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Saturday 16 July 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (LVI)

Unlike the “one-finger” typewriter designed by the great mechanical engineer Frederic Webster Howe, which we looked at yesterday, Lewis Dart’s typewriter did eventually go into production.
Howe died a few months before the patent for his typewriter was issued, and his design seems to have died with him. So, too, did Dart pass away before being issued with his typewriter patent.
Dart died in Hartford, Connecticut, on January 12, 1889, and the patent was issued on this day in 1890. Dart had applied for it in October 1888.
But there is another marked difference between the Howe and Dart machines.
Whereas Howe’s design was decidedly for an index typewheel machine, I can only quote Richard Polt on his Classic Typewriter Page on the Dart design: “A typewriter? This??”
Uwe Breker Collection
Richard’s Dart page can be seen at
Richard goes on, “Well, if we define a typewriter as a device for printing characters one after the other, then the Dart Marking Machine qualifies. This is why it has been listed in all the prominent typewriter literature.
"What makes it unique is that it is designed not for writing letters, but for marking crates and packages. It can also be used to make signs. The company advertised it as ‘A Movable Typewriter for addressing Shipping Cases. Prints a plain, neat address with great saving in labor and cost of maintenance.’”
Flavio Mantelli expands on the history of the Dart in his article in the December 2009 issue of ETCetera (No 88), titled “The Dart ‘Type-Writing’ Machine”.
I was already aware that the Dart design had been brought back to life, admittedly in an improved form, by one Samuel Cook Hurlbut, who assigned his patent to the Type Writing Machine Company of Hartford. Hurlbut had been pretty quick off the mark, for he applied for a patent in his own name, albeit acknowledging Dart’s original design, on May 3, 1889, less than four months after Dart had died.
Hurlbut’s patent was issued on November 18, 1890, four months after Dart’s.
But thanks to Flavio’s thorough research on this machine, I was able to make a further connection (as he had done), with John M. Fairfield.
Fairfield applied for a patent for an almost identical machine - but calling it an "Ink Roller Supporting Device for Printing Machines" -in April 1892 and was issued with it on January 31, 1893.
Now Fairfield is a far more interesting man in terms of early typewriter development than either Dart or Hurlbut.
Fairfield worked on George Washington Newton Yost’s Caligraph and then designed his own machine, the Hartford typewriter (above and below).
Flavio points out Fairfield was the president and treasurer of the Hartford Typewriter Company. I might add he was also its sole designer.
Indeed, Fairfield had at least 14 typewriter patents issued to him between 1890-1905, many of them assigned to the American Writing Machine Company of Hartford and some of them specifically aimed at the Yost typewriter.
But for the time being let’s get back to Dart. As Flavio says, there is not much information on him in typewriter literature. All we can add is that he was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in about 1830, the son of Lewis and Rubie H. Warner Dart. He married an Ann Elizabeth ‘Bettie' Mann from Petersburg, Virginia, in 1863. In 1877 Dart took out a patent on a “time table annunciator”. His family tree merely says he was “an inventor”.
Richard Polt explains, “To operate the Dart, one turns the knob on top until the selector points at one of 41 characters. This makes the central, vertically mounted typewheel revolve, brushing against an ink roller, until the desired character is pointing straight down. One then pushes the knob down in order to print, which also advances the machine one space forward. The Dart uses rubber type which prints capital letters. Simple, but ingenious.”
Finally, Richard advises, “You never know where you may find an object like this. I hear that one was found serving as a doorstop in an antique shop. But don't use yours as a doorstop - it's a valuable item.”
Both Richard and Flavio relate that the Dart was sold in Germany by Goyen and Richtmann of Cologne, which dovetails neatly with our next patent.
Of course, Goyen and Richtmann were one of a handful of non-American typewriter agencies to market the Blickensderfer (the New Zealand Typewriter Company was another, but that’s by the by).
It was on this day in 1890, three years before the launch of the Blickensderfer 5 in Chicago, that George Canfield Blickensderfer patented a typewriter attachment which would be “means of underscoring words and lines made by typewriter machines, cancelling words or lines printed by said machines, and for filling in the spaces left between said words or lines”.
This ingenious device was no doubt intended for the Blickensderfer 1 (below), which never went into full production but which was exhibited in Chicago in 1893.
Below is the "middle-ground" Blick 3 from The Five-Pound Secretary by Robert Blickensderfer and Paul Robert (2003):
The Blick 1, if it had ever been made, would have been the marvel of the ages, a typewriter capable of almost anything. As I have often jokingly remarked, it would be been able to jump backwards through burning hoops while whistling Dixie. But for once in his life, George Blickensderfer’s dreams may have extended beyond his brilliant design capabilities.
George Blickensderfer worked on his machines in a small workshop at the rear of his Bedford Street home in Stamford, Connecticut. He founded the Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company in 1889, renting space on Garden Street until the construction of a spacious factory on lower Atlantic Street in 1896.
George Canfield Blickensderfer was born on October 13, 1850, in Erie County, Pennsylvania, the son of Nathan and Catherine Mary Canfield Blickensderfer. He married Nellie Irene Smith in 1879 and he and his wife had one child, Elsie Canfield Blickensderfer (1882-1897).
George Blickensderfer died in Stamford on August 15, 1917, aged 66, and is buried in the Woodland Cemetery, Stamford.
The Blickensderfer Mausoleum sits on a knoll at the south-western end of the cemetery. It is an impressive structure of gray granite, with two richly decorated cast bronze entrance doors that are flanked by large support columns. At one time leaded stain glass adorned the doors and rear window but this has been broken out by vandals. There is a 30ft walkway leading up to the stoop. The tomb occupants include Nellie Blickensderfer, who died in 1915, and her parents, Hervey and Mary Smith, George himself, his sister Katherine Blickensderfer, his parents Nathan and Catherine Mary, and his daughter Elsie.

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