Speed typing tests in the personnel office of the
Remington Typewriter Company at 327 Broadway, New York City, in 1900.
The Buffalo World’s Fair of 1901 is primarily remembered for the assassination of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition’s Temple of Music. Leon Czolgosz got 5100 volts on the electric chair in Auburn Prison six weeks later, but his act of anarchy had already blighted the legacy of a $7 million electrified extravaganza, established to show all that was prosperous and praiseworthy in American commerce and society. The day before he died, McKinley had said, “Expositions are the timekeepers of progress. They record the world's advancement. They stimulate the energy, enterprise and intellect of the people; and quicken human genius … They broaden and brighten the daily life of the people. They open mighty storehouses of information to the student.”
Alice Mary Schreiner
Were two young Massachusetts ladies – the misses Mary Esther “Mae” Carrington of Springfield and Alice Mary Schreiner of Boston - there to type with Underwood standards to enhance the impression of energy, enterprise and intellect? To quicken human genius? To broaden and brighten daily life? To open storehouses of information? Not one bit of it - though a lack of loyalty to their former employers, Remington, might suggest a degree of enterprise on their part. They had been “scouted” by Underwood and were at the World’s Fair to earn their keep, pure and simple. Their occupation was professional speed typing. And as professionals in a sport of sorts, fidelity meant nothing. It was exactly the kind of perfidious behaviour that traditionalists in sport, guardians of the amateur ethos, had been warning against for more than 30 years. Chester, Massachusetts-born Mae Carrington (1878-1944) and Brooklyn-born Alice Schreiner (1878-1961) switched sides, as it were, for money, for cash inducements. In October 1906 it was estimated by the Detroit Free Press that Carrington earned up to $100 a week (equivalent to $2800 a week today). Earlier in 1901, Schreiner and Carrington had been enticed away from Remington with the lure of such rewards from the Wagner Typewriter Company, then makers of the Underwood. If they’d been accused of selling their (Remington developed) skills to the highest bidder, they might well have shrugged their shoulders and pointed to the examples in other forms of popular entertainment.
The Ivy League gave America its beloved variation of football. Under the unfettered guidance of Yale’s Walter Chauncey Camp (1859-1925), in the 1870s the private universities stripped away the time-honoured traditions of “English rugby” and turned the game into American mayhem. The appeal of this “set ’em up and knock ’em down” version quickly spread beyond the elite students of the Ivies, and with its adoption by the working classes inevitably came professionalism, introduced in the industrial Pennsylvanian city of Allegheny in 1892.
The American experience closely followed a pattern set in England. As rugby moved from public (that is, private) school pupils - who had resurrected it from original “mob football” in the 1820s - to the masses in the northern counties in late 1860s, the upholders of the old Rugby code decried the inexorableness of professionalism. Out of rugby first emerged the Football Association, which preferred the non-handling code and allowed pay-for-play, and in the 1890s professional rugby.
1937 World Typewriting Championships at the Coliseum in Toronto
Typewriting as a “sport”, conversely, was always professional. Yes, amateurs sometimes sat beside the pros in typing competitions, but they had next to no hope of keeping pace. They were largely destined to remain anonymous, apart from the few who were “scouted” by Remington, Underwood, Royal or Smith-Corona, and offered the lonely jobs of on-the-road nationwide exhibitors, with the occasional thrill of a speed test against peers. Leading speed typists were employed by typewriter manufacturers and, like the modern day rally car drivers, they were paid to exhibit the qualities of the machine (souped up in most cases, to give the public an inflated idea of the machine’s capabilities).
Scouters and scorers, as The New Yorker sees them
As for listing speed typing as a sport, it had all the right attributes. It did not necessarily need an arena, nor large crowds. But it had popular sport’s most essential ingredients – sustained physical exertion, wins and losses, scores, a breakdown of statistics, and the long lines of numeric tables. Louis Menand, in reviewing Christopher Phillips’ book Scouting and Scoring: How We Know What We Know About Baseball (published by Princeton last month) in last week’s The New Yorker, points out that it is “an effort to help us understand one of the oldest problems in modern societies, which is how to evaluate human beings. “Do we scout or do we score?”
