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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Typewriting's Boy Wonder

This is Parker Claire Woodson, born in Chicago on August 31, 1895, who in August 1910 emerged as the "Boy Wonder", the "Marvel" of the speed typewriting world. In January of that year, Woodson had entered a business school in Chicago to learn shorthand, and while there took up typing. Within six months, and still aged just 14, "Master Woodson" mastered the impressive art of carrying on a conversation while simultaneously typing at extraordinarily rapid speeds - exceeding 230 words a minute!
As the Tacoma Times said on March 14, 1912, "Can Go Some On Typewriter - WHEW!" - "Greased lightning is slow compared to Parker C.Woodson ...":
On December 6 that same year, the Urbana Daily Courier reported:
Born the son of James and Bessie Hurst Woodson, Parker C. Woodson first came to public attention in 1910 with this little item in the trade journal, Typewriter Topics. Woodson, living at the time with a widowed aunt, Florence Reber, in Chicago, won a typing contest in Omaha, Nebraska. Despite his tender age, Woodson was immediately snapped up as a demonstrator by the Remington Typewriter Company and started giving exhibitions of typing, such as in Brooklyn later in 1910.
By 1911 he had moved to New York and was demonstrating his amazing skills on a Remington 10.
In 1912 Woodson was much in demand, travelling to New Jersey, Helena, Montana, Fargo, North Dakota, and Riverside, California, to give exhibitions of his typing:
An edition of Remington Notes (Volume 2, No 10) in 1913 ran this item, which was reproduced in ETCetera (No 47) in June 1999. The then ETCetera editor, Darryl Rehr, referred to Woodson as being a professional, but at this stage, given he was still 17, he was not classed as such, even though he was working for Remington:

On January 2, 1914, Woodson, aged just 18, married Francis Farris in his home city of Chicago.
By 1915, now living with his wife at No 525 146th Street West, New York City, and describing himself as a "typewriter demonstrator", Woodson had entered the major national and international speed typing competitions as an amateur. Using a Remington, he found himself well off the pace of the crack Underwood team members. In the Boston amateur half-hour test, he finished fourth behind future (1919) professional world champion William Friedrich Oswald (1896-1963), and in the world championships in New York he moved up to third behind Oswald. Woodson was, nonetheless, the fastest of the Remington typists, amateur or professional, and finished away ahead of future Underwood great George Hossfeld:
World championship, New York 
Still ranked an amateur in 1916, Woodson dropped further down the finishing order, behind 1915 novice champion Hortense Stollnitz (below), using a Remington, and Hossfeld. Oswald finished second behind Margaret Owen in the professional event.

 William Oswald
 A young George Hossfeld
Margaret Owen
By 1917, Woodson had seen the light. At the time he registered for military service in World War I, he too had switched camps and joined the Underwood team:
Woodson served in the last few months of the war and afterwards packed up his typewriter and in 1920 went back to Chicago with his wife and young son Parker Jr to become a private secretary. After marriage break-ups he married Ruth O'Brien and moved to Detroit to be an advertising company manager; then married Minnie Lee Collins and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia, as manager of a meat packing company, Wilson & Co. He retired to California and died in Novato, north of San Francisco, on March 21, 1981, aged 85.


notagain said...

Double relevance to me right out of the gate! I just got a REmington 10 and the first clip is from a Tacoma paper. Very interesting story.

Richard P said...

What an amazing brain Woodson must have had.