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Monday, 22 June 2015

How Typewriters Helped Change the World Economy

It's almost exactly 100 years since the United States became the world's leading exporter for the first time in its history. That was at the end of the fiscal year 1914-15, on June 30, 1915. The US held its lead for 97 years, until 2012, when it was overtaken by China, which went on to oust the US as the world’s largest trading nation (as measured by the sum of exports and imports) last year*.
Back in 1915 it was Britain which the US surpassed - and of course that was as a direct consequence of the outbreak of World War I a month into the 1914-15 fiscal year, on July 28, 1914. The war increased the US's export trade by 17 per cent, to $2768.6 million. This was $600 million higher than British export trade, which had decreased by 30 per cent.
The US had previously, though infrequently, headed Britain in exporting domestic product, but not for combined domestic and foreign goods. Still, US domestic exports rose to $2716.2 million from $2329.7 million, which was 98.1 per cent of total exports (export of foreign-made goods went up from $52.4 million from $34.9 million). Combined British figures had included Irish and "colonial" (that is, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, South African and Indian) goods. Typewriter Topics reported:
For the US, the most marked rise was in manufactured goods, excluding foodstuffs. These increased from $8 million in 1821 to $1166 million in 1915. And typewriters were at the forefront of this boom in manufactured exports. From the start of World War I to June 1915, the monthly export of US-made typewriters increased sixfold. As at June 1915, all US typewriter makers were still in typewriter production mode (11 new manufacturers had emerged in the previous 12 months) and the internal typewriter business was also prospering.
Typewriter Topics' European editor Gustave Hemes wrote:
A month earlier, Topics reported that typewriter exports had passed the $500,000 mark:
And in April:
One US typewriter company which performed particularly well during this period was Underwood.
*China's figures are bolstered by its assembly of iPhones for Apple, of which it exports about $5 billion worth to the US. But iPhones are made up of components from all over the world, including Japan and South Korea, and are American designed and branded. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates China makes about $57 out of every $100 worth of iPhones exported. For every $100 worth of goods exported by China, the domestic component, or Chinese value added part, is only $67, according to OECD data. So in the year China became the largest exporter in the world, the country exported $1.4 trillion of goods with the Chinese value added share a shade more than $800 billion. American exporters remain at the top end of the supply chain and their export businesses are a lot more profitable than their Chinese competitors. China really overtook the US in 2012 - by a small margin of $9.1 billion. In 2013, China’s exports were $88 billion larger than the US but the volume was only 40 per cent larger than the US.


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