed at the small-arms factory back at Enfield.
In 1856 Howe established his own armoury at Newark, New Jersey, then in 1858 transferred to Middletown, Connecticut, where he continued to manufacture small arms until the start of the Civil War. He became superintendent of the armoury of the Providence Tool Company at Providence, Rhode Island, where he perfected the manufacture of the Springfield rifle.
In 1865 he went to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to assist Elias Howe with the manufacture of his sewing machine (above). After Elias’s death, Howe returned to Providence to join the Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company as superintendent. He worked with Joseph R. Brown in the development of machinery for the Wilcox and Gibbs sewing machine (below).
From 1876 Howe was a consulting mechanical engineer and engaged in the development of shoe machinery and in designing his one-finger typewriter.
Howe died on April 25, 1891. in Providence.
On the very same day in 1891 that Howe was issued with his “one-finger typewriter” patent, Joseph Lawrence Edland, of Brooklyn, was issued with a patent (above and below) for another style of small index typewriter.
Unlike the Howe machine, however, the Edland did go into production - and how.
Edland stated his objective was “to produce a type-writer of few parts which is specially adapted for private use, and which may be easily and correctly operated by one who is not familiar with type-writing”.
Less than 18 months later, Edland was issued with a patent (below) for an improved design, which he half assigned to John Mathew Van Orden of New York.
This Edland has a three-quarter circular index. Edland described his updated machine as one “of simple construction, which works rapidly and accurately and can be made at a reduced cost”. Van Orden owned a corset company in Newark.
Reduced cost? Did Joe say “reduced cost”? Today an Edland will probably set you back about $7500! Paul Robert, at his Virtual Typewriter Museum, explains why:
Paul says the Edland is “a machine so rare that it is of almost mythical proportions. The machine was … marketed in 1891 by the Liberty Manufacturing Company of New York. Until quite recently, it was believed that no machines had survived ‘in the wild’.
“In 1965, American collector and typewriter historian Paul Lippman was informed about the existence of an number of mint Edlands found in a warehouse. Six machines were acquired by Oregon collector Joe Updegraff, all brand new and wrapped in newspapers. Later some other machines showed up, in two different versions even, with embossed and printed circular indexes.
“The total number of Edlands known now (early 2002) is nine with embossed indexes and two with flat indexes.
“The Edland was a pretty cheaply made machine that worked with a daisy wheel. The pointer was turned to select the right letter and pressed to print. The shift key in front of the machine could be pressed to the left or to the right for capitals or figures.
“Cheap as it was, Edland certainly had a high esteem of the machine. On the instruction card … on the inside of the lid, the Liberty company announces a speed contest to be held on the Edland machine, because it would prove that this was the fastest single key typewriter in the world.
“Contestants would have to write a memorised text on the Edland typewriter, viewed by two witnesses. The result had to be notarised and could be sent to the company before December 24, 1892. The fastest writer would win $50. Second and third fastest contestants could win $30 and $20 respectively.”
Typewriter historians have sometimes been thrown off the path of Joseph Lawrence Edland because he has often been referred to as “Joe A. Edland” or “Joe E. Edland”.
Don’t be too alarmed if you can’t afford the $7500 for a real Edland. Here’s something much more within your price range: In 1946 Samuel Berger, of Newark, designed what his patent references would have us believe is an updated version of the Edland – it’s the toy Unique Portable typewriter, and it’s readily available still.