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Sunday, 28 August 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XCVIII)

The issuance on this day in 1890 of a relatively inconsequential Remington typewriter shift-key mechanism, to Mortimer George Merritt, of Springfield, Massachusetts, gives us the chance to take a look at this inveterate and brilliant designer.
Merritt has left many legacies, and not just in typewriter parts which we still use today – such as the stylish Olivetti portable and semi-portable carriage lever. Most typewriters also have the Merritt rollers under the back paper plate. As well, some of us, such as myself, sleep in Merritt-designed beds.
Merritt is usually only mentioned in relation to the Merritt upstroke linear index typewriter which he patented in 1890, and which was originally made by the Merritt Manufacturing Company of Springfield (later by Lyon Manufacturing Company of New York, and perhaps also by Gormully and Jeffery in Boston).
Michael Adler called this is “A remarkable machine ... It seemed an unlikely design, yet many thousands of these machines were made”.
Nonetheless, when Mortimer Merritt died, in Rome, New York, on May 22, 1941, aged 82, the Merritt typewriter was not mentioned at all in his obituary in The New York Times.
With a couple of notable exceptions, Merritt had virtually given up on inventing typewriters and typewriter parts after the sudden death of his beloved younger brother, Charles E. Merritt, from acute peritonitis, on November 13, 1889. Charles was just 28. Charles had designed improvements for the Merritt index typewriter in 1888, the patents for which were issued after his death.
An older brother, engineer Henry W. Merritt (born 1856), worked with James Densmore’s stepson, veteran typewriter designer Walter Jay Barron, on designing Densmore typewriters. Henry Merritt and Barron jointly patented five improvements between in 1904-1907.
In 1893, Henry joined forces with Mortimer in inventing a paper guide feed, which was assigned to the Merritt Manufacturing Company. As well, Mortimer Merritt himself assigned a 1896 typewriter design to Densmore.
By that time Mortimer had moved to Rome, New York, and his interest had turned from typewriters to bedsteads. He became president of the American Bedstead Company, based in Westborough, Massachusetts, and in Rome he was superintendent and vice-president of the Rome Metallic Bedstead Company.
Slight variations of Merritt’s bedstead designs are still commonly seen today, in the present-day manufacture of fashionable “Edwardian” bedroom furniture.
Then in 1913 Mortimer retired from business and devoted the next 28 years of his life to being a landscape architect. In that way, I suppose, his career path, from typewriter designing to landscaping, could be likened to that of the Englishman Ebenezer Howard (see
Indeed, Mortimer Merritt regularly wrote for The New York Times on plants and flowers and the care of lawns. He wrote Practical Lawn Care, published by De La Mare in New York in 1939.
But during his time working with typewriters, which dated from his 1888 application for a patent for his index machine, Mortimer Merritt was far more involved in the industry than previously thought.
As president of the Merritt Manufacturing Company, his hand in making both the Yost Visible (for which he designed a paper guide in 1895) and Densmore typewriters meant that he was caught up in events when Yost and Densmore joined the Union Typewriter Company cartel.
One lasting legacy of Mortimer Merritt’s designs is the carriage lever he patented in 1890. This was used by Marcello Nizzoli when he designed the Olivetti Lettera 22 in 1948, and remained on Olivetti portables and semi-portables all the way through to the Valentine (1969) and beyond.
Another 1890 Mortimer Merritt design which will probably last until the end of typewriter manufacture are the rollers on the paper plate behind and under the carriage.
Mortimer George Merritt was born in Springfield on June 12, 1858, the son of Samuel Fowler Merritt and his English-born wife, Mary Ann Landen Merritt.
Samuel Fowler Merritt, born on December 10, 1820, in Rye, near Newburgh, New York, was one of America’s more notable mid-19th century silversmiths. He was apprenticed in 1835 to James Bliss Rumrill in New York City and worked as a jeweller in Rumrill’s shop from 1841 to 1849. In 1849 he became a partner with J. B. Bowden in Bowden and Merritt, manufacturing jewellers on Dey Street. In 1850 he returned to Rumrill’s employ and moved to Springfield. But he and his family returned to New York from 1865-1867, when Samuel worked as a spectacle maker and superintendent of the Burbank Spectacle Company. Then from 1968-1890 he worked as a jeweler back in Springfield.
Samuel’s eldest son, Alonzo W. Merritt (born 1847), also became a jeweller while Mortimer and Charles worked as engravers. The family business, Merritt Brothers, were also die-sinkers. Indeed, Mortimer’s first two patents, in the late 1880s, were for wood type-making, and metal type-making for the Remington and Caligraph typewriters. He also designed a typeslug for improved alignment on the Yost:

American journalist Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born in Boston on this day in 1921. He turns 90 today.  Bradlee is a vice-president-at-large of The Washington Post. As executive editor of the Post from 1968 to 1991, he became a national figure during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when he challenged the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers and oversaw the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's stories documenting the Watergate scandal.

1 comment:

Richard P said...

Merritt sounds like a man of many talents, most of which I never suspected.