120 YEARS AGO TODAY
1891: RED LETTER DAY FOR TYPEWRITERS
WORLD AND MORE
August 4, 1891, was a red letter day in the history of typewriters. On this day 120 years ago, no fewer than five typewriter patents were issued in the US. Two of them went to George Canfield Blickensderfer, one to James Denny Daugherty, and one each to Abbott L. Mariner and Fred A. Dolph.
The mere mention of the name Blickensderfer is enough to get the true typewriter lover’s heart pumping. But these two patents for the sage of Stamford were for George Blickensderfer’s No 1 and No 3 models. And since neither went into full production, I guess they are as insignificant as the one which went to Mariner, for one of many minor adjustments that were made during this period to the World index typewriter, and the patent for Dolph’s monstrosity.
But what is really exciting is to see James Daugherty’s patents for his marvelous, elegant and groundbreaking four-bank frontstroke visible writing typewriter. This is the typewriter which, in reality, beat the Wagners and Underwood to the visible writing punch.
In 1914, J.H. Beers and Company published Armstrong County, Pennsylvania - Her People, Past and Present, Embracing a History of the County: A Genealogical and Biographical Record of Representative Families.
The entry on the “Daugherty Visible Typewriter” began, “If Kittanning is to be known in history in the future, it will be at least famous among the mechanics of the world as the home of James Denny Daugherty, the inventor of the first visible typewriter in the world, the class of machine that has gradually forced itself to the front of the writing machine trade.”
Latter-day historians have been prepared to put Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochran, above), the pioneering journalist, on the same pedestal as the Daugherty typewriter, and embrace her as also putting this Pennsylvania town, 44 miles north-east of Pittsburgh, on the world map (Bly spent her childhood in Kittanning).
But in 1914, it was deemed by the town elders that the greatest thing to come out of Kittanning was a typewriter. And they were exceedingly proud of the native son who invented it. Indeed, as a “facile and famous speaker”, they wanted James Daugherty to represent them in Congress.
The Beers book said, “Nature was lavish in her bestowal of talents upon ‘Denny’, as his friends call him, for not only is he gifted as a mechanic, and learned in the law, but his inborn eloquence and poetic temperament are traits which have endeared him to his friends, and made him a terror to his adversaries.
"Not only have these talents gained recognition in the section where his life has been spent, but in many political campaigns his clear and penetrating voice has resounded from the rostrum in defence of the principles of his party. He was one of the few speakers selected for service in the campaign of the lamented William McKinley (below), for whom Mr Daugherty had a strong personal friendship. When that martyred president’s memorial services were held, Mr Daugherty was selected to deliver the address, and the poem written and recited by him on that occasion has still power to bring tears to the eyes of the reader.”
James Denny Daugherty was born in Kittanning on October 17, 1855, his father, Hiram, being one of the descendants of the pioneers of the town. James's mother, Anne Riley, was Irish.
James Daugherty’s schooling was cut short by the necessity to earn a living to supplement the family income. He worked in a brickyard during the day and recited at night to historian Robert W. Smith, from whom he obtained a basic knowledge of Latin and mathematics. Daugherty was finally able to attend the Eldersridge Academy and Mount Union College, Ohio, from which he graduated in 1879.
When the Graham system of shorthand writing came into popular use, Daugherty taught himself to apply it and soon became noted as a fast and accurate reporter, becoming official court stenographer. During this time he was reading law in the office of John Gilpin and G. S. Crosby, and he was admitted to the bar in September, 1887.
In 1898 he was appointed referee in bankruptcy by Joseph Buffington. He had a law office in Kittanning and was county solicitor.
Daugherty had, “with commendable enterprise”, bought himself a Sholes and Glidden typewriter in the mid-1870s and “became remarkably expert upon that comparatively clumsy pioneer machine, and began at once to improve upon it”.
“Even with this slow and crude machine he became able to take testimony without the use of stenographic notes. The annoyance of raising the carriage of the machine caused him to work out the idea of a visible writer, and in 1881 he made the first working model of a typewriter with writing in sight. A successful working model made of iron was developed by him in 1883.
“For a time his other duties prevented a continuance of the typewriter development”, but in 1891 he had his idea patented. Together with Buffington, Charles J. Moesta and William Rumbaugh, Daugherty formed the Daugherty Typewriter Company, and contracted with the Crandall Typewriter Company, of Groton, New York, to manufacture 2000 machines. Daugherty went to Groton and personally supervised the work.
At first, using the catchphrase "We claim everything in sight", the Daugherty typewriter proved a commercial success. So much as that in 1894 the company was able to build a brick factory on Troy Hill (later known as “Typewriter Hill”) in Kittanning.
Daugherty took complete control, using new equipment to manufacture his machine.
Apart from being the first to provide visible writing, Daugherty's typewriter had other then-unique features. By loosening two screws on either side of the keyboard, the keyboard and typebasket could be removed and replaced for another typeface. If the Daugherty had a weakness, it was that the long typearms had an tendency to sway slightly, affecting alignment.
