Inveterate Imperial typewriter collector Richard Amery will be a little down in the dumps today, following the failure yesterday of the Australian Labor Party - which he represented so honourably in the New South Wales Parliament for 32 years to 2015 - to wrest back power in NSW from a conservative coalition. No doubt Richard will be able to cheer himself up by tapping away on one of his latest acquisitions, an Imperial Caravan.
The Royal Caravan is the same typewriter. They were both made for Litton in the Netherlands. This bottom image first appeared on my blog on February 13, 2013, from a US eBay auction. Just as Imperial used the model name Caravan under Litton, so too did Royal use the model name Companion.
Never heard of an Imperial Caravan? Neither had I until last week, when Richard sent me images of this cute variation on the Adler and Triumph plastic Tippa. It had been unearthed somehow –as is his want – by Philip Chapman of Charlie Foxtrot fame, and naturally the first recipient who came to Philip’s mind was Richard. After all, until Philip and his wife Julie left Australia to set up their typewriter business in England, Philip had been a regular attendee at Richard’s weekly typewriter gatherings in Sydney, where Imperials abound. In Blighty, Philip had also found an equally rare wide carriage Imperial Desk Companion for Richard.
As seen on this blog on April 20, 2015
About the same time as I heard from Richard about his Imperial Caravan, somebody signing himself just “Mike” commented on my blog post titled “Litton’s Typewriter Empire: Its Rise and Fall” from June 2, 2012. “Mike” said “I came here looking for information on a recent find” but found the post “wonderfully confusing … The way these companies fit together is confusing.” His find is a sandy coloured Royal 203. “The sticker on the back says it was made in Japan for TA Organisation. It looks very similar to the 203 in your story above but does not have the Litton logo next to Royal. From your descriptions I would think my typewriter was made in Japan in the 60s prior to Litton purchasing Royal.” Talk about confused! Royals weren’t made in Japan until after Litton had acquired the company in late 1964.
It's a Japanese-made Litton Royal 203 all right.
Admittedly, “Mike” isn’t entirely alone. Richard Amery was also somewhat mystified by his Imperial Caravan, which was made in the Netherlands but is not identified as a Litton product. It is, however, a machine made for Litton, just like the West German (Adler) made-Imperial 90 standard typewriter which Richard got from me four years ago. The Imperial badges are naturally slightly different from those which appeared on the Japanese-made machines.
The bottom line, however, is that Litton owned Royal from December 1964, Imperial from October 1966 and Triumph-Adler from July 1974. It stopped producing typewriters in Britain in early 1975, moving production to the Netherlands. The three brands were sold to Volkswagen in mid-1979, and to Olivetti in April 1986. So any Royal or Imperial made between late 1966 and mid-1979 was made for Litton.
The Imperial Caravan is more commonly seen as the plastic Adler or Triumph Tippa or Tippa S, also made for Litton in the Netherlands. As for the model name Caravan, it had previously been used for a variation of the US-made Royal Safari-Sabre-Custom, the Royal Caravan being the model used by Bob Dylan in photographs taken by Douglas R. Gilbert as Dylan was typing the liner notes for his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, in his writing studio above the Café Espresso on Tinker Street, Woodstock, New York, in August 1964.
The story of Litton’s acquisitions and the subsequent decline in the worldwide typewriter industry was told by me in the Spring 2015 edition of ETCetera magazine (No 108), under the heading “The Boom Before the Bust”. Here is an updated version:
Ho, ho, ho ... Ho and I share a wee joke about Earl Tiffany's remark.
In the finest traditions of George Ed Smith before him, the Royal Typewriter Company’s president from 1965 to 1969, Earl Harden Tiffany Jr (1913-1997), seldom seemed short of zany ideas to publicize Royal portables. In November 1966, United States newspapers reported Tiffany as suggesting typewriters could help end the Vietnam War and “bring Ho Chi Minh to his knees”. Obviously oblivious to the fact that Ho was happily tapping away on a Hermes Baby in Hanoi, Tiffany said, “Perhaps we should concentrate more on increased communications to get Hanoi to the conference table. To my knowledge, no one has mentioned the importance of typewriters as a means of communications in the Vietnam conflict. During World War II, General [Henry Harley] ‘Hap’ Arnold, then commander-in-chief of the [US] Army Air Corps, was asked: ‘What, among all the pieces of equipment the Air Corps uses, is most important?’ The reporters who were expecting to hear about some form of aircraft as an answer were jolted when he replied: ‘The machine the Air Corps could least afford to be without is the typewriter, for communications are the backbone of our operations.’ Alas, typewriters with Vietnamese keyboards are hard to come by, though Royal has come through with a few.”
