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Thursday, 8 August 2013

The 'Unrobust Boy' Who Hogged The Typewriter Alphabet - From the Acme to the Zalsho

In 1923, Typewriter Topics published a book marking the 50th anniversary of the first Sholes & Gliddens being made in Milwaukee. In alphabetical order, it exhaustively covered almost every typewriter made anywhere in the world to that time, under the heading "The Past Fifty Years".
The man who designed the first entry (the Acme) also, remarkably, designed the last of the compilation's 287 typewriters - the Zalsho. For good measure, the same man gained further mentions, twice a quarter of the way into this A-to-Z of typewriters, at almost the half-way point, and again three-quarters of the way through the work. Admittedly, only four of these machines (well, in truth one typewriter under four different guises) went into full production. But he did invent the basket-shift and was one of the first American typewriter designers to have his machines made in Britain and France. And yet his obituary in Typewriter Topics was to describe him as having had "the one misfortune in life" - to be born the son of the "Father of the Typewriter". He was ...
The Last of the Sholes Clan
As a young lad, Zal Sholes was described by James Densmore, in a letter James wrote to brother Amos Densmore, as a "thin, slender, unrobust boy". But regardless of this melancholy reference, Zal turned out to be by far the most successful of the four of Christopher Latham Sholes's six sons who followed their father into the typewriter industry.  He designed ...
The Rem-Sho (1896)
which became
The Fay-Sho (1901)
which, with modifications, was also known as
The Arithmograph (1905)
and which later became
The Japy (1910)
(made in France)
A (Johnson-Gilmore?) Telegraph Typewriter (1900-09)
(which doesn't appear to have been made)
The Waterbury Standard Visible (1910)
(not made)
The Acme (1911)
The Zalsho (1913)
(made in England)
The Z.G.Sholes (1915)
Zalmon Gilbert Sholes was the last of Christopher Latham Sholes's sons and the only one to be born in Milwaukee, the year after his father moved there from Kenosha. Zal Sholes was born on July 2, 1864, and named in honour of Latham Sholes's old Kenosha friend, Zalmon Gilbert Simmons (1828-1910, below), himself an inventor and businessman-manufacturer. Simmons was also a Wisconsin legislator, like Latham Sholes, and a one-time Mayor of Kenosha. 
Zal Sholes started work at 16 as an apprentice with a grain dealer and later went on to be a clerk.  In 1895 he moved to Evanston, Illinois, and three years later began developing one of his father's many typewriter ideas. In later life Zal maintained he had invented the Rem-Sho without any outside assistance (Latham had died in 1890), but he did have the support of Franklin Remington. Remington was born in Utica on November 16, 1865 - he died on October 20, 1955. He was the son of Samuel Remington (one of E.Remington & Sons).
Franklin Remington
The project gained the backing of Chicago businessman Charles Norman Fay. Fay, born in Burlington, Vermont, on August 13, 1845, was a Harvard graduate (1869) and a telephone manufacturer - he was president of the Chicago Telephone Company as well as other utilities companies. He was also the author of books on business and finance. Fay, a music lover, was the man who enticed violinist and conductor Theodore Thomas to Chicago and is thus said to be have been the founder (he was certainly an ardent patron) of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, of which Thomas was the first music director (1890–1905). In 1889, Fay approached Thomas about moving to Chicago, and the conductor replied, "I would go to hell if they gave me a permanent orchestra." On December 17, 1890, the first meeting for incorporation of the Orchestral Association, organised by Fay, was held at the Chicago Club. A year later the first concerts of the Chicago Orchestra, led by Thomas, were given at the Auditorium Theatre. Fay died on April 7, 1944, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
An usual feature of some Rem-Sho models is what was called a "Greek temple" look in bronze. The highly decorative cast-iron body is plated with oxidised copper, the key levers and connecting wire with red copper, carriage rails and escapement also with copper, the small working parts nickle-plated, and the scale black with white graduation lines.
This amazing neoclassical typewriter frame was designed by Charles Bowler Atwood (above) and takes its lines from the Fine Arts Place (now the Chicago Museum of Science and Technology) which Atwood designed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) in Chicago. 
Compare a side view of the Rem-Sho with the Fine Arts Palace:
As it was planned, above, and how it looks today, below.
Atwood was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on May 18, 1849. He attended the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard, where he became friendly with Fay. Atwood later trained in the office of Ware & Van Brundt in Boston. He was a member of Daniel Burnham's staff when made Architect in Chief for the World's Columbian Exposition. Atwood died under mysterious circumstances on December 18, 1896. Much to the surprise of his colleagues, he was survived by a wife, actress Minnie Singer.
After the Remington Typewriter Company took the manufacturers of the Rem-Sho to the US Supreme Court in 1901, claiming the brand name could be confused with its own typewriters, the Rem-Sho became the Fay-Sho, taking on the name of Charles Norman Fay, president of the Remington-Sholes Typewriter Company (Franklin Remington was general manager). In 1905 the machine had the Arithmograph adding machine attached as an integral part. The company, which had reverted to Remington-Sholes from Arthimograph, went bust in 1909 and the machines, tools and other equipment were sold to Japy Freres & Company in Beaucourt, France, where it re-emerged as the Japy.
Despite fighting litigation from the Remington Typewriter Company over the Rem-Sholes name, for a decade from 1898, Zal Sholes designed typewriter components for the Jersey City-based Union Trust, established by Remington in 1893. 
As well as designing many typewriters, Zal Sholes also patented convertible automobile tops, a stamp vending machine and a soap cutting machine.
Tom Fehring, third from left, at the landmark plaque presentation.
I have been meaning to post on Zal Sholes for three months now, but lately, with the help and encouragement of Thomas Fehring, chief operating officer of NorCENergy Consultants, Milwaukee, we have been unearthing a lot more about this interesting typewriter figure. Tom Fehring, by the way, was the man who nominated the Sholes & Glidden to be designated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers  as a “Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark”. The Committee on History and Heritage of the ASME accepted the nomination and a ceremony was held on October 6, 2011, at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
Tom got me back on to the Zal Sholes trail by emailing me about a story that Zal had approached thermostat inventor Warren Seymour Johnson (1849-1928, above) and the board of the Johnson Electric Service Company (now Johnson Controls) in Milwaukee in 1909 looking for funding for a new typewriter. Zal Sholes's sister Lillian (1856-1941) was married to Kingston, Ontario-born Charles Lyman Fortier (1852-?), also an inventor, a telephone operator and electrician and a key employee of Johnson Service in its early years.
Zal Sholes's sister, Lillian Sholes Fortier at the Sholes & Glidden in October 1939, aged 82. As the first women to use the Type-Writer, she was guest of honour at the New York League of Business and Professional Women meeting celebrating 100 years of women's progress at the Hotel Biltmore.
Between 1885-1911, Professor Johnson delved into many other areas, including electric storage batteries, steam and gas powered automobiles, huge pneumatic clock towers and wireless telegraph communication. But at his death in 1911, the company decided to focus solely on its temperature control business for non-residential buildings.
It may well be this last interest of Johnson's,  telegraph communication, that involved Zal Sholes, who from 1900 had been working on a telegraph typewriter with a Remington Typewriter Company employee, electrical expert and inventor Alfred Callard Gilmore. Sholes and Gilmore had become associated while both were living in Evanston, Illinois.
At his meetings with Johnson's board in 1909-10, Zal Sholes reached an agreement to "make a typewriter as good or better than any in the market"  and a small company was organised at $5000 to continue work on the typewriter invented by Sholes. But nothing appears to have come from this development.
I will let Typewriter Topics clippings tell the rest of the Zalmon Sholes story:


Sholes's London manufacturing company was called Lawrence.

1917 and Beyond
Zalmon Gilbert Sholes died on October 9, 1917

1922: She was Helen Sweeney Sholes.
Died December 28, 1961


Miguel Ángel Chávez Silva said...

A very interesting post as always, Robert!

What a beautiful machine is that Rem-Sho. I couldn't help notice the (unintentional?) similarity in architecture with several Remington desktop models, particularly the models 10, 12 and even the 16. Except for the fact that it is a blind typewriter, the shape of the case, the location of the ribbon spools, the ribbon advance mechanism, and the overall layout of the machine reminds me a lot of my trusty Remington 12, with the side panels removed and the frame adorned with Art Nouveau motifs.

Now I wonder how a Remington 12 in RemSho disguise would look like... It would be a matter of taking apart the machine, sandblasting the frame, molding the ornaments with epoxy, dust-painting a dark shade of copper, and putting the whole shebang together again... easy cake...

Peter said...

Your blog is so very comprehensive in its examination of the history of typewriters; it covers the topic from soup to nuts, from A to Z ("zee" to those of us in the colonies). This post is only further evidence of your thoroughness!

Richard P said...

Go Zal!

Both the Acme and the Zalsho are extremely rare, if any exist at all.

TonysVision said...

In addition to the Chicago World's fair, the delightful Greek revival architecture of the Fay-Sho also brings to mind the diaphanous gowns and leafy crowns of the Greek revival dancers of the early 1900's ...