Total Pageviews

Monday 26 September 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (CXXII & Last FTB*)

As we approach the great event in Milwaukee on October 6, the designation of the Sholes & Glidden typewriter as a “Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark”, it is timely to look again at those who contributed to the making of this machine, which proved to be one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of communications.
The Committee on History and Heritage of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers has accepted Thomas Fehring’s nomination to declare the Sholes & Glidden such a landmark, and the ceremony will be held on October 6 at 3pm at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The museum has five of the 1873 Milwaukee-made S & G typewriters – all of which were built under the skilled foremanship of one Matthias Schwalbach.
As well, it was Schwalbach who made the first four-bank typewriter keyboard, albeit in alphabetical order; QWERTY was yet to come when in February 1871 Schwalbach presented Christopher Latham Sholes with the formation, if not the actual configuration, of the keyboard which has survived on typewriters to this day.
Schwalbach kept the original piano keys keyboard he had stripped off the growing S & G and in the early 1890s gave it to Wisconsin historian Frederic Heath, then a journalist with the Milwaukee Sentinel. It was Heath who wrote “The Typewriter in Wisconsin” in the March 1944 Wisconsin Magazine of History.
Schwalbach built the new keyboard with keytops on rods rising from the front ends of type levers hinged at the back of the machine. It was many years before that arrangement would change.
Then there was the space bar:
From The Typewriter and The Men Who Made It, Richard N. Current (1954)
In past posts in this series, we have looked closely at the leading figures in the early development of the Sholes & Glidden, from Sholes and Carlos Glidden themselves to Samuel Willard Soulé, James Densmore, Walter Jay Barron and George Washington Newton Yost.
One major contributor who often tends to be overlooked in all this is Schwalbach.
From The Story of the Typewriter 1873-1923, Herkimer County Historical Society (1923)

The extent of Schwalbach’s involvement is apparent in the evidence that, on this day in 1876, 135 years ago today, he and Sholes were jointly granted a patent for an improvement to the Sholes & Glidden.
This patent represents the only time Schwalbach had been, as it were, “officially” recognised for his contribution to the typewriter – that is, apart from an in-house “agreement of trust” drawn up and signed by the owners of the Sholes & Glidden on November 16, 1872.
Among other things, the agreement empowered Densmore to buy from Schwalbach his rights to this pending patent, which had been applied for on March 30, 1872.
Thus the inclusion of Schwalbach’s name on the patent document not only reflects his part in the Sholes & Glidden’s development, but at the time it ensured him of ongoing reimbursement for his efforts.
Most histories of the typewriter refer to Schwalbach’s work on the Sholes & Glidden, but the question of how important this was remains open. He is usually regarded as just one of the artisans who worked at Carl Friedrich (“Charles”) Kleinsteuber’s “Brass Foundery” small machinery workshop in Milwaukee, and who were employed by Sholes and his partners in helping them build prototypes during the very earliest days of the typewriter.
“The Typewriter in Wisconsin”, Wisconsin Magazine of History (1944)

There was much more to Matthias Schwalbach than that – although it’s not all that apparent from reading perhaps the most detailed and accurate record of how the Sholes & Glidden came to be made.
This is contained in Richard Current’s 1954 book The Typewriter and The Men Who Made It, which fortunately for all typewriter lovers was republished by Post-Era Books in 1988 (and for which we are eternally indebted to the late Dan R. Post).
In this, Current does not exactly heap praise upon Schwalbach’s contribution:
Even more damning of Schwalbach’s work is this 1871 description in a letter written by Densmore:
Nonetheless, this 1876 patent, not specifically referred to by Current, yet for which Densmore acted as attorney, does underline the significant and active extent of Schwalbach’s participation.
As we have seen from previous posts regarding the birth of the S & G, based to a large degree on Current’s own research, Sholes determined, often in consultation with Densmore, the names which would appear on the typewriter’s patents. After Soulé had withdrawn from the project, Glidden had retained a stake in it, and had continued to assist in its development. Yet from 1869 onwards, Sholes had decided to exclude Glidden’s name from patent applications.
For Sholes to include Schwalbach’s name on this 1876 patent signifies the entirely different attitude that Sholes had developed toward Schwalbach’s ideas and work as opposed to Glidden’s ongoing efforts.
From The Story of the Typewriter 1873-1923, Herkimer County Historical Society (1923)
Frederic Heath, “The Typewriter in Wisconsin”, Wisconsin Magazine of History (1944)