But that wasn’t the cause of the Daugherty’s downfall. Instead, the company’s fortunes began to falter in 1897, through the “incompetency” of a manager at the factory. A lot of 2500 machines were found to be defective and had to be cast into the scrap heap. It has been claimed the manager hanged himself as a result of this serious production oversight.
Regardless, it was certainly a fatal blow for the company. Agents around the country demanded deliveries at once or contracts would be cancelled. As Daugherty could not get out the orders, the firm was compelled to suspend operations. Later that year the plant and Daugherty’s patents were sold to the Pittsburgh Writing Machine Company, and the new owners renamed the machine the Pittsburgh Visible Typewriter.
Daugherty himself remain involved and at first the Pittsburgh company more or less reproduced the Daugherty, with the same nickel-plated space bar, integrated shift keys, nickel-plated ribbon spools and an uncovered typebasket.
On later Pittsburgh models, the integrated shift keys were replaced with regular shift keys, the ribbon spools were painted black, a name shield was put over the type basket and clamps were used instead of screws to hold the transferable typebasket. With this new, more economical look, sales began to drop.
The Pittsburgh company stopped production of the Daugherty-designed machine in 1908 and in 1911 sold the Daugherty patents to the Union Typewriter Company. This enabled the cartel’s typewriters to use Daugherty’s visible writing design. The Union trust already controlled Remington, Smith Premier, Yost, Monarch, the American Writing Machine and Densmore.
In 1913, the Pittsburgh company, renamed the Pittsburg Visible Typewriter Company, itself went bankrupt, and the receivers set about selling off whatever stock was left.
Daugherty had joined Union’s “experimental staff”, but quit with the closure of the Pittsburgh company. He switched to Underwood as a consulting mechanical expert under John Underwood. Daugherty was assigned to design an adding, subtracting and multiplying attachment for the Underwood.
The Beers book said that if Daugherty’s designs for Underwood proved successful, the Underwood would “not be rejected and ridiculed as his [own typewriter] was by the short-sighted public, but will have the hearty cooperation of one of the largest factories of typewriters in the world”.
In 1878 Daugherty had married a Canadian, Eliza L. Field, who he had met at college. Of their two daughters, Mary was a graduate of the Margaret Morrison branch of Carnegie Technical Institute, Pittsburgh, and Nancy was a portrait painter in Paris, France.
James Denny Daugherty died in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 14, 1939, aged 83. His body was taken back to his beloved Kittanning, the town he had made famous, and he was buried there on April 18.
Peter Weill collectionIn 1905, Daugherty was selected by the townsfolk of Kittanning to present “the largest flag in the world” to the city of Pittsburgh.
You can see a Daugherty being used in this YouTube clip:
George Canfield Blickensderfer’s two patents issued on this day in 1891 relate to his No 1 and No 3 models.
On the No 1, the inking reels are shown between the typewheel, as well as a typewheel which contains full three-letter words.
The much larger size of this machine, compared to the Blickensderfer 5, which did go into production in 1893, can be gauged from these drawings.
On the No 3, it is apparent Blickensderfer is aiming for a somewhat smaller, more compact machine, with a three-tiered typewheel.
As for Abbott L. Mariner, of West Medford, Massachusetts, his patent assigned to Pope Manufacturing of Boston was issued at a time when several minor changes were being made to the World index typewriter. In this case, it concerned line spacing.
The World was originally designed by John Becker of Boston, for the World Type Writer Company of Portland, Maine, in 1886. Mariner was just one of many “nuts and bolts” factory men used by the Beckers to improve their design.
The World was first made in Portland and then moved to Pope. This Mariner patent follows others issued for the same machine in June and July 1891 to George Becker of New York. A week after the Mariner patent, another was jointly issued to John and George Becker.
Fred A. Dolph, of Aurora, Illinois, was issued with a patent for this monster. The objective was a machine which could be adapted for writing in heavy books, “such as record-books used in the offices of county clerks and court houses …” Dolph was himself an attorney who later became US Counsellor to the Republic of Korea.
On this day in 1821, Atkinson and Alexander published The Saturday Evening Post for the first time as a weekly newspaper. One cannot think of The Saturday Evening Post without thinking of Norman Rockwell.
Here is Rockwell’s And Daniel Boone Comes to Life, painted in oil on canvas in 1923 and used in an Underwood portable advertisement.
The original painting is now owned by Steven Spielberg.
American reporter and author Helen Thomas was born in Winchester, Kentucky, on this day in 1920. She turns 91 today. Thomas is a former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and opinion columnist.
She worked for the United Press and post-1958 successor United Press International for 57 years, first as a correspondent and later as White House bureau manager. She was a columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. She covered every President of the United States from the last years of the Eisenhower administration until the second year of the Obama administration. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents' Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club. Thomas retired on June 7 last year.