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Wednesday 20 July 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (LX)

A typewriter historian's life is never easy. But this? This is ridiculous. Not one Thomas D. Worrall to try to track down, but at least two, maybe as many as four! Thomas D. Worrall, the typewriter inventor? Thomas D. Who? More to the point: Which Thomas D. Worrall? Even that indefatigable digger into typewriter history, the author Michael H. Adler, was confused. And I’m now quadruply confused.
Let’s just start by saying the Thomas D. Worrall in whom we are interested today was issued with seven patents for typewriters between 1886 and 1890. The fifth of the seven came on this day in 1887.
At the time of receiving each of the first six patents, this Thomas D. Worrall was living in Washington DC. He later moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, where he patented a printing press in 1888 and another typewriter in 1890.
But which Thomas D. Worrall was he?
Was he the same Thomas D. Worrall who was living at 618 F Street NW, Washington DC (where the Shakespeare Theatre Company now stands) when, in 1884, he wrote and self-published a book called Slander and Defamation of Character: The Great Crimes of the Nineteenth Century?
It seems highly possible.
A Thomas D. Worrall also patented corner picture frames in 1883, while living in Concord, New Hampshire.
But are we here talking about the same Thomas D. Worrall who wrote (as Tom Worrall, though definitely a Thomas D. Worrall, born in 1860) another controversial book, called The Grain Trust Exposed, in 1905, while living in Omaha, Nebraska?
Appears unlikely.
This last Thomas D. Worrall committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid in Lincoln, Nebraska, on December 28, 1907, aged 47, and was at the time described as a local politician and businessman.
Judging by the photograph on the cover of the book, my guess this is the Thomas Daniel Worrall whose image (below) appears on

The Thomas D. Worrall in question here also had a keen and active interest in legal suits. But he was a native of Illinois, a farmer near Agnew and storekeeper at Valparaiso before moving to Lincoln in 1890. So that just about rules him out of contention.
But wait, there may be yet a third (or fourth? Or merely second?) Thomas D. Worrall to consider as the possible typewriter designer.
This final Thomas D. Worrall was indeed an inventor (of sorts) who designed carpenter’s bench planes (for which he is quite noted in that particular area) and worked on gases and sulphurs. He lived in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as Boston, New York and Central City, Colorado. But he patented all his designs back between 1856 and 1866.
Confused? Yes, I said I was.
But Michael Adler only adds to this chaos. In his The Writing Machine (1974), Adler wonders whether Thomas D. Worrall, the 1886-87 typewriter inventor, was in any way connected with a Henry Worral (one ‘l’, as Adler concedes) of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote a letter to his sister in 1867 saying he had sold two typewriters of his own design. Apparently Adler got this obscure bit of information from Ernst Martin’s 1949 typewriter history.
“Whether it is the same Worrall is not known,” Adler wrote.
Adler described Worrall’s 1886 typewriter design as one “with keys attached to rows of horizontal levers pivoted at one end and with the type underneath at the other. These levers were contained in a frame which rode left and right above the flat paper-table to locate the desired character above the printing-point.”
Later Adler pointed out that this machine was assigned to the Worrall Manufacturing Company of Boston.
“This is the ‘unknown’ machine of this name sometimes listed and illustrated,” wrote Adler, referring to a typewriter history written in Milan in 1902, as well as other sources.
Yes, folks, the mystery only deepens.
In his 1997 book, Antique Typewriters, Adler added that the Worrall machine had a five-row keyboard … “with the keyboard and typebar assembly propelled above [flat the paper table] by coil springs.
“Apocryphal references to an instrument by a man called Worral (sic, as Adler added) may well be dealing with the same device.”
Adler went so far to include a Worrall patent drawing:
What Adler completely overlooked, however, was that this patent, issued on January 19, 1886, was only one of seven taken out by Worrall for typewriters.
Indeed, it was merely the first of the seven. Two more followed on February 9, a fourth a week latter on February 16, and the fifth on this day in 1887 (below):
What we do know about the typewriter inventor Worrall is that he had more than one typewriter design in mind. And, 10 years after the basic shape of an office typewriter had basically been settled, his designs were weird, to say the least.
The ornate shapings of some of them suggests the woodworker called Thomas D. Worrall who patented things back between 1856-66, if not the picture frame designer.
But I'll let you be the judge:


notagain said...

The Fallow Fields Manufacturing Company has found its standard-bearer! Those are interesting designs.

Richard P said...

We are getting deep into the hallucinogenic exotica of the spurious typewriter fantasy kingdom. Just what I love!

Robert Messenger said...

I agree about Worrall being our standard-bearer, notagain. As for the "hallucinogenic exotica of the spurious typewriter fantasy kingdom" - Richard, you take my breath away!