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Friday 11 May 2018

Omaha's Adam Clarke Van Sant and His Revolutionary 'Van Sant System of Touch Typewriting'

The Van Sant System of Touch Typewriting was introduced by Clarke Van Sant at the third annual United States Commercial Teachers' Federation convention at the Metropolitan Business College in Chicago on December 28, 1898. Penman’s Art Journal in February 1901 described the occasion thus: " ... a polished, genteel, suave, middle-aged gentleman of medium height, who, when called upon to read a paper and demonstrate the practicability of methods employed in his work, electrified the body of shorthand teachers. That man was A.C. Van Sant, and that hour witnessed the birth of the great movement toward introducing the teaching of touch operating on the typewriter in the various schools. To be sure, many had taught touch typewriting long before this, but not many knew of it. There were no doubt many operators who could handle a machine without looking at the keyboard. Since December,’98, nothing has been so energetically discussed as has this method of operating the machine, and to the subject of the sketch [Van Sant] more than to any one else is due the popularity of the idea."
For almost six decades, from 1899 until at least 1957, a wide range of typewriter manufacturers paid for the rights to use the Van Sant System of Touch Typewriting. Notable among them were Oliver, Smith Premier, Monarch, Fox, Wellington-EmpireL.C. Smith and Corona, Remington, Underwood and Royal - all of which, at one time or another, offered instruction booklets describing the Van Sant System to purchasers of their typewriters. The system was the work of New Jersey-born dentist-turned-stenographer and Omaha, Nebraska, business college operator Adam Clarke Van Sant, who came to be regarded as "the father of improved touch typewriting".
October 27, 1918
By September 1900, more than 40,000 booklets had been sold, and had reached such far-flung places as Yokohama, Valletta in Malta ("an island in the Mediterranean sea" the Omaha Daily Bee felt it necessary to explain) and 100 alone to Melbourne, Australia. Sure enough, in early June 1901, Betty Caroline Leworthy (1877-1962, right), the New Zealand-born Remington Typewriter Agency proprietor in Adelaide, South Australia, announced she had adopted the "new" system. Across on the other side of the world - and much closer to Omaha - The Star in Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, was still referring to the Van Sant system as "new" when publicising the Reynoldsville Business College. "By this method," The Star said, "students are taught the location of the keys by touch, thus enabling them to acquire great speed and accuracy in transcribing their notes."
During this period Van Sant had his own typewriting star, Washington County, Maryland-born Marian Reichardt (1883-), the daughter of the leader of the 22nd US Regular Infantry Band, Emil Reichardt, later a New York music teacher. Marian was, according to the Waterloo, Iowa, Courier, "a dainty little damsel of attractive manners and becoming modesty". She grew up in Omaha, became one of Van Sant's earliest students, practised three hours a day for eight months at Van Sant's college, and emerged with an eight-fingered speed of 75 words a minute, which she soon raised to 93. That was sufficiently impressive for Marian to get a position with Smith Premier in Syracuse - at double the pay of any of the workers who built the Alexander Timothy Brown-designed typewriter (she was at the time easily the highest paid typist in the US). With speed typing as a full-time job, Marian eventually picked up her highest rate to 164 words a minute. In April 1900 Smith Premier sent Marian to the Paris World's Fair, the Exposition Universelle which doubled as that year's Olympic Games, to demonstrate her proficiency with the double keyboard machine using the Van Sant system. Marian's typing won Smith Premier the Diploma of Honour, the exposition's top typewriter award, heading off Remington. Upon her return to the US, Marian spent the next five years touring  the country giving typewriter exhibitions
at schools and Brown's Business Colleges for Smith Premier, including at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, the Buffalo World's Fair ("her eyes are as keen as they are pretty" said the Buffalo Evening News). The characters on her keyboard were blanked out, so she typed from notes or dictation without looking at the machine. Marian was a speed merchant, rather than an endurance typist like the later Underwood world champions. In one notable burst, in Bloomington, Illinois, on December 12, 1901, she typed 250 words in 2½ minutes (still way behind Canadian John Arthur Shields's world record of 222 words in one minute in 1904, or Charles H. McGurrin's earlier 212 wpm on a Fay-Sho). Marian, also an accomplished pianist, got a bit naughty over the years, and in Indianapolis in September 1904, after belting out 160 words in 59 seconds, called her typing "piano style" instead of touch. Happily for her, "Professor" Van Sant was well out of earshot at the time. (That same month Marian matched her 160 wpm record in Dayton, Ohio.)
By the end 1913, Australia had its own Van Sant typewriting star in the form of Selma Madeline Lundqvist (1895-1987), a Glebe-born product of the Stott and Underwood Business School in Sydney, which had adopted the Van Sant system in 1909. Lundqvist had trained under the system since 1910 and in Sydney on December 13, 1913, claimed a world record under amateur championship conditions of 85 words a minute over 30 minutes. The Sydney Sun said she looked "strong and determined enough to be a match for Johnny Summers [the British welterweight boxer]". Lundqvist strengthened her arms and wrists with club-swinging and using exercises outlined by Eugen Sandow (real name Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, 1867-1925), the pioneering German known as the "father of modern bodybuilding". It was proposed that Lundqvist and her sister, Vera Adeline Lundqvist, another Van Sant trainee, should go to the US to take on world champions Margaret Benedict Owen (1893-1952), Bessie Friedman (1895-) and Florence Wilson, members of Charles E. Smith's Underwood professional speed team. But the outbreak of World War I in 1914 put paid to those plans.
Selma Lundqvist
Stott and Underwood boasted that Lundqvist's 85 wpm was three words a minute better than the great Rose Louisa Fritz's record, also set on an Underwood. One difference was that while Fritz's highest speeds were achieved while she was blindfolded, Lundqvist typed with a cover placed six inches above the keyboard. Under these conditions, perhaps Lundqvist's achievement was considered the half-hour amateur record. Inter-continental communications being what they were back then, Stott and Underwood may have failed to grasp that while Fritz had achieved 82 wpm to take out the American championship at Madison Square Garden in November 1906, she had reached 87 wpm to win the world title in October 1907, a figure she matched to retain the championship the following year. By 1913 the world professional record was up to 125 wpm, set by Owen. Indeed, Fritz's highest 30-minute speed was 97, set in 1907 (in the hour-long world championships, it was 95 wpm in 1909). As well, none of Fritz's achievements were attributed to the Van Sant system. At Underwood, Fritz was coached by Smith,  and later Fritz developed her own typing system with stenographer and psychologist Edward Henry Eldridge.
Lundqvist died in Kogarah, Sydney, aged 92. She, like Reichardt, never married. Both continued to use their typing skills for a livelihood well into an advanced age.
Van Sant's system, described as having "revolutionised the typewriting of the world" (well, it had reached as far as Valletta) was certainly well established by 1912, when this advertisement appeared on page one of The Typewriter World:
Given that by then hundreds of thousands of typewriter owners and users had seen the "Van Sant System of Touch Typewriting System", it would seem surprising that so little is known about the man who called himself "Professor Van Sant". Who was this man? Well, he most definitely wasn't "Cuspus" Von Sant, so called by Mavis Beacon in "her" many typing instruction books. But, then, there's no such person was Mavis Beacon, either (the face on the cover belongs to Haitian-born Renée L'Espérance), so we don't really know who to blame for this nonsense. One might assume that the authors of Mavis Beacon manuals, whoever they may be, couldn't find out who A.C. Von Sant was, so they simply made up a name for him. But "Cuspus"? Bad enough to be confined to the Mavis Beacon books, but "her" false lead has sadly been taken up by touch typing history researchers across the world (including Hong Kong, which isn't "an island in the Mediterranean sea"). Could it be, as far-fetched as it seems, that the nincompoops who write the Mavis Beacon books got themselves confused with J.E. Gustus, the Brown's Business College superintendent who accompanied Marian Reinhardt on some of her demonstration tours and also ran his own business school?
At least "Mavis Beacon", whoever she is, is fairly accurate in saying, "The fingering taught today is due to the work of Cuspus Van Sant. This typing teacher and student of psychology [he was actually a dentist] understood that the mind works better when learning rules that are free from exceptions. One afternoon while fixing the clock in his typing classroom, Van Sant came upon the idea of assigning each key to a finger. To achieve this, though, he realised he would have to assign more than one key to some fingers. As the index fingers were considered the strongest, Van Sant gave each of these double duty. His text on typewriting was published three months later. We base our modern fingering method on Van Sant’s philosophy. He standardised how we teach keyboarding today." 
The New Yorker, October 15, 1927
Adam Clarke Van Sant was not Cuspus but known as Clarke Van Sant. He was born at Egg Harbor Township, Gloucester, New Jersey, on July 4, 1832, and grew up in Rock Island, Illinois. His family was of Dutch descent, but had been in the New World since the early 18th Century and had taken a prominent part in the American War of the Independence (1775-83). A.C. Van Sant's line settled at Bass River, later Gretna, Burlington County, New Jersey, in 1790. A.C Van Sant was a member of a third generation of shipwrights, seafarers and river boatmen. His grandfather built the first boat constructed at Newport News and his father, John Wesley Van Sant (1810-1902), built steamboats in Rock Island. Another of John Wesley's sons, A.C.'s younger brother Samuel Rinnah Van Sant (right, 1844-1936) was also a shipbuilder, specialising in raft boats. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives and as the 15th Governor of Minnesota, and was commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1909-10. On one occasion, Smith Premier brought the brothers and father together in Rock Island, while Marian Reichardt was giving one of her many typing demonstrations there.
The Van Sant family. Clarke Van Sant is seated left beside his father John Wesley Van Sant. Sam is at the middle back.
At 14, in the spring of 1846, A. C. Van Sant was a cabin boy under Captain Daniel Smith Harris on the War Eagle, one of the fastest early day boats on the Upper Mississippi River. He tried the tinner’s trade but boats kept calling him back to the river. Eventually, in 1860, he became a dentist in Princeton, New Jersey. His first true calling, however, was as a stenographer. Even before dentistry, he had taken up shorthand in 1849 and over the next 60 years was "closely identified with the progress of the art". Van Sant used this skill to occasional reporting for the Chicago Tribune. In the early 1860s he was the official reporter of the Illinois House of Representatives. From there he went to Washington as the private secretary of Owen Lovejoy (1811-1864), the lawyer, Congregational minister, abolitionist and Republican congressman from Illinois. Lovejoy was a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, as a leader of abolitionists in Illinois in assisting runaway slaves.
Van Sant reported the Democratic National Convention which nominated George B. McClellan, who was the opponent of Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Penman’s Art Journal said, "To give a list of the eminent men [Van Sant] has reported would be to name all of the renowned statesmen of the Civil War period."
In 1883 he moved from Chicago to Omaha and in 1890 established the A.C. Van Sant School of Shorthand and Typewriting.
One of Van Sant's more ardent devotees was Rees Edgar Tulloss, (right, 1881-1959), later president of Wittenberg University, the liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. In 1901 the then 20-year-old Tulloss used the Van Sant system to start his own Touch Typewriting School, first by correspondence from his home town of Leipsic, Ohio, then from 1902 from his dorm room in Myers House and later Phi Kappa Psi House at Wittenberg, while also captaining the football team. Tulloss continued to run the school even while president of the university, from 1920-49.
The article below from Typewriter Topics, 1909
Both Clarke Van Sant and his only surviving daughter Elizabeth (1865-1950, story above) became heavily involved with promoting the Munson form of shorthand, a slight revision of Pitman, designed to make it more systematic. This is not connected with the Munson typewriter, but to James Eugene Munson (1835-1906), a New York court stenographer who first presented his system in the Complete Phonographer in 1866. 
Clarke Van Sant died in Omaha on March 30, 1921, aged 88. His ashes are buried in Glendale Cemetery, LeClaire, Iowa.


Bill M said...

I always thought the reference on the Mavis CDs was fictional just as Mavis is fictional. Now I know there really was a Van Sant that was the inventor of touch typing. Thanks Robert.

RVanSant said...

A. C. Van Sant is an ancestor of mine that I recently discovered. I enjoyed reading this page. Lots of old documents and photos. Thank you!

Robyn Van Sant

Torry said...

I am also a descendant, Torry Van Sant.

Torry said...

I am also a descendant, Torry Van Sant.