We’re left wondering, of course, whether Tiffany could have been serious. What we do know is that in 1966 his confidence in the immediate future of the manual portable typewriter was flying exceedingly high. Earlier that year, Tiffany had been widely quoted as estimating that by the early 1970s, annual portable typewriter sales in the US would reach three million. He said the portable would be a “regular kitchen appliance in the two and three-typewriter home”. One in four homes had a typewriter, leaving the market 75 per cent untapped.
Economics writer Sylvia Porter (above) leaned on Tiffany’s apparently infinite optimism for her syndicated “Your Money’s Worth” column of June 22, headed “Home Typewriter Explosion”. “From a dollar volume of only $40 million a year after World War II, annual sales of home typewriters have soared to more than $100 million,” Porter wrote. “In 1965, sales of portable typewriters, the typical home unit, totaled 700,000. This year , sales are slated to hit 1,500,000 and, estimates [Tiffany] ... by the early 1970s the total will double again.” Porter said there were an estimated 35 million typists in the US in 1966, including three million secretaries and stenographers and three million students. She also wrote that each year, the age at which teenagers joined the typewriting fold went down. Watching her own children typing, Porter had assumed “the market for home typewriters must be developing”. But after interviewing Tiffany, she revised that view, to one of drumfire rather than a mere development. “What I suspected was nothing in comparison with the facts,” she said. (As “newspaper people,” Porter and her second husband, G. Summer Collins, believed the typewriter was a more vital piece of household equipment than a toaster or a TV set.)
A flurry of final ads before Litton took over:
1. LIFE, December 4, 1964.
Judging by these bold predictions, in mid-1966 the advent of home word processors and computers, or even of electronic typewriters, had not been sighted on the horizon. Nor, it seems, had the threat of the impact of cheaper Japanese models flooding the US market, helped by the consolidation of well-known brand names under the Litton Industries banner, and the offshore production of portables, including Royals. Much would change in the decade to 1976. In hindsight, 1966-67 was, for manual portable typewriters, the “boom before the bust”. But at the time, people like Tiffany and Porter obviously didn’t see it that way. Porter thought the place of the manual portable typewriter would become increasingly secure. The “spreading acceptance” of typewritten personal letters was still being seen as a “most significant factor”, almost 92 years after the Sholes & Glidden had first reached the market. “The whole typewriter industry is in an upsurge,” Porter wrote. “Since 1960, US typewriter sales have risen one-third and a peak sale of 2.4 million units totaling $400 million is anticipated for 1966. The big expansion, though, is to come in the home [portable] market. Tiffany also sees this as a worldwide phenomenon—with what is happening here to be reflected first in Germany, then in the Scandinavian countries, England and finally Spain and France.”
2. LIFE, November 13, 1964.
These are the sort of words one might have expected to read in the mid-1920s, perhaps, when Royal joined a portable market already dominated by Corona, Underwood and Remington. But mid-1966? Surely business experts could not have been that blind to what lay ahead? And not just for Royal, but for manual portable typewriters in general.
3. LIFE, September 4, 1964.
In the short term, the forecasts of Tiffany and Porter proved accurate. As early as January 29, 1967, Tiffany announced that total US typewriter sales had risen the previous year by 17 per cent, to a record 2.755 million. But Tiffany was already adjusting his thinking, forecasting “a more limited rate” of gains in 1967. His 1967 target was close to 2.9 million, representing more than $400 million in sales. As well, Tiffany saw a “dynamic” expansion in the electric typewriter market. The focus had quickly changed.
4. LIFE, May 22, 1964.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the beginning of the end began when Royal McBee stockholders voted in New York to merge with Litton on December 4, 1964, the merger being ratified by Litton shareholders in Santa Monica on December 12. Royal became a wholly owned Litton Business Equipment Group subsidiary in February 1965. At that time Royal had 10,500 workers in the US, at plants in Hartford, Connecticut, Athens, Ohio, Springfield, Missouri, and Ogden, Utah, as well as factories in Canada, Holland and Portugal. Three months before the merger was first mooted, in September 1964, Royal’s annual sales were reported to be $116.6 million for a net income of $1.89 million, compared to Litton’s $685 million sales and $29.6 million profit. Litton also had 46,000 employees and 90 plants in 24 states and 15 overseas countries.
