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Saturday 15 November 2014

Last Days of Speed Typing Glory

In 2007, soon after the publication of that excellent book The Typewriter Sketchbook, its editor, Dutch typewriter collector and historian Paul Robert (The Virtual Typewriter Museum) suggested I should start researching world speed-typing championships for a chapter in what Paul had then hoped would be a second volume.
It never came to be, but once started I was hooked on speed-typing research, as regular readers of this blog may have noticed. I have posted on many aspects of the early history of these championships and on the speed-typing champions. 
In the past few weeks my interest in this subject has been revived and I realised there was a need for me to fill the many gaps in the history of the last 17 years of the championships, between 1929 and 1946. Even then I hadn't fathomed out that for four years (1931-34) there were no championships and that for two years (1936-37) there were two versions of the championships - leading to much confusion for typewriter historians!
So here now is what I believe to be the complete story, with for the first time a full list of professional title winners from 1906 to 1946, and previously unpublished details of the championships held between 1929 and 1946. I could say I will end posts on speed typing here, but I can't promise ...
1935      Albert Tangora     . .      Royal         . .              128 words
1936 Chicago    Albert Tangora   . .      Royal    . .        135 words
"        Toronto   George Hossfield . .   Underwood . .  131 words
1937 Chicago  Albert Tangora     . .    Royal         . .     141 words
 "       Toronto   George Hossfield . .   Underwood . .  139 words
1938              Norman Saksvig   . .   L.C. Smith     . .   119 words
1939*         Grace Phelan . .    Underwood . .                139 words
1940#      Margaret Faulkner . .  Underwood  . .        121 words
1941            Margaret Hamma      . .       IBM   . .         149 words
(Albert Tangora, in finishing second to Hamma with an average of 142 words a minute over an hour on a Royal, achieved the highest ever score for a manual typewriter under full championship conditions, including the deduction of 10 points for each error. His 1923 score of 147 was achieved under less rigid conditions.)
A world portable typewriter championship title was awarded in Chicago this year to Cortez W.Peters, using a Royal. Peters won the world amateur standard typewriter title in Chicago in 1936. Peters never won a world professional standard machine title, as was often later implied.
1946              Stella Pajunas   . .         IBM      . .            140 words
(Stella Pajunas is the only person to have won all four championships - professional, amateur, novice and women's - in the one year)
* In 1939-40, only amateur titles were awarded.
#Electric typewriters allowed for the first time. 
George Hossfield (often spelled "Hossfeld") retained the world professional title he had won in Sacramento, California, in 1928. He won his seventh title in Toronto on September 28. Hossfield beat Albert Tangora by typing at a then world record average speed of 135 words a minute. Barney Stapert was third at 125 wpm and Stella Willins fourth at 124. At that time, the three fastest typists in the world, all Underwood users, lived in Paterson, New Jersey.
Belva Kibler of Tuscon, Arizona, won the novice title.

