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Monday, 19 August 2013

Clever Kiwis: Typewriters in an Earthquake Emergency Kit, Atomic Physics and Putting Man on the Moon

The typewriter image which sparked the discussion
Last evening I was very willingly dragged into a lengthy online discussion about typewriters by a New Zealand journalists' Facebook group (it's still ongoing, 28 hours later!). Most of the comments were interesting reminiscences about learning to type and using typewriters in the "old days" of newspapers. But one in particular stood out for me.
One journalist wrote, "Fell in love with journalism on my grandma's old Remington portable. Now keep a small fleet of portables and one desktop in the earthquake kit (Hermes Baby, Smith-Corona Galaxie, Remington)."

Now some may be aware that in the past few weeks, the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington, has been hit by a series of earthquakes - not surprisingly, since it sits on TWO fault lines! I posted on the first of these quakes one month ago, here. So it is good to know that at least one Kiwi journalist, well aware that a massive quake could so easily knock out the capital city's power supply, has had the foresight to equip himself with machines which will allow him to continue writing and reporting when the lights go out.
The epicentres of these Wellington quakes, by the way, were just off the Marlborough province, best known as a magnificent wine growing region, on the north-east tip of the South Island of New Zealand, separated from Wellington by Cook Strait. The epicentre of the latest big quake was a little town called Seddon (named after turn-of-the-19th century Prime Minister Richard John Seddon, who introduced women's suffrage and old age pensions to the world. Seddon lived in my home area, on the West Coast of the South Island).
The tiny hamlet of Havelock
Now, why should this sparsely-populated part of New Zealand be in any way important to Americans? Well, without the primary education two small boys received at the tiny school in Havelock, the US might not have been able to develop nuclear power and put a man on the moon when it did. It was at this school that the creator of modern atomic physics (Ernest Rutherford) and the engineer who designed the rockets which sent man to the moon (William Hayward Pickering) were both educated.
Bill Pickering
The 1960s began with President John F.Kennedy declaring that by the end of the decade man would walk on the moon. With only six months of the decade remaining, the promise became reality. Pickering would rate one of his major achievements the Ranger VII spacecraft returning the first pictures of the lunar surface in 1966. Before this many scientists believed the Moon was covered in a thick layer of dust. Ranger’s observations disproved this, and led the way for Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface in July 1969.
In honouring Pickering after his death at La Cañada Flintridge, California, on March 15, 2004 (aged 93), NASA called him "a central figure in the US space program" and "the original 'Rocket Man'". "Dr Pickering was one of the titans of our nation's space program," NASA quoted Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi as saying. "It was his leadership that took America into space and opened up the moon and planets to the world."
Hot on the heels of Sputnik: Bill Pickering, left, cosmic ray expert from the University of Iowa, James Van Allen, centre, and Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist, right, hold a model of Explorer 1 at a press conference at the National Academy of Science, Washington, on February 1, 1958 – America had entered the space race.
Pickering was born on Roxburgh Street, Mount Victoria, in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, on Christmas Eve 1910. His mother died when he was four and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Havelock. An interview with Pickering here details his early life and also mentions the "interesting coincidence" with Rutherford.
Pickering attended Havelock Primary School, the second school of New Zealand’s greatest scientist, Rutherford, the pioneer of the nuclear age, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. A Nobel Prize winner in 1908, Rutherford was described by Albert Einstein as “a second Newton” and the man who “tunneled into the very material of God”. Rutherford’s three major discoveries shaped modern science, created nuclear physics and changed the way that we envisage the structure of the atom.
A young "Ern" Rutherford
But back to Pickering. He worked with the Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory (he was affectionately known as "Mr JPL") from 1944 (when the laboratory was developing missile systems for the US Army), full-time from 1950, and from 1954 headed JPL for 22 years, retiring in 1976. He was a senior NASA luminary and pioneered the exploration of space. Pickering was also a founding member of the United States National Academy of Engineering.
Leaving Havelock aged 12, from 1923 Pickering boarded at Wellington College. After spending a year studying engineering at Canterbury University College in Christchurch, at age 18 (1929) he went to the US and completed his bachelor's degree at the California Institute of Technology in 1932, his master's in 1933 and completed a PhD in physics in 1936. He became a professor of electrical engineering at Caltech in 1946. Pickering concentrated on what is now telemetry (the science of radio control).
As the director of JPL, Pickering was closely involved with management of the Private and Corporal missiles under the aegis of the US Army. His group launched Explorer I on a Jupiter-C rocket from Cape Canaveral on January 31, 1958, less than four months after the Russians had launched Sputnik. In 1958 the lab's projects were transferred to the newly established National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Pickering's team concentrated on NASA's unmanned space-flight program.
The race is on: Bill Pickering, centre, presents a model of the Mariner spacecraft to President John F.Kennedy in the Oval Office, White House, Washington, in 1961.
Pickering's contract said in essence "go out and explore the depths of the solar system”. JPL, under Pickering's direction, flew further Explorer 3 and Pioneer missions as well as the Ranger and Surveyor missions to the Moon and the several Mariner flybys of Venus and Mars. Explorer III discovered the radiation field round the earth that is now known as the Van Allen radiation belt. Explorer 1 orbited for 10 years and was the forerunner of a number of successful JPL earth and deep-space satellites.