What’s more, Schwalbach was hardly a “very bungling coarse workman”, as Densmore claimed. He most certainly wasn’t “bred a blacksmith” – clock making went back in his family at least three generations (and all were called Matthias).
At the very time the S & G enterprise had started, Schwalbach was working on his own intricate designs, for sewing machines and clocks. He was himself by profession a clock and watch maker, and that is simply not the ideal occupation for someone whose work is bungling and course.
The 1876 patent relates to a guide rack or reed, a vibratory frame and a lifting-spring.
It can be seen from the drawing attached to this patent that this machine still has what Sholes referred to as the “slotted disk" – it is marked as “B” and relates to what is called a “radially-slotted annular disk within an aperture of the top-plate (“A2”).
Sholes had actually decided to dispense with this device altogether in September 1870 – because of sticking typebars. However, it was still to prove more useful in terms of the typewriter’s wear and tear and maintaining its alignment that any alternative that Sholes, Barron, Glidden and Schwalbach could come up with.
This patent appears to represent one option, which was to keep the slotted disk but avoid the sticking typebars. According to Current, the suggestion of spring-metal hangers had come from Barron, and had appealed to Sholes and Schwalbach at a time when these two, along with Barron and Glidden, were at loggerheads over how to fix the problem (much to Densmore's frustration) – Sholes blaming workmanship and Glidden faulting the design.
The change was incorporated in a patent, taken out in Sholes’s name alone, but not filed until 1878 – it was among the last two Sholes designs patented by Densmore, and only then under pressure from the US Patent Office. The 1878 design (which actually dates from 1871-72) finally abandoned the slotted disk altogether.
From The Typewriter and The Men Who Made It, Richard N. Current (1954)

That Densmore did value Schwalbach’s input was evidenced when, in early June 1872, the Sholes & Glidden project team set about attempting its third and to that date its most serious “systematic” effort to begin manufacturing the typewriter.
Densmore decided Kleinsteuber’s workshop was no longer adequate for the task and rented a wheelwright’s stone building on a narrow strip of land between the Milwaukee River and a disused canal.
Frederic Heath, “The Typewriter in Wisconsin”, Wisconsin Magazine of History (1944)
Densmore hired Schwalbach as foreman of a team of workers. The front page of the Scientific American on August 10, 1872, was devoted to the work in progress.

In an improvised factory, Schwalbach and his team turned out new machines and repaired and remodelled old ones through the summer and fall, all the while under the added strain of constant criticism of their work from Densmore.
Densmore wanted machine-made parts – “without this everlasting filing and fitting, which makes but a botch after it is done”. Yet each new model produced was a little different and a little better than the last.
From The Story of the Typewriter 1873-1923, Herkimer County Historical Society (1923)
At the end of this burst of production activity, on November 16, 1872, Densmore finally drew up and executed the “agreement of trust”. It was the first comprehensive legal document setting out the rights to the S & G invention. Under the agreement, the various owners assigned to Densmore and Sholes, as trustees, all their interests in patents already obtained, pending or to be applied for. With these rights, Densmore and Sholes were empowered to make and sell instruments or licence others to make and sell them. Densmore was also able to acquire other inventions or interests, including those of Schwalbach (such as the 1876 patent) and Soulé, on behalf of the trust.
The agreement, and the effects of it, more or less ended Schwalbach’s involvement with the Sholes & Glidden. The typewriter was henceforth headed for E. Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York, and the like of company mechanical engineers Jefferson Moody Clough and William McKendree Jenne. Schwalbach could return to designing sewing machines and clock escapements.
Mathias Schwalbach was born the son of Mathias and Gertrudis Simon Schwalbach in Malberg (below), a municipality in the district of Bitburg-Prüm, in Rhineland-Palatinate, western Germany, on December 17, 1834.
He arrived in the US in 1857, aged 23, and worked for two years in Albany, New York, as a journeyman in the machine business. Schwalbach then moved to Syracuse, and in May 1863 settled in Milwaukee. He worked for mechanic and engraver “Charles” Kleinsteuber on Tamarack Street for nine years, before establishing his own business, the Star Tower Clock Company, in 1872.
Typewriter histories give Kleinsteuber the first name Charles, which he did later adopt. But he was born Carl Friedrich Kleinsteuber in Tambach in the district of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in Thuringia, Germany, on November 12, 1821. He arrived in the US in 1852 and settled in Milwaukee. Kleinsteuber established a foundry and manufactured machinery, stencils and brass castings. During the Civil War he was permitted by the government to coin pennies for the businessmen of Milwaukee. He was the first agent for sewing machines in Milwaukee.
In his own business, Schwalbach manufactured church and tower clocks, large and small models, and all kinds of small machinery.
He was also a dealer in accordions, clocks and sewing machine fixtures. He patented a sewing machine in 1881 and clock escapements in 1874, 1880 and 1890, all involved with his version of the remontoire (constant force) mechanism and 'free' pendulums.
The sewing machine design is interesting in that Schwalbach actually first patented it in 1866, when his application was witnessed by Soulé and Kleinsteuber. But Schwalbach put it to one side while he worked on the Sholes & Glidden typewriter, then returned to it 15 years later!

