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Tuesday 20 September 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (CXVIII)

The National and
the Mimeograph
It was on this day in 1885 that Franz Xaver Wagner was issued with the typewriter patent which, the experts have long since told us, led directly to Henry Harmon Unz’s 1889 National.
The opportunity to look at the connections between the Wagner design and the National – and the respective patent drawings make those fairly clear – also offers us the chance to study the modus operandi of Unz.
In 1887 Unz was paid $500 by Thomas Alva Edison to produce Edison’s Mimeograph typewriter.
The conditions were that Unz had to manufacture the machine within that year or forfeit the right to try – and reassign the patents back to Edison.
Unz obviously failed, and Edison then took his project – which started with three of his own patents, dating back to 1876 – to an established business associate, Albert Blake Dick, who duly succeeded in putting the Edison Mimeograph on the market in 1895.
But let’s start with Wagner and the National. Wagner, having already significantly assisted the Remingtons, Yost and the Densmores with their pioneering typewriters, was commissioned by Unz and Stephen Terhune Smith Snr (below)to come up with a new design for them. His patent applied for on April 9, 1885, was assigned to Unz and Smith, both then of New York.
Wagner’s upstroke typewriter was one on which the typebars rocked to select upper and lower case. In other words, the carriage remained in place while the shift key moved the keyboard and typebasket forward.
Unz, who had moved back to Philadelphia by 1887, somehow managed to develop the Wagner design to the extent that on March 14, 1887, he could apply for a patent in his own name for the National. It was issued on March 26, 1889, the year the machine went into production. If Unz got any additional help with this work, he certainly did not acknowledge it.

But Unz appears to have been quite a capable man – at least he thought he was. Sufficiently confident in his own capabilities, indeed, to have approached the great Thomas Edison in September 1885 with an offer Edison (below, with a Sholes and Glidden) found irresistible.
In exchange for $500 of Edison’s money, Unz offered to turn two of Edison’s patents, issued on February 17, 1880, and April 1, 1884, into a typewriter. Edison accepted the terms. He and Dick had been slowing edging forward with this project since March 1876, but such things as the phonograph, carbon transmitter and electric light just seemed to get in the way.
The terms of the deal between Unz and Edison must have proved too restrictive for Unz, however, and it seems he did not produce an Edison typewriter within the prerequisite timeframe, by the end of 1887. So they patents reverted to Edison, who in turn sought out is old working partner Dick (below).
Unz, born of an Austrian mother and German father in Philadelphia in April 1850, died in his native city on February 3, 1905, aged 54. His death certificate (below) indicates that while, at least since the publication of A Condensed History of the Writing Machine in 1923, he has been known to typewriter historians as Henry Harmon Unz, his name well have been Henry Herman Unz.
Stephen Terhune Smith Snr had been long a leading figure in the typewriter world until his sudden death at his general manager’s desk in the Underwood headquarters in Manhattan on May 4, 1915, when he was a mere 61. He was opening his mail, and maybe it was the news of the death of the great Underwood and Sun typewriter designer Lee Spear Burridge that very same morning that killed Smith.
Smith had been both a typewriter company manager and designer for Underwood (which he joined in 1897, soon after it was founded) and other companies for four decades. Born in New Jersey on November 14, 1853, he lived most of his live in Stamford, Connecticut. Smith was regarded as a leading expert on typewriter patents.
The Mimeograph’s genesis starts with an Edison patent for an “improvement in autographic printing” (No 180857, 1876), moves directly to a “method of preparing autographic stencils for printing” (No 224665, 1880) and finally to Edison’s very basic typewriter design of 1884 (No 295990). The second refers to the first; the last two were the patents later assigned to Unz to use.
The major selling point for the Mimeograph typewriter, both in the period when Unz tried to make it, and then when Dick took it over, was always going to be Edison’s name. Dick applied for a patent his design for the machine in 1893, soon after it went into production.
Albert Blake Dick, a Chicago businessman, was born in Illinois on April 16, 1856, and educated in Galesburg. He worked successively for the Brown Manufacturing Company, Deere & Mansur and the Moline Lumber Company before founding his own organisation in 1883, turning it from a lumber business into a major American copier and office supply company. He lived in Lake Forest.
Dick and Edison had been working closely together since 1884, when Dick invented the mimeograph stencil based on Edison’s design. Dick licensed several of Edison’s printing patents, which covered an electric pen used for making the stencil and the flatbed duplicating process. Dick experimented with a file and waxed wrapping paper, and he invented his own duplicating process. In 1887 he coined the word “mimeograph” to describe this process.
The mimeograph, also referred to as a stencil duplicator, was a duplicating machine that used a stencil consisting of a coated fibre sheet through which ink was pressed. The Dick company produced the Model 0 Flatbed duplicator.
In 1918, the company established the “Ditto” trademark. By the mid-1930s, Dick employed about 900 people in the Chicago area. In 1949, the company moved its headquarters to suburban Niles, where it opened a new plant. During the 1960s, Dick's mimeograph technology lost out to the new copy methods pioneered by Haloid/Xerox. By the mid-1970s, when Dick's annual sales approached $300 million, it had about 3000 workers in the Chicago area. In 1979, the company was purchased by General Electric of Britain. In the late 1990s, over a century after it was founded, A. B. Dick still called Chicago home; as a division of Nesco Inc of Cleveland, it was a supplier of printing and graphics equipment, with about 1000 employees.
Albert Blake Dick (above) died on August 15, 1934, aged 78.

1 comment:

Ted said...

Wow, now you're pulling up fascinating history on the field I do know quite a bit about, having spent most of my life in the printing industry. I wasn't aware that A.B. Dick was involved in the early history of typewriters, but I certainly grew up knowing about his involvement with spirit duplicators and offset printing presses. The first printing press I learned to run was the venerable A.B. Dick 360, a press that I'm pretty sure is still being produced. :D

interestingly, word verification: xacto, as in xacto knife.