George Hossfield won his eight world title in Richmond, Virginia, on September 27, typing at 133 words a minute. The event was held outdoors.
Given the domination of male typists since Margaret Owen's fourth and last win in 1917 (there had been 12 male winners in the interim), for the first time a separate world women's championship was held, and was won by Stella Willins. Remo Poulson of Waterbury, Connecticut, won the amateur title.
Stella Willins
There was a obvious need to encourage women to continue to compete, and much publicity was given to Willins, Poulson and Kibler. Interestingly, Willins and Poulson both promoted Camel cigarettes.
The championships were not held. Underwood withdrew its sponsorship - probably believing it had already well and truly proved its point - and there were increasing difficulties in finding a city to put the money up and provide facilities to host the event.
Albert Tangora gets rewarded with a car and a few Royals.  As well as the standard, Tangora heavily promoted Royal's portables, claiming to be able to type at 140 words a minute on the portable.
Perhaps peeved by Underwood's loss of interest in the championships, in March 1935 Albert Tangora and Stella Willins switched camps and signed with Royal. Royal enticed the pair to change allegiance, the idea being to revive the championships in order to promote its new Victory standard model with touch control. It planned to publicise touch control as the "scientific" way to win speed typing tests by using "stock standard typewriters" as opposed to Underwood's "works" modified machines. Royal convinced the International Commercial School Contests to back the championships and stage them at its annual gathering in Chicago, on June 28. 
Royal's scheme worked royally and Tangora beat Hossfield, who of course was using an Underwood, to regain the world title he had last held in 1928, claiming his fifth professional championship at 128 words a minute. In subsequent advertising, Underwood conceded this defeat, admitting it had not won every title, but 26 of 27 world championships since 1906.
Nonetheless, for the first time, there was no wire service coverage of the championships, with only The New York Times running a news report, covering the event as per normal. To overcome this setback, Royal ensured Americans did know about Tangora's new weapon of choice and his triumph. Royal send a company-generated "press release" to every one of its agents across the country, insisting the agents issue the release to their local newspapers. Where papers refused to give the statement a free run, it appeared as a paid advertisement.
Stung back into action by Royal's bold and effective move, Underwood took its own initiative and established a rival world championships, at the annual Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Just like boxing in later years, there would be more than one set of world champions each year.
The championships were held just a week apart, in Chicago on August 27 and in Toronto on September 2. In Chicago, Albert Tangora won his sixth world title with 135 words a minute, beating Cortez W. Peters (133). At the time, Tangora insured his fingers for $100,000In Toronto, George Hossfield beat Barney Stapert with 131 words a minute.
Trying to restore Underwood's reputation, Hossfield was busy visiting schools throughout the United States in 1936. On a single day, November 25, he demonstrated his incredible speed in two exhibitions. First, in the morning, at Boyertown High School, Pennsylvania, he typed 240 short words of memorised material in one minute. That afternoon, at the Pottstown Business School, Pennsylvania, he typed 246 words of a repeated sentence in one minute. Perhaps his all-time record was 252 words typed in one minute at the Union High School in Phoenix, Arizona, on February 26, 1941. It seems unlikely this feat was ever bettered on a standard manual typewriter.
Once Hossfield had won at least one version of the world title back for Underwood, Underwood wasted no time in commissioning New York advertising agency Marschalk & Pratt to put together large adverts to appear in 70 newspapers across the United States. It must have cost Underwood a small fortune! Here is an example of the ad:
The Toronto version
The two separate championships continued for one more year. In Chicago on June 25, almost 1000 spectators watched Albert Tangora win one version, with 141 words a minute, beating Cortez W.Peters on 138. Stella Willins retained her world women's title with 128 words a minute. This championship attracted 27 professionals from 12 states.
In Toronto on August 28, George Hossfield won the other version with 139 words a minute. Grace Phelanof Etna, Pennsylvania, won the amateur title with 129 from Gladys Mandley, Toronto, and Irene Martine, Oklahoma City. And Lenore Fenton, 22, of Snokomish, Washington, took the novice title (in which dictaphones were used) with 87 words.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all this was that Cortez W.Peters took part in both versions of the world championships - using a Royal! What's more, newspaper comments were made about the colour of Peters' skin - he was the first African-American to compete as a professional - and his weight (more than 220lbs). One paper said he'd "obviously only trained on a typewriter". After losing out to Tangora in Chicago, in Toronto Peters was second to Hossfeld with 136 words a minute. Barney Stapert was third.
Another remarkable feat in 1937 came from Canadian Russel James Moffit (1895-1965), who had lost his right arm in World War I. In his home town Toronto, Moffit typed 67 words a minutes using just his left hand. Before losing his right arm, he had been a right-hander!
Above, Lewis Spencer beat Moffit's record, typing 70 words a minute in Chicago in 1941.
 Above and below, Norman Saksvig on his way to victory in Chicago.
Just one championship was held in 1938, in Chicago on June 23, and the winning performance heavily emphasised the difference the absence of Tangora and Hossfield et al had made. Tangora said he was "too busy" to prepare for the event. Norman Paul Saksvig (1910-1966), who had been competing with a L.C.Smith since the 1936 world championships in Chicago, won with a mere 119 words a minute. It was a hollow victory, since the women's title when to Stella Willins with a much higher score, 128.  The Cortez Peters-trained Ben Pesner won the amateur title, using, like Willins, a Royal.
In Toronto, a marathon typing exhibition and an amateur team's event between Canada and the US replaced what had been a rival world championship in the previous two years. Hossfeld was not involved.
No professional championship was staged this year. Grace Phelan, 22, won the amateur world title, held at the New York World's Fair Hall of Special Events on June 28. She typed 133 words a minute on an UnderwoodInternational Commercial School Contests sponsored the event. Eleanor Fulton, 17, of Salt Lake City won the novice title with 115 words. In a separate event for secretaries transcribing from a dictation machine, Lenore Fenton won with 107 words.
Though 600 typists took part, they were mostly commercial school students. Interest in the world speed-typing championship was by now rapidly waning. It had long since served its purpose, as far as the major manufacturers were concerned. And electrics were on the way ...
Above, one of Phelan's young "rivals" at the World's Fair. Below, one of Phelan's competition prizes, an Underwood portable.
Margaret Faulkner
This year's world amateur champion is possibly the least known of all world typing champions. Margaret Faulkner of Toronto won in Chicago on June 22, with 121 words a minute on an Underwood. It was the last time a manual would beat an electric for the title. Faulkner beat Margaret Hamma, who scored 119 on an IBM. Lenore Fenton was third.
Lenore Fenton used a wide range of machines, including L.C.Smith, IBM, Burroughs and Royal, in making the 1944 US Navy typewriter training film. See here.
Velma Crismon, 16, of Tacoma, won the novice title with a 113, a world record for this class, but she was also using an IBM
Velma Crismon with her trophies
Electric takeover
Margaret Hamma
Brooklyn's Margaret Hamma, still classified as an amateur, became the new world champion at age 28, in Chicago on June 21. But for the first time, the title went to someone using an electric typewriter - in Hamma's case, an IBM. Hamma scored 149 words a minute with this considerable advantage. By far and away the most impressive performance in the championship came from former champ Albert Tangora, who typed at an average of 142 words a minute on a Royal manual. This is the highest score ever achieved using a manual over the full hour under strict championship conditions, with deductions of 10 points for each error. Cortez Peters was third with 141, probably his finest effort ever.
No championships were held during these years, most likely because of the US involvement in World War II, when such pursuits would possibly have been frowned upon.
These were the very last world speed typing championships ever held under proper championship conditions. The title went to Stella Pajunas of Cleveland, Ohio, using an IBM. Contrary to earlier claims, Pajunas did not even come close to Hamma's record of 149 from the previous championship, instead achieving an average score of 140, not even as fast as Tangora or Peters on Royal manuals in 1941. Hamma, after a reign of five years, during which time she hadn't had to defend her title, came second with 138.
What Pajunas did achieve, however, was to become the first and only person to win all four titles in the one year - professional, amateur, notice and women's. 
Not surprisingly, given that where once hundreds had competed, now one person could win all four crowns in a single year, and given the competitions were being dominated by electric typewriters, the 40-year history of world speed-typing championships ground to a halt.
Eleven years after the last championships, George Hossfield could still lay claim to have fame as one of the all-time typing greats:


Miguel Chávez said...

Very interesting that this championship was held even during the war years. This shows how valuable was the ability to type fast and accurately back then!

Bill M said...

I've read that Underwood kept winning the cometitions and that soon led the competitions come to an end.

Easy to see why a typist using an Underwood would win. I grew up with an Underwood and the ones in my collection are still the fastest and snappiest machines. If an Adler J4 had a better action it would surpass even an Underood though because the carriage return is silky smooth and very fast.

Martin A. Rice, Jr. said...

Robert, again a fantastic piece of research! Additionally, Margaret B. Owen was also from New Jersey along with Tangora and Hossfield. Of course, yours truly is also from New Jersey if you go way, way, way, way, way, ... back!

Unknown said...

Very interesting to me. George Hossfield was known to me affectionately as 'Uncle George' in that he married my Aunt Harriet following her divorce from my father's brother. Our families were very close and we saw them often. He was a wonderful man. He was also a very accomplished pianist, a fact made even more impressive in that he was self-taught.

Harriet passed away in 1969 just as I was finishing my first hitch in the Marine Corps. Having spent the next few years of my life on the move and overseas, I was never to see Uncle George again.

I love seeing the pictures and article about him.

Thank you
Semper Fi

GySgt USMC (Ret)

Sharon said...

Family story says that my mother won a typing contest in Toronto in the early 40's, typing 100 words a minute. She took the prize money and emigrated to Washington DC, where she met my father.

Unknown said...

I have an Underwood "Expert Typist" pin in 12 carat gold and blue enamel with real seed pearls and rubies,in a greenleatherette presentation case that says "compliments of the Underwood Typewriter Company" inside the lid.

Were these presented by the company in competitions, or purchased by employers to give to their typists?

Unknown said...

Hi, while going through a box of old family photos and such, I ran across a card identical to Barney Stapert's card, only this one is Arthur F. Neuenhaus and his record was 131 net words per minute for one-half hour. I have no idea what year this is from; however I would be happy to donate it to you to add to your very interesting hobby! It has a slight bend, however it's in overall great shape. If you are interested, just let me know where to send it. I'm located in Nashville TN.