William McKendree Jenne:
Don’t let ribbon ink get on your fingers
Vincent Franklin Lake:
Don’t let the ‘i’ take up as much space as the ‘m’
Godfrey Henry Lasar:
Don’t let patent infringements get in your way
Casting aside for the time being Mark Twain's wit and wisdom on the Sholes and Glidden (see below), it seems it took the best part of six years for Remington to start to get some truly constructive and substantive feedback from a buying – and therefore vitally concerned – public on the first three typewriters it made.
First, there needed to be a sufficiently sizeable buying – and using - public to offer some reasonably broad-based consensus of opinion, the sort of widespread sway that might force changes.
There also had to be a settling of the perimeters – exactly what would the typewriter be used for, and by whom? Once that had been decided, in the goodness of time, what would the range of demands upon the typewriter be?
There might also have been some reaction to competition: three new keyboard brands emerged between 1880 and 1886.
Sales of Remington typewriters sales did not pass 1000 until 1880; they then doubled within two years and reached 10,000 in 1885. That figure almost doubled again in 1886.
The more the typewriter was bought and used, the more widely exposed were its defects: some of these were things its original designers, including James Densmore, George Yost and Franz Wagner, might not have even considered.
Being able to type in lower as well as upper case letters, and being able to see what one was typing – these were failings obvious from the onset, shortcomings that were playing on the minds of mechanical engineers before the first typewriter was even sold.
But what of other, less glaring and seemingly less significant issues? Changing ribbons and getting ink on one’s fingers, for example, or an “i” taking up as much space on a line as a “m”?
Christopher Latham Sholes knew the Sholes and Glidden was far from ideal. But by 1874 he’d washed his hands of it. The designers at Remington were only too aware of its faults, too, and they had more immediate pecuniary reasons to remain committed to the cause.
Soon after the launch of the Sholes and Glidden on the market on July 1, 1874, Remington’s engineers started working on modifications, before bringing out the Remington 1, in 1876. And even then they realised that alterations had to be more than just cosmetic.
When the Remington 2 emerged in 1878, with its shift device and lower case characters, William Ozmun Wyckoff (below) declared the “typewriter is now perfected”.
He was way too premature. John Pratt, Lucien Crandall and James Hammond, among many others, had very different ideas on that score.
From 1886, when typewriter sales really started to take off, there would certainly be no shortage of people who had perceived ways in which the typewriter could be improved, or adapted, and who had firm notions on how that could be done.
Today we look at four typewriter designer-engineers (one of whom listed his occupation as “inventive engineer”) who, within the first 12 years of the Sholes and Glidden going on sale, had found and put forward such ideas.
We have already studied William McKendree Jenne (above) in much detail. It was he who was largely responsible for taking the Remington typewriter to a level, with the No 2 model, that Wyckoff believed was “perfect”. Wyckoff was right in as much as the Remington 2 is considered the first “real” typewriter – that is, the “real” forerunner of the typewriters which emerged in the early part of the 20th century and which then remained essentially unchanged for 70 years. Thus Jenne, and not Sholes, would on his death be referred to as "The Father of the Typewriter".
But having Wyckoff declare he’d already reached the ultimate goal didn’t stop Jenne from continuing to search for ways to make the typewriter even more acceptable to the general public.
One of those ways, for which Jenne was issued with a patent on this day in 1880, was to have a reel which would allow a means by which ribbons could be “more readily removed and replaced without soiling the fingers, and whereby, also, the reel can be made to serve temporarily as a spool, when it is desired to change for a brief period the color of the ink”.
The next inventor is Vincent Franklin Lake, who was born the son of David and Miranda Diana Robinson Lake in Pleasantville, New Jersey, on Christmas Day 1854.
As with William Jenne’s father, Vincent Lake’s father was a noted inventor. David Lake was the Pleasantville postmaster and tax collector and was the driving force behind the construction of the turnpike between Pleasantville and Atlantic City. He invented a machine for mixing meadow mud and oyster shell for fertilizer, and an ingenious fly trap. He was associated with his nephew Jesse S. Lake (below) in the development of the mowing machine in 1861.