At the time of Pickering's retirement as director, in 1976, the Voyager missions were about to launch on tours of the outer planets and Viking 1 was on its way to land on Mars.
In 1972 he was awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Edison Medal for his contributions to telecommunications, rocket guidance and spacecraft control, and for inspiring leadership in unmanned exploration of the solar systemIn 1993 Pickering was awarded the inaugural Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Prize for his contribution to space science. Then president of Caltech Thomas E. Everhart said: “More than any other individual, Bill Pickering was responsible for America’s success in exploring the planets – an endeavour that demanded vision, courage, dedication, expertise and the ability to inspire two generations of scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.” Pickering is one of the few non-politicians to have appeared on the cover of Time twice. 
Finally, back to typewriters:
The New Zealand journalists' Facebook conversation started with a post about "the first typewriter I ever touched - 34 years ago when I was 11. Packing to move house today and this always comes with me and it still goes, needs a new ribbon at the moment."
"My first was an Olivetti Lettera 32, bought from someone who was leaving. That was succeeded after a year by a Hermes 3000, which I used for the next 22 years. Loved it. Wish I still had it, just for the novelty value."
"I miss the days of tipping them up on their backs for more space and doing same at home time. I'm pleased I have lugged it around all these years. I had a aquamarine-coloured Olivetti for a bit when this was in for repairs - another journo put butter between the keys when they were sticking (I left him at my place to do a freelance article and came home to find an effn disaster). My children have loved it, has been on display at home for years. So many kids ask 'What's that?' then spend ages tapping out instant sentences - wow no printer needed."
"I did a story about five years ago on the Bank of New Zealand Museum, in Wellington. The manager there told me the most popular items were the three or four old Imperial typewriters on a table. Like your kids found, they were novelties, and they were in wonder that typewriters existed before computers."
"Yeah, I miss my old Imperial ..."
"I read recently - and it might have been in Der Spiegel - that the Russian spy services are buying up old typewriters from wherever because they can't be hacked and key-logged."
"The problem with typewriters, tho, is you actually do have to know how to spell."
"I still own three typewriters. One of which is a Korean child's typewriter. Love them all."
"I learned to type on an old manual typewriter. I went to a small girls' school, and we all had to learn to type in forms 3 and 4. I resented it like hell. 'I'm not going to be a bloody secretary' (and I probably did say exactly that). Some years later, I was grateful. I was even more grateful when the evolution from manual and electric and electronic typewriters eventually led to computers!"
"Our class had manual and electronic typewriters, but the girls who learnt on the manual ones ended up to be the better typists."
"AAAA then JJJJJ followed by KKK ... typing at Tararua College, though our typewriters were a bit newer (lime green, plastic, ugly) than the Imperials being used in the country's newsrooms."
"I was given a Hermes Baby for passing School Certificate half a century ago. Still in working order and looking good."
"Office Products Depot still sells ribbons. I just bought a new one last week because the kids want to play with my typewriter. I can't remember how to thread it properly."
"I'm like that with my treadle sewing machine."
"I regret that I didn't keep the typewriter I had at journalism school. It must have been from the 1940s or earlier. I remember bashing the &*$% out of the keyboard at night producing work ... I must have given it away when I went for my OE."
"From an interview I did with Woody Allen: I have the same typewriter that I have had since I was 16-years-old,” he says. A man came to my house and sold me an Olympia portable for $40 and I’ve typed everything I’ve ever written on that. I have nothing philosophical against computers but I don’t have an iPad or a computer. I have never been comfortable with any of that. The typewriter works for me. Allen was 16 in 1951."
"You can have your typewriter altered to fit with you iPad! Crazy thought but apparently it's legit."
"[The] news editor on The Daily News (before it got the Taranaki attached) had a Spanish portable. On that you could type ñah ñah ñah properly. We used to cut through the Taranaki Herald offices on our way to the cafeteria and marvel at the typewriters all put away in their cases at the end of the day. Does anyone who worked there in those days still work as tidily?"
"What I miss most was that my beloved Hermes 3000 thudded rather than clacked when you typed."
"Ah memories ... the click of the keys, the ping of the carriage return, the four sheets of butcher paper with carbons, the overhanging cigarette smog ... those were the days."
"A stallholder at Rozelle Markets here in Sydney sells reconditioned portables for $100. She has doubled the price of them in the last year because of the demand from collectors."
"I'm feeling really bad about getting rid of mine now. $1 in a garage sale."
"I gave my last one to a student in 1988. To this day, I still type with two fingers and belt the keyboard so hard I wear the 'A' and 'E' right off the keys. I still can't look up from the keyboard. It has long been a source of great amusement among students."
"I've learned to type with (nearly) 10 fingers only this year, after 43 years of HPE (hunt, poke, erase). I was temping in a government office a few years ago and a delegation of co-workers (women in their 20s) went to our manager to protest at [my] 'noisy thumping on his keyboard', which apparently they found distracting."

1 comment:

TonysVision said...

A wondrous post, Robert. Somehow an earthquake in Cook Strait, New Zealand, triggers an in-depth review of the men behind the early American space program and then winds its way to Woody Allen, typing on his childhood SM3 (having neglected to push the button to pop up the paper support). Wonderful as always - thank you.