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Saturday 19 January 2013

On This Day in Typewriter History: IBM's 1953 single type element portable

PART 240
It's hardly surprising that almost all of IBM's typewriter efforts from 1947 went into the 14-year development of what emerged in 1961 as the Selectric, with its golfball. While all this was going on, however, John Hickerson came up with a single type element portable  - and what a revolutionary typewriter it would have been. Whatever may be said about the Selectric, Hickerson's portable would have been at least two or three decades ahead of its time.
Hickerson and Horace "Bud" Beattie had led the development of the Selectric and the golfball, but with this portable, Hickerson headed in an entirely different, even more radical direction. The type element shows similarities to the "super portable", the Century typewriter covered by me in the latest issue of ETCetera (No 100).
Hickerson didn't mince words in his patent specifications: "For many years, typewriters have had a somewhat conventional construction comprising a plurality of typebars operable respectively, by individual key bars, a carriage movable laterally to present a new space to a single print position, an inking ribbon, and means for holding the parts in operable arrangement. The important point is that each typebar - in response to operation of its assigned key bar - strikes the single print position of the machine while the carriage is movable laterally to present new spaces step by step into alignment with the single print position. The conventional construction involves considerable expense in maintaining the close tolerances required for the plurality of typebars to strike the identical print position.
"Accordingly, it is an object of this invention to reduce typewriter cost by providing an improved typewriter having a single type head which is operable in response to each of the key bars to position a selected character in a chosen print position. It is a further object of this invention to provide an improved typewriter having a stationary paper holding element which takes the place of the conventional, laterally moving carriage. In a usual typewriter construction, considerable expense would be involved in changing the type characters used - for example, from roman to italic or gothic. In accordance with this invention, however, it is a still further object to provide an improved typewriter wherein the type characters may be readily interchanged. It is a further object of this invention to provide a standard keyboard typewriter having a considerably reduced size and number of operating parts. It is a further object to provide an improved character selecting mechanism in the form of a wire and pulley arrangement through which there is obtained positive alignment of the selected character."
Washington-born Hickerson (December 27, 1909-June 1980) applied for a patent for his portable on this day (January 19) in 1953. It was issued in 1956. Instead of developing the machine, however,  IBM built a "Baby" Selectric:


Richard P said...

Very cool! Looks like it would be a manual machine. I assume the device closest to typist is the return lever.

This has potential for the Phoenix Typewriter Project ...

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Richard. The more I read of the specifications the more fascinating it becomes. There are an awful lot of pulleys, but I can't see a motor. Yet there is mention of a battery, all of which would be very different for IBM.
Yes, "Specifically an arm 132 which is shown protruding from the front of the machine is employed to restore the type head and print hammer to the left hand margin after each line of print."
And the size? 3 inches high, 8 inches wide, 10 inches deep. That's pretty compact!
I really like the name "Phoenix Typewriter Project".

Richard P said...

The term "Phoenix Typewriter Project" is Dirk Van Weelden's. See here.