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Saturday 2 July 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XLII)


Emmit Girdell Latta
Civil War Boy Soldier,
 US Bicycle Pioneer,
 Typewriter Inventor Extraordinaire

The Man Who Links
 Blickensderfer with Corona

On this day in 1916, Emmit Girdell Latta filed one of the many patent applications for non-folding, compact portable typewriters he assigned to the Corona Typewriter Company.
It is interesting that Corona, at the very time when its hugely successful folding three-bank portable (below) was rapidly growing in popularity and heading toward a sales peak of 81,000 in 1919, should already be thinking ahead to a next generation of small travelling typewriters.
Corona would, in time, follow Remington's 1920 lead with a four-bank portable of its own (1924, below), yet it continued to make the Corona 3 until 1941, by which time 704,550 units had been produced.
Corona remained virtually unchallenged in the portable market from the launch of the Corona 3 - modified by Otto Petermann from Frank S.Rose's Standard Folding - in 1912 until Underwood came out with its Lee Spears Burridge-designed three-bank in 1919.
Remington quickly followed with its first portable, a four-bank with a folding typerbasket.
Corona, through at least some of Latta's designs, was looking at a four-bank even before mechanical engineer John Henry Barr led Remington to its breakthrough. Not only that, but Latta had designed a machine in which a lever was to be used to lower and lift the carriage for packing - in exactly the same spot Barr had placed his lever to lift and lower the Remington's typebasket (see drawing above).
But Corona knew full well Latta had the form to take it on the next step. Latta had long been involved in typewriter design work, and was the man responsible for Harvey Allen Moyer’s standard typewriter, which Latta designed in 1905 (below).
Moyer had announced this as a "new feature visible". The Moyer became the Blick-Bar when the Latta design was sold to George Canfield Blickensderfer in 1913.
Many typewriter historians believe the Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company would have remained in a viable financial state well into the 1920s, if not beyond, had George Blickensderfer not suddenly died in 1917.
With George Blickensderfer's death, the company went downhill and the rights to the Blick-Bar were sold to that typewriter vampire Harry Annell Smith, who sold it under his own name until 1921.
By then Latta had long since moved on to his work for Corona. While Petermann was busily continuing to develop the Corona 3, with a series of patented modifications right into the mid-20s, Latta concentrated on his many ideas for a non-folding compact Corona portable. Among his 176 patents, beginning in 1881, 58 were for typewriters or typewriter parts.
It is also interesting to contemplate that while all this was happening, Fox had in 1917 produced a Corona-lookalike portable, one with a collapsing carriage arrangement (below). Successful legal action taken against Fox by Corona was sufficiently costly to send the Fox company to the wall in 1921.
Among Latta's many patents for Coronas were designs in which the carriage collapsed, in a similar style to the Fox.
We may never know quite what Corona had in mind when it commissioned Latta's designs, but there were a wide range of them.
In the specifications for the patent Latta applied for on this day in 1916 (above and below), Latta (then living in Syracuse) wrote that his aim was "a small, portable, visible writing machine adapted to be made more compact when not in use than when in a normal operative condition ... [It] may be collapsed to occupy but little space when not in use, and to embody in such machine a platen shift mechanism particularly adapted for machines of this character, and so to construct the parts that no special attention be required because of interference or disconnection of the parts when it is desired to collapse the machine to make the same occupy less space for transportation or other purposes.”
Emmit Girdell Latta was one amazing man. He was born on May 28, 1849, at Wirt Township, near Friendship, Allegany County, New York. He apparently “came from a line of distinguished soldiers in all the Colonial and Indian wars”. He received a common school education, and during the Civil War, in 1864, aged 15, he enlisted in the US Artillery without his parent's consent. His father, Samuel Elisha Latta, appealed to President Abraham Lincoln and obtained a special order from the Secretary of War for Emmit’s discharge.
The Lincoln papers reveal, “On December 5, 1864, 15-year-old Emmit G.Latta of New York went to New York City and enlisted as a private in the Union Army. In 1861, Army regulations required all recruits be ‘above the age of 18 and under 35’. While in camp with his company at Fort Morton, Virginia, Emmit Latta was thrown from a horse and injured his arm on January 5, 1865. On January 10, Emmit's father, Samuel E. Latta, wrote to President Abraham Lincoln, seeking to have his son discharged from service.” Samuel Latta’s affidavit stated “I sent him on other business from home and that without my knowledge or consent he was induced to enlist ...”
On April 7, 1865, Emmit again enlisted as a private in the Union Army, this time in Company I, 19th New York Cavalry Regiment. He entered his age as 17, and his father signed the consent. After the war ended, the Army honourably discharged Emmit on July 19, 1865. A year later, Latta re-enlisted as a private in Company A, 4th US Infantry.
He spent this time as an engineer, helping to locate railroad beds in the Rocky Mountains and exploring the Yellowstone region. He was discharged from service at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, in 1869 and returned to Friendship.
Back in Friendship, Emmit became vice-president of the Citizens National Bank and J.L. Brown Banking, and the Reliance Shoe Company. He part-owned a real estate company and was also vice-president of Bale St Paul’s Lumber Company of St Paul’s Bay, Canada.
Emmit, with his father Samuel, mother Orpha and brother Adrian, were among the first to build a home in the town now called Lily Dale, NY. This town was "built on a new way of religious thinking, the founders calling themselves 'Free-Thinkers', a religious belief which helped form what is now known as 'Spiritualism'". Emmit Latta later moved to Syracuse.
With his brother Adrian Clarence Latta, Emmit had formed the Latta Brothers Bicycle Manufacturing Company. He took out 48 bicycle patents, some of which were sold to the Pope Manufacturing Company. Albert Augustus Pope began bicycle manufacturing with the Columbia high-wheeler in 1878, then he bought Pierre Lallement’s original patent for the Velocipede.
Most of Latta’s patents were for the American version of this bicycle.
Emmit Latta died on April 10, 1925, in Syracuse, NY. He is buried in the Mt Hope Cemetery, Allegheny County, NY.
On this day in 1874, the Sholes and Glidden typewriter first went on sale. Remington contracted on March 1, 1873, to manufacture 1000 machines; production began in September. By December 1874, only 400 typewriters had been sold, at about $125 each, the average annual income at the time. 4000 machines had been sold by 1877, one to Thomas Edison (below).


Rob Bowker said...

Another fascinating insight, thank you Robert. Is it a coincidence that a lot of people who are interested in portable manual typewriters are also interested in bikes and cycling? Imagine if Shimano did for the typewriter what they did for bicycles!

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you, Rob. I appreciate this. Couldn't have come at a more needed time. Yes, I think there are bike-typewriter connections with some of the German brands (Adler, Triumph etc) too. Maybe also in Japan?

Richard P said...

Latta sounds like a very interesting character and I wish his collapsing machine(s) had been built!