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Thursday 2 October 2014

See the Beautiful Margaret Benedict Owen, World's Fastest Typist, in Action

From the Wim van Rompuy Collection
Although Margaret Benedict Owen is not identified in this Frank Bunker Gilbreth time-and-motion film, it is very clearly her. We do know that Owen took part in a Gilbreth typing demonstration in 1916. However, two claims made about that demonstration (see the inaccurate The New York Times article) remain highly questionable.
A still of Frank Bunker Gilbreth from one of his films
First, that Gilbreth had "trained" Owen to be a champion typist. Could it be that Gilbreth told some "porky pies" in order to push his pioneering motion study and ergonomics work?* At the very least he was being quite deceitful about Owen's already well-established and well-known capabilities. Owen had won the world professional championship three times by the end of 1916 (the first in 1913), and had set a world record of 137 words a minute under strict championship conditions in 1916 (she reached an average of 143 words a minute over an hour in 1917).
Second, that Owen used a RemingtonOwen was a member of the Underwood Speed Typing "Dream Team", and as such she had been well coached by Canadian-born typing instructor Charles E. Smith, not by Gilbreth. I suppose it is conceivable, however, that Gilbreth did improve her performances.
(* Is Gilbreth really suggesting at the end of the film that he changed the keyboard configuration to get Owen typing faster? If so, he really must have been joking.)
The Underwood way: From Charles E. Smith's
Typists' Guide: From Sight to Touch (1912)

It's almost 100 years since dozens of Australian newspapers, from Bundaberg to the back of Bourke and beyond, ran this same story:
Some Typosherians think speed typing champions to be a little abnormal, and Owen herself described her typing as "mechanical".  But it turns out Owen was not just a very attractive young woman, but a pretty normal one, too (though dancing, tennis, swimming and late hours were not allowed).
Margaret Owen's 1919 passport photo
Owen was born the daughter of a Canadian-born printer, William Benedict Owen, in New York City on February 8, 1893. She rose to typewriting prominence in 1910, aged 17, when he won the world novice speed typing championship from Bessie Friedman and Parker Claire Woodson, scoring 83 words a minute. In 1911 Owen was second behind Gustav Robert Trefzger in the amateur world title, both reaching 98 words a minute. Owen (114) was fourth behind Florence Wilson (117) and Emil Anton Trefzger (116) in the 1912 professional championship, but had earlier won the amateur world title with 116 words a minute.
Owen decisively won the 1913 world professional championship with 125 words a minute, beating the Trefzger brothers Emil (120) and Gus (117), with the legendary Rose Louisa Fritz fourth (115). Owen finished second to Emil Trefzger in 1914 (129 to 127) but regained the title in 1915 by beating Fritz 136 to 129. She won again in 1916, beating William Friedrich Oswald (137 to 136) and the Trefzger brothers (134, 133).  In 1917, Owen matched Fritz's 1906-09 feat of winning four world championships. She beat Hortense Sandi Stollnitz, Friedman and Oswald 143 to 142 (for the three runners-up). 
Owen's successor: Gorgeous George Hossfeld
Owen was beaten by George Leonard Hossfeld 143 to 142 in 1918, with Friedman third and Stollnitz fourth. Owen was again pipped at the post in 1919, this time by Oswald, 132 to 131, with Stollinitz also finishing on 131. Owen was still able to push her Underwood teammate, the great Hossfeld, in the 1920 championships, finishing runner-up to him with 128 words a minute to Hossfeld's 131. The difference was that Owen made 68 errors to Hossfeld's 54, and those extra 14 mistakes cost her 140 points.
Husband of the world's fastest female typist,
and father of Margaret Owen's two children,
US Navy Lieutenant-Commander Raymond Farrington Tyler
The following year, 1921, Margaret Owen married US Navy Lieutenant-Commander Raymond Farrington TylerTyler, a dirigible and airship naval aviator, was born in Middlebury, Connecticut, on March 8, 1894.  He and his wife, along with their children, were mostly based at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, where Tyler was a non-rigid airship pilot and instructor. Tyler flew to Europe as an observer on the Hindenburg in 1936 and took part in the Gorden Bennett Balloon Races in Warsaw. He was mooring officer at Lakehurst when the Hindenburg crashed on May 6, 1937. He was promoted to captain in 1943 and was in command of Airship Wing One when World War II ended. He retired in 1947. 
Margaret Benedict Owen Tyler died in Los Altos, California, on June 1, 1952, and her husband on April 22, 1965. They are buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery at San Bruno,California.
The Tylers had two children, the arrival of the first, a son, Owen Farrington Tyler, being duly announced in Typewriter Topics in 1922:
Owen Tyler would have turned 92 last Sunday if he is still alive. At one time, I believe, he (or perhaps a son of the same name) lived in Ted Munk's neck of the woods, in Mesa.
Owen Tyler's younger sister, Louise Tyler Rixey (above), died aged 86 in Tallahassee, Florida, on August 10, 2011, after a long illness. She was born on December 22, 1924, in Passaic, New Jersey, and grew up in Lakehurst, Long Beach, California, and the Panama Canal Zone. Married to a marine, she lived in North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, California, Japan and Florida. In addition to secretarial jobs, she was a real estate agent and later worked in textbook editing.


Ted said...

Interesting! A quick web search suggests the Owen Tyler living here in Mesa (if still alive) would be in his mid 90's, so the age is roughly correct. (:

Richard P said...

Good story. You're right, the claims on that film seem trumped-up.

shordzi said...

Super interesting, thank you!

Jessica Carey-Webb said...

Sitting here reading this with Owen (Bud) Tyler, in 2018, not long after his 96th birthday. His mind and memory are absolutely sharp. He enjoyed reading about his mother.