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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Noiseless Typewriters: Remington v Underwood I

Anyone who studies typewriter history quickly comes to realise that Remington gave nothing away for free. Its hard-nosed business approach to typewriters started the day Philo Remington and his private secretary Henry Harper Benedict first met James Densmore and George Washington Newton Yost, in an Ilion, New York, hotel in February 1873, and continued through its subsequent dealings with Densmore and Yost, until the point was reached where it held all the patents and controlled the manufacture and the sale of typewriters. In the early 1890s, Remington's determination to maintain market domination and dictate terms in the evolution of the typewriter resulted in the formation of the Union Trust.
So how did to come to be that in September 1929 Remington started to make noiseless typewriters for its greatest rival, Underwood? This is a question which has intrigued and perplexed typewriter enthusiasts for many a year.
Well, oddly enough, this fresh-faced and hardly hard-nosed young military cadet had a lot to do with it. The thing was, he had something Remington badly wanted, and Remington was prepared to bargain for it.
His name is Jesse Alonzo Braddock Smith and he was born in New York City on October 23, 1880. 
At 9.20 on the morning of Tuesday, May 4, 1915, a 34-year-old Jesse was working for his father, the general manager of the Underwood Typewriter Company in New York City, when first his father received news that his good friend, the great typewriter inventor Lee Spear Burridge, had suddenly died at the age of 54, and then his father, Stephen Terhune Smith, collapsed and died too, aged just 61.
Stephen Terhune Smith
Almost exactly a year earlier, Stephen Smith had applied for a patent, assigned to Underwood, for a typewriter copy-holder. It was not issued until 18 months after his death, but in the meantime Jesse had taken up the project and made it his pet - expanding it to a sheet-collating device. He applied for a patent for this in June 1916 and it was issued in October 1918. By that time, the device had already become known as the Underwood fan-fold biller machine:
And in 1929, just before the original Stephen Smith patent was due to expire, Remington made it known it wanted to make its own fan-fold machine, albeit one in the Underwood style. Remington, through Arthur William Smith in 1915, Clio Brunella Yaw in 1919, Morris Wright Pool in 1921 and Oscar Woodward in 1923, held four fan-fold patents, but had not gone into production with any of them; none could match the established efficiency of the Smith-Underwood device.
With an enormous array of patents, from the Smiths to Lester Adelbert Wernery (1914 onwards), Benjamin Paskel Fortin in 1916, Christian Albert Marschel and Earle Henry Wheaton in 1917, Julius Duckstine in 1918, Lee Fisk Messenger and Ellis Wildes Cooper in 1919, Arthur Albert Johnson, Joseph Frank Allard, Hiram Stickle Lasher, Daniel Thomas Glackin and John Waldheim in 1920, Burnham Coos Stickney (1922-24), Henry LaFayette Pitman and William Ferdinand Helmond in 1922, Hervé Schwedersky, Maximilian Richard Urban and George William Renz in 1923, Adolph Gustav Kupetz, Clarence McKinnie Crews and Carl Emil Norin in 1924, Alphonse Edward Imbus, Harry Elmer Cripe and Raymond Hanus in 1925, Alfred Gustav Franz Kurowski in 1926 and John Toggenburger in 1927, Underwood had all the bases covered. Between them - a remarkable 28 different inventors - these men held more than 140 patents on the fan-fold, the vast majority issued to Jesse Smith himself.
Underwood has a fan-fold in its wide range 1922, above, while in 1926 Remington, below, doesn't. But it does have a Noiseless:
Underwood had placed an inordinate amount of emphasis on its fan-fold, as one of its innovations, with this vast number of patents covering every single aspect of the machine. Thus Underwood had the whole thing well and truly stitched up, leaving Remington virtually no room to manoeuvre. Remington was thereby forced into negotiating, if it wanted its own fan-fold. And the Noiseless become the negotiating point.
Once Remington's move toward a fan-fold became apparent, Jesse Smith quickly moved to strengthen his and Underwood's hand. He tried to get his patents, and those of Underwood design engineers such of Wernery and Waldheim, re-issued by the US Patent Office. The Patent Office, however, was having none of it, and rejected Jesse's applications for "want of invention". Represented by Underwood patent attorney Burnham Coos Stickney, Jesse appealed, but lost again.
The Remington version, when it eventually appeared in electrified form.
Jesse was merely trying to buy time, and in doing so to ensure Underwood was secure in its bargaining position. Underwood wanted a noiseless typewriter, the Remington patents for which were even fresher than Underwood's on the fan-fold machine. By the time the Court of Customs and Patents Appeals had found against Jesse a second time, on December 30, 1929, Remington had already started to make (on July 1, 1929) and then ship noiseless typewriters from Middletown, Connecticut, to Underwood.
That latter process had begun precisely three months earlier, on September 30, 1929, and the Underwood Noiseless, the Model N, was introduced to the market in January 1930, with No N3600001.
Jesse Smith retired from Underwood in 1952, after 52 years with the company, and died in Stamford, Connecticut, on February 4, 1967, aged 86. In some obituaries, he was credited with 400 Underwood typewriter patents, a Braille typewriter and the Teleprompter.
As for his father, here is a letter Stephen Terhune Smith typewrote to a newspaperman in 1906 about his own typewriter career:

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