Vincent Lake was a draughtsman who was also described as “an expert mechanical engineer and inventor. The invention of which he is most proud is a machine which splits sheets of slate to one-32nd of an inch in thickness, making it possible to use it for veneering.”
As for Vincent Lake’s typewriter patent, which was issued to him on this day in 1886, the designer said the object was “to provide a variable feed for the paper-carriage … so that on striking a key-lever actuating a narrow type like that of the letter ‘i’, the paper-carriage will be fed a less distance than when a wider letter or character is to be written, thus accomplishing what is known among printers as ‘spacing’ the type, and thereby making the written page appear like ordinary print.
“I have provided three variations in spacing. Taking the letter ‘i’ requiring the smallest space as the unit, I give a space and a half to characters of the width of ‘a’ and two spaces for characters of the width of the letter ‘m’.”
Lake had already been assisted by his cousin Isaac Risley, a local newspaper publisher, “in the invention and the perfection of a self-justifying typesetting machine”.
Risley and his brother Daniel Lake Risley in January 1877 began publishing a Pleasantville newspaper called The Little Patriot; later it was called Everybody's Companion. They also ran a job printing office, the first in Pleasantville. In 1902, Risley was president of the Metal Doll Company, which manufactured unbreakable dolls of steel
Vincent Franklin Lake’s wife, Eva Wright Tilton Lake, graduated from the Woman's Medical College in Philadelphia. She practised in Pleasantville and in Norwood, New Jersey, where she ran a sanitarium. She was also involved in mission work among Italians, especially in New York City.
Vincent Franklin Lake and his wife moved to Norwood and Lake died there in 1926, aged 71.
Finally, Godfrey Henry Lasar, who was born in Canton, Ohio, on March 20, 1851.
Like Jenne, Lasar was an inveterate typewriter inventor who did, it seems, finally get to see the fruits of his labour.
Michael Adler in Antique Typewriters describes Lasar’s machine as “large and heavy ... of downstroke design similiar to the Horton”. Adler said the Lasar was “reported to have been manufactured in considerable numbers around 1898 and 1900, although others report that only a few experimental examples were made”.
Adler went on that Lasar “held over 20 patents dating back to 1889.” In fact, Lasar had been working on typewriter designs much earlier, and had this patent, assigned to co-designer George Washington Baldrige of St Louis, issued to him on this day in 1886.
This patent, for the escapement of a typewriter, was part of a patent for which Lasar had applied in March 1885, but which had been divided later that year.
Noted typewriter collector and historian Anthony Casillo has, as I understand it, a Lasar machine in his collection (below) and did a great deal of research into Lasar some years ago.
Anthony wrote, “The Lasar typewriter was invented by Godfrey Henry Lasar, the son of German immigrants who settled in St Louis in the 1860s.
“An attempt at selling the machine was made by the Lasar Type-Writer Company of St Louis in the mid-1880s. It is a downstroke, caps-only machine of considerable size and substance and was somewhat advanced for its day. Despite protection by at least 17 patents, the typewriter, and its small upstart company, disappeared quickly and forever from the marketplace. Typewriter historians of the period credit patent infringement lawsuits for its demise.”
Godfrey Lasar was the son of Henry S. Lasar, consul and close friend to Ulysses S. Grant. His brother was Edward F. Lasar, founder and president of the successful Lasar-Letzig Ornamental Ironworks Company (later called the Lasar Manufacturing Co).
Godfrey Lasar, who called himself an “inventive engineer”, died in St Louis on April 1, 1940, aged 89.
According to Michael Adler, Lasar’s partner, George Washington Baldrige, invented a four-bank typebar typewriter “with electric assistance” in 1886.
On this day in 1917, Arabian troops led by T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and Auda ibu Tayi captured Aqaba from the Ottoman Empire during the Arab Revolt.
These are photographs of Lawrence’s Royal typewriter, which is on display in Lawrence’s former home at Clouds Hill in Dorset, England.
On this day in 1957, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles are introduced to each other when Lennon's band The Quarrymen performed at the St Peter's Church Hall fête in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. Above and below are images of Lennon’s Imperial Good Companion typewriter: