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Saturday 6 October 2012

On This Day in Typewriter History: Wagner’s Early Typeshuttle

PART 138
Franz Xaver Wagner
On this day (October 5) in 1880, Franz Xaver Wagner was issued with his first typewriter patent. During the next 15 years, Wagner would become the world’s  leading typewriter-inventing “gun for hire”. But he had little to show for his first effort.
It was assigned to George Washington Newton Yöst and was to form the basis of Yöst's Caligraph, especially in terms of a new means of moving the carriage through what Wagner called a “feed-spring”. The tight coil running all the way under the length of the Caligraph is not considered one of its virtues - few as they are - and was not tried by other manufacturers.
What now stands out in Wagner’s first design is that it had a single type element - an upright (vertical) typeshuttle.
If the Caligraph had used this idea, it would have preceded the Crandall and the Hammond in moving away from the use of typebars.
Pratt's Pterotype
John Jonathan Pratt’s single type element Pterotype had been exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, giving other would-be typewriter inventors ideas on how to produce a writing machine without infringing the patent rights to Christopher Latham Sholes’ typebar arrangement, or having to pay royalties to duplicate it.
Lucien S.Crandall
Lucien Stephen Crandall had first toyed with a multi-character typeslug idea, incorporating oscillating levers, in 1875, but then moved away from swinging typebars and on to his typesleeve in 1879.
Meanwhile, James Bartlett Hammond came up with his typeshuttle design in January 1880, six months ahead of Wagner (and unbeknown to Wagner). The race was on, and it was won by Hammond, who gained the rights to use Pratt’s idea, much to Crandall’s considerable chagrin.
James Densmore
Yöst, meanwhile, was pressing James Densmore for a way in which he could use the Sholes typebar format on what became the Caligraph. The Sholes & Glidden patents were held by the Type-Writer Company, of which Yöst and Densmore were owners, but exclusive rights to use them had been signed over to the Remingtons.
Yöst's 1879 design
Yöst’s original idea for the Caligraph – as it came to be called (by Densmore, as in “beautiful writer”) - had been something almost identical to the Sholes & Glidden. He had been granted a patent for his design in England in 1878 and applied for a US patent in 1879. But no doubt given its likeness to the Sholes & Glidden, it was not granted until more than 10 years later, by which time events had completely overtaken it.
This Yöst patent included a four-bank keyboard. Yöst subsequently avoided any potential problems with this, and especially the shift device patented by Bryon Alden Brooks, by having a double keyboard on his Model 2 Caligraph, which he believed gave his machine a distinct advantage over the Remington. But this issue was settled pretty much conclusively for the general public by Mae E.Orr in Toronto in 1888 – in favour of Remington.
As Yöst and Densmore struggled to find a way around the Type-Writer Company’s deal with the RemingtonsYöst recruited Wagner to come up with a something totally different.
Wagner - later described by Densmore as having the most fertile mind after Sholes among all the early typewriter inventors – did exactly as Yöst demanded.
Perhaps it was too radical for Yöst’s liking. Or perhaps Yöst was stymied by Hammond’s patent, with which Hammond had been able to proceed after receiving Pratt’s approval.
Whatever the reason, Yöst persisted in trying to get around the obstacle of the Remingtons holding exclusive rights to the Sholes typebar arrangement. Eventually he found a lawyer who suggested a solution, but while this succeeded, it also succeeded in infuriating the Remingtons, and costing Yöst and Densmore dearly. Densmore was forced to hand over rights to Sholes’ portable (plus agreeing to an arrangement to pay off considerable debts) in exchange for the Remingtons ”calling off the dogs off the law”. Sadly, the Sholes portable was never made. The Remingtons were far less interested in Yöst’s Caligraph.
As a result of this settlement, in June 1881, production of the Caligraph went ahead, at the American Writing Machine Company’s factory on the four upper floors of a five-storey building on West 31st Street, near Seventh Avenue in New York City. The Caligraph thus beat the Crandall and the Hammond to the marketplace, and became Remington’s first keyboard rival.
It cannot be said that a “conventional” typewriter design had been settled on by 1881. Yet the Caligraph looked more like the by-then established Remington machine than the Crandall or the Hammond, and was seen as its first real competitor. The key consideration here was cost, with the first Caligraphs selling for $60, about half the price of the Remington.
Before the Caligraph went into production, Wagner had left Yöst to work for Densmore on “improving and supplementing” Sholes designs still retained by Densmore. Densmore had hoped Wagner could improve these sufficiently to make them valuable commodities further down the track. It was a forlorn hope, as it turned out. Wagner was lured away from Densmore by Denmore’s brothers, Amos and Emmett, and designed for them the Densmore typewriter.
After his work for Yöst, Wagner had hung onto the single type element idea for an 1883 patent assigned to a group of gentleman called William F.Miller, Louis C.Fuller and Edward P.Hamilton. It’s for a machine that looks suspiciously like the Hamilton Automatic of a much later period.  By the time Wagner designed the National for Henry Harmon Unz and Stephen Terhune Smith Snr, in 1885, he had been won over to typebars, leaving the next stage of the single type element, keyboard typewriter advance to George Canfield Blickensderfer. Of course, Wagner went on to develop frontstrike typebars and visible writing, from which Underwood most immediately benefitted. And Yöst had moved on to the Yöst, again using a double keyboard and the Sholes-style typebasket.
My post on the Caligraph is here.
And the post on Wagner's life is here.

1 comment:

Richard P said...

These early days when people were experimenting with radical ideas are so interesting. I wish that type shuttle design by Wagner had been built, it looks very intriguing.

Ironically, the German plaque at the end of your story mischaracterizes Wagner as "the inventor of the typebar typewriter"!