Schwalbach's clock company installed up to 70 tower clocks during its 42-year existence. In Schwalbach’s own lifetime, it installed 55 clocks in 11 states. But typewriters, sewing machines and clocks were not all that kept Schwalbach busy. It is claimed that he fathered 24 children and outlived three wives.
In November 1918 Schwalbach was deemed by his family to be mentally incompetent and guardianship proceedings involved his nine living children: Louis, Robert, Gertrude (Boehlein), Mathias, Theodore, Katherine (Walters), Felix, Elizabeth (Lohrer) and Helen (Fishang).
Schwalbach died in Milwaukee on February 29, 1920, aged 86. At the time he was a widower living with his son Robert and Robert’s family. He is buried in the Calvary Cemetery under his own wrought-iron grave monument.

“On This Day in Typewriter History” will as of this instalment take a 12-month break and hopefully resume on September 20, 2012, with a post looking at the Tytells and marking the eighth anniversary of the Killian Documents controversy.
It is with great reluctance and considerable misgivings that I put the series on hold. But it is obviously necessary to take a full year’s break in order to pick up the series again in proper sequence. As you can tell, I have already fallen behind by a week in trying to keep abreast with these daily posts.
This is the 122nd instalment, meaning we have covered one full third of a year. The first instalment in the series was posted on May 21, 2011, almost exactly four months ago. In that time I estimate about 200,000 words have been written and more than 1000 patent drawings scanned. This workload, combined with many hundreds of hours of research, has led to the neglect of other things, such as typewriters, typecasting, responding to comments and keeping abreast of the posts of other Typospherians. And quite frankly I have grown tired of it, as I suspect others have as well. This break will also allow me time to go back and tidy up previous posts in the series.
I thank that core of followers - especially Richard Polt, Georg Sommeregger, Rod Bowker, Adwoa, notagain, Ted, Tino and Cameron - who have persistently and consistently waded through all these posts over the past four months and left so many encouraging comments. I hope they will understand and accept the reasons for the break.


Richard P said...

Excellent research, yet again!

Believe me, I understand your decision to take a break from this project. I'm sure you need one. What you have achieved so far is truly impressive. It constitutes a whole book's worth of in-depth explorations of typewriter history that go far beyond the usual rehash of old sources. I include most of my own research in that last remark!

Ted said...

it has been a pleasure and an education to read your daily histories, it has been Herculean indeed! I look forward to your return, and anticipate some interesting casual posts in the meantime! (:

Many thanks!

(word verification: "proff", quite apt!)

Rob Bowker said...

Phew! I thought you'd never stop. Seriously, there's a lot of stuff in here and you haven't just plonked it on the page but treated the subjects with professionalism, thoroughness and humour. That's stock in trade for a journalist but impressive nonetheless.

Enjoy the break and I'm looking forward to more whimsical (?) posts until you return to the On This Daily grind.

w/v: moqua, watery coffee?

Ryan Adney said...

It's impossible to miss the dedication in these posts. They have been interesting, informative, and funny. Take a well deserved break! The history will be there when you pick it up again. Regardless, it's an impressive feat!

Joe V said...

This series of posts has all the makings of a great book. I'd encourage you to consider self-publishing this history, it'd be a great resource for typewriter lovers.

Thanks for all of your work, I never took the time to comment until now. Looking forward to a new direction in your blog. Keep up the good work.


schrijfmachine said...

You did a very impressive job so far and I agree with those who recommend you to publish it. Greetings and thanks for all the interesting information!

shordzi said...

Thanking the Wizard of Oz for the gigantic work he has achieved - acknowledging the more than well deserved break - and looking forward to the first installment after the break. Thanks again! Georg

teeritz said...

It's been a sterling effort on your part, Robert. I confess that I haven't read them all, but what I have read has been informative, enlightening and entertaining. No mean feat when writing about something as niche as typewriters.
Well done! Now pour yourself a drink.

Unknown said...

My name is Michael schwalbach matthais also dod a sewing machine Pavel..matthais is my great father