HARKS BACK TO THURBER, JONESAt first glance, what springs to mind about the patent issued to William Heinrich Elling on this day in 1889 are the "typewriter" designs of Charles Thurber and John M. Jones from four decades earlier.
The large round typewheel - or, I suppose more strictly speaking in the case of Thurber and Elling, “typebasket” - on top of the Elling machine is what suggests a throwback to the much earlier designs.
Elling, of Cleveland, set out the objectives of his typewriter as "printing directly from the type without the use of intermediate tape or the like; second, printing on an exposed surface, so that the operator can read the printing as it occurs letter after letter; third, printing on plain sheets of paper, as in books, with varying thicknesses and unequal sides."
These words act as a reminder that, even after the first practical typewriter, the Sholes and Glidden, had been on the market for 15 years, the boundaries between what defined typewriting and printing (or copying, for that matter) remained quite blurred – even, to an extent, interchangeable.
Indeed, in outposts of the world such as Australia, the Sholes and Glidden was still being referred to as a small (therefore more portable) printing machine, rather than a typewriter per se. It did the chances of a lasting success for the typewriter no harm at all to be thought of in printing or copying terms.
It needs to be borne in mind also that when William Austin Burt, Charles Thurber, John M. Jones, John Jonathan Pratt and Christopher Latham Sholes all developed the earliest American "typewriters", printing and copying were the sort of objectives they had in mind. Sholes and Jones, in particular, came from printing backgrounds.
Richard Current, in his 1954 book The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It, makes this very valid point:
Current later points out that Charles Edward Weller had as late as September 1870 referred to the Sholes design as a “print writing machine”. But Pratt’s machine had been called a “type writing machine” by the Scientific American in July 1867, and James Densmore had first combined the words “type” and “writer” in 1868.
It was after the Sholes and Glidden had gone into production that the word typewriter began to be applied, in hindsight, to the machines built by Burt, Thurber, Jones and Pratt during the preceding 45 years. It has become increasingly convenient for historians to continue to do so. But Burt’s machine was a “typographer” or a “Family Letter Press”, Thurber’s was a “machine for printing”, and those of both Jones and Pratt “mechanical typographers”. Jones also referred to his design as one for copying manuscripts.
It is said of Burt that he was “the inventor, maker and patentee of the first typewriter constructed in America. He is referred to as the ‘Father of the Typewriter’ (so, too, many years later, was Byron Alden Brooks). Thurber is described as an “inventor who made important innovations in the early development of the typewriter” and it is claimed he “invented and patented in 1843 the first practical typewriter”.
Calling Thurber “much-maligned” (for reasons which seem uncertain), Michael Adler in Antique Typewriters (1997) says Thurber “made a number of valuable contributions to typewriter history”. Thurber was born in East Brookfield, Massachusetts, on January 2, 1803. He died on November 7, 1886. At the time of his 1843 patent, he was living in Worcester, Massachusetts, but wrote this letter on his machine from Norwich in 1846:
Thurber described his August 26, 1843, design as being for a “new and useful Machine for Printing by Hand by Pressing Upon Keys Which Contain the Type, called ‘Thurber’s Patent Printer’.”
Adler described the machine as one with type plungers fitted around the perimeter of a horizontal wheel mounted on a vertical spindle. Inking was by roller and printing was on a flat carriage. It incorporated differential spacing. A later model had a cylindrical platen, with printing around the cylinder rather than along its length.
(NOTE: Many sources claim Thurber's full name is Charles Grover Thurber. I can find no confirmation of this. The American author and cartoonist James Thurber was James Grover Thurber, but there is no evidence of the two Thurbers being in any way related. I would be happy to be corrected on this.)
We have already looked in depth at Pratt in a previous post and will do so at Burt in a later post.
One man who has been largely neglected in all this, because he has usually been mentioned merely “in passing”, is John M. Jones. It is clear that previous typewriter historians have reached the Jones phase in the development of the typewriter, referred to his design and described it, then passed on to the next stage. But Jones is deserving of a much closer review.
The main reason Jones has been virtually by-passed is that so little has previously been known about him. That may well be because his earliest patents were assigned to simply “John Jones”, one of the most common names in the English language (bettered, perhaps, only by “John Smith”), whereas he was in fact John M. Jones. And once his involvement in "typewriter" development had ended, typewriter historians ceased to pay him any attention - regardless of his significant subsequent achievements in the printing industry.
As early as A Condensed History of the Writing Machine (1923), and later in Bruce Bliven’s The Wonderful Writing Machine and Current’s The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It (both 1954), as well as in Paul Lippman’s American Typewriters (1992), Jones is correctly referred to as John M. Jones. Adler, however, continues to call him simply John Jones.