LIFE, September 6, 1968
By 1968 Litton’s Royal typewriter division was already in financial difficulties, and Litton felt it necessary to expand in order to consolidate. In October that year Litton’s acquisitions had engulfed Cole Steel, Imperial, Messa and Triumph-Adler. But with its $51 million German takeover, aimed at “bolstering its Royal typewriter division,” Litton ran foul of the US Federal Trade Commission, an obstacle which exposed its huge reliance on German portable typewriter manufacture. Litton claimed that if its German arm were cut off by the FTC, it would be forced to sell its burdensome Royal division and “leave IBM virtually alone in the US typewriter industry.” In early April 1969 the FTC met Litton, headed by Richard M. Nixon adviser Roy L. Ash, a Beverly Hills industrialist, to discuss the FTC’s opposition to the Triumph-Adler takeover. The FTC believed the acquisitions “might have the effect of reducing competition in the US typewriter market.” Litton offered a deal under which it would only have to divest itself of Triumph-Adler’s US operations. The FTC rejected this and charged Litton with violating antitrust laws. Litton immediately brought diplomatic pressure to bear, claiming the FTC decision would be seen as an “insult to the sovereignty” of European governments and would have huge foreign policy ramifications. On top of all this, Litton shut down Royal’s Springfield plant on April 23, 1969, and was forced to deny it planned to also close the Hartford factory, sack 2500 workers, and move operations to Silver-Seiko's Japanese assembly plant with an annual capacity of 600,000 typewriters.
By this stage Robert F. Stewart had succeeded Tiffany as Royal president, as industrial battle lines began to be drawn. Less than a year later, in March 1970, with Ronald L. White now Royal president, Litton revealed it and Silver-Seiko had asked the Japanese government for permission to combine in a joint venture to own Marukoshi Kogyo, maker of portable typewriter parts. Marukoshi Kogyo was already making parts which were assembled by Silver-Seiko and sold as Royal and Imperial typewriters.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 1970.
In August Royal also announced it was axing 1300 Hartford workers while moving production of some portables to Imperial’s factory in Hull, England. Litton conceded it paid British workers one-third of what it paid US workers. The shift was “due to foreign competition”, presumably from Brother in Japan. Hartford would become no more than an assembly plant. In 1973 Litton’s shutdown of its Hartford plant was complete, and it concentrated production in Britain (Imperial, Hull), West Germany (Triumph-Adler), Portugal (Messa) and Japan (Silver-Seiko). A US newspaper report in October of that year said American typewriter production had all but died out. “Foreign makes have penetrated the US market strongly—all because most typewriter manufacture is labor intensive and therefore not suited to today’s US economy.”
Litton finally got the all-clear from the FTC to retain Triumph-Adler in July 1974, by which time the damage had been done. Administrative Law Judge Alvin L. Berman said Litton would have had to go out of the typewriter business if forced to sell Triumph-Adler, so a ruling that Litton’s holding of Triumph-Adler was anti-competitive would, in itself, be anti-competitive. But matters weren’t helped by British dockers blocking a changed barge transfer system in Hull, forcing Litton to close the Hull factory in 1975. It was part of a widespread US bail-out from Europe, marked by a $1 billion drop in annual US investment. In fairness, Litton’s Imperial division had lost $10 million in two years.
By February 1977, with John W. Gilluly, Royal’s fifth president in 10 years - James M. Mills was the fourth, following White - the end was nigh. All these years later, it is easy to see that rising labor and production costs— both in the US and Europe—contributed to the demise of manual portables, making companies such as Royal vulnerable to Litton. As well, Royal had been facing increasingly hostile industrial relations problems in Hartford since 1953. Could any of this have been avoided? Well, not with the capacity of Japan to produce far more and far cheaper machines. And perhaps not with the lack of realism being expressed by Earl H. Tiffany Jr back in 1966.
A Silver-Seiko (Silver-Reed) Litton Royal Ranger.