A Condensed History
LippmanIt seems that to earlier historians, Jones made his contribution to the early development of the typewriter while living in Clyde, New York, on June 1, 1852, and that was it.
For example, Adler, who at least recognises Jones “tried again in 1856”, saying this second patent was for a “domestic writing machine”. It was in fact for a “domestic printing machine” and it was taken out in the name of “J. M. Jones”, something Adler appears to have overlooked.
Adler claims that 130 of Jones’s first machine were “either completely or partially assembled when the factory with all its contents was destroyed by fire”. These machines were apparently produced in Rochester by the Rochester Novelty Works from 1852 to 1853.
Adler acknowledges that Jones “was responsible for [an] important machine – important not so much for the design itself (although it was good) as for the fact that it was only the third one ever to actually reach manufacture … the design was no worse than most and better than many similar machines which were to follow in the course of the next 30-odd years …”
Adler described the Jones machine as having a horizontal typewheel beneath a circular index, inking by roller, and typing on paper around a short platen of large diameter, compete with escapement and tension supplied by a spiral spring, the paper advance and platen return performed automatically at the end of each line. "And as if all this were not enough, the machine offered full differential spacing! Quite a brilliant combination, considering the early date.”
Adler says of Jones’s second design that a single handle was used to turn the typewheel and bring it down on to the paper. The platen was replaced by an endless belt and upper and lower case was offered.
What has not previously been told in typewriter histories is that John M. Jones was born in New York on February 15, 1819, and died on August 2, 1904. Before residing in Clyde, he had lived in Lyons, where he married Clarinda Taylor of Genesee County in 1843. They had five sons: Horatio, Charles, Francis, Arthur and Elmer.
The Clyde Herald, September 7, 1939In 1850 John Jones ran a large carriage making company in Lyons, employing six men, and in Palmyra he was described as a machinist (1860 census) and then a manufacturer of printing press and paper cutters (1870, 1880). In each case, he was clearly very well off.
Jones moved from Clyde to Palmyra in 1855, when he paid $600 for a block of land to build his printing works. And it was in Palmyra that he continued to make hugely significant contributions to the job printing industry.
Jones Peerless Gem paper cutter“Jobbing” presses are small printing machines designed and used to make viable one-off undertakings such as handbills, posters, letterheads and business cards, as opposed to the type of large presses used for major on-going printing tasks such as the production of books, magazines and newspapers.
On Jackson Street, Palmyra, Jones ran a manufacturing facility to produce printing presses.
He built successful “clamshell”-style platen jobbers such as the Globe, Peerless, Star, Lightning, Franklin, Washington, Jones-Gordon, Clipper and Jewel presses, among others.
He was issued with patents for printing presses in 1872, 1879, 1882, 1884, 1886 (two), 1888 (two) and 1892. He was also issued with patents for paper cutters in 1878, 1880 and 1894. In 1900 he was issued with a patent for a “planetarium”.
Production of Jones job presses and paper cutters continued until about 1902.
In 1925, the original foundry was torn down and houses built on the site. What remains of the Jones print works is now a museum and past of the Historic Palmyra collection.
Jones appears to taken over where George Phineas Gordon, inventor of the Gordon Letterpress, left off when he died in early 1878. As Gordon’s patents expired, others such as Jones produced their own versions of his Franklin and New Era jobbers.
An expert in this field describes Jones’s Globe model as a “mid-century reconfiguration of press designs dating to the 1820s. It featured an open-and-closed ‘clamshell’ action that an operator powered by a foot treadle. The Globe press quickly became a jobshop workhorse, more efficient than most shop presses and far faster than ancient but ubiquitous screw-action handpresses.”
While William Heinrich Elling was receiving his Thurber-Jones lookalike typewriter patent in Cleveland, on this same in 1889 Isaac Beauregard Dodson, in Danville, Virginia, received a patent for this very different looking typewriter.
Dodson described his objective as, “to improve, simplify, and cheapen the construction of type-writers and render their operation more positive and reliable”.
Whether this Dodson is in any way related to typewriter inventor Darien Wadsworth Dodson, of Wilkes-Barré, Pennsylvania (who we have already featured in this series), I cannot say.
On this day in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was published for the first time, by Little, Brown and Company of New York.
Here is an amusing, snappy little letter Salinger typewrote (is there such a word?) to a “Mr Stevens” about the very important issue of buying typewriter ribbons:
You've already far surpassed my own knowledge of early typewriter inventions. Impressive.
That Salinger letter is a hoot. "Avidya and vidya [ignorance and knowledge] are things"??
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