Speed typing had both its scouts and its scorers. The only possible difference is that it was essentially a test of machines rather than a test of human capability. Yet it was the individual typist who was invariably vaunted – though the publicity surrounding that individual was, in the main, generated by the company which had built the machine. For example, The History of Touch Typewriting, published by Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict (that is, Remington) in 1900 (the year of Remington’s speed typing tests in the image at the top of this post), uses the stories of Remington’s individual speed typists to illustrate the development of touch typing.
When the photograph was taken, Alice Schreiner was making her first visit to Buffalo, but this time under the employ of the Remington Typewriter Company. She was a stenographer in Remington’s Boston office when on October 23, 1900, she gave two exhibitions of touch typing on a Remington No 6 with a blank keyboard, at the Bryant & Stratton Business College and Remington’s Buffalo office. It was claimed at the time that she was fastest operator in the world using this method, typing from unfamiliar copy 97 words a minute, and memorised sentences at 144 words a minute, on one occasion while blindfolded. Schreiner was still with Remington when The History of Touch Typewriting was published, otherwise she wouldn’t have been mentioned in it. She had typed at 108 words a minute to beat fellow Remington user Edith Paulsen at the December 26, 1900, fifth annual convention of the National Shorthand Teachers Association in Detroit.
Of the visit by Schreiner and Mae Carrington to the World’s Fair, “Lady Betty” wrote in the Buffalo Evening Times Women’s Realm page on May 18, 1901, that they were, “the two most rapid type-writer operators in the world … They have been engaged by the Wagner Typewriter Company (manufacturers of the Underwood typewriter) for the Underwood booth … where they will give daily exhibitions of their marvellous skill in ‘touch’ operation of that machine. The exhibit of American typewriters at the Exposition will be the most elaborate and comprehensive ever attempted at any exposition, and that, augmented by the presence of these two wizard-like operators, will prove an exceptionally interesting and instructive feature … The Misses Carrington and Schreiner are, in my opinion, undoubtedly the best known and unquestionably the most expert exponents of the typewriter profession in the United States today.”
“Lady Betty” went on to hint at the change of stable, saying that for Schreiner and Carrington the Buffalo World’s Fair was their first demonstration of touch typing on a “visible writing” machine. “The Wagner Typewriter Company have certainly shown excellent judgement in selecting these two young women to demonstrate the possibilities of the Underwood …”
On August 3, 1901, The Buffalo Enquirer reported, “A most wonderful exhibition of expert typewriting is continually going on within the [Wagner Typewriter Company booth in the Manufacturing and Liberal Arts Building], which is the cynosure of the eyes of all visitors.” It added that the typing of Schreiner and Carrington was “actually startling, and possible only on the speedy Underwood.”
Carrington was joined at the Buffalo World’s Fair by another graduate from the Springfield Business School – where they were both coached in the touch typing technique by Barte Joseph Griffin (1863-1928). Gertrude Lillian Greeley (1880-1953) demonstrated a Cahill electric typewriter, with which she reached 200 words a minute. Ms Greeley didn’t waste time waiting on a professional typing contract – she married her boss, millionaire paper maker Samuel Raynor Whiting, the son of a congressman, in February 1906. Carrington wanted her back on the speed typing circuit, but Mrs Whiting wasn’t biting.
Alice Schreiner married Charles Morehouse Hatcher in 1908, by which time she’d bowed out of competitive speed typing. Mae Carrington, however, remained unmarried (“Romance interferes with one’s plans,” she said in 1906) and continued to compete. At the Howard Street Armoury in Springfield, on February 23, 1906, Carrington set a new world record of 2344 words in 30 minutes of typing blindfold from dictation (averaging 78 words a minute). The previous record of 2099 had been set by Remington’s Paul Munter at the Madison Square Garden on November 2, 1905. Alabama-born Munter (1880-1950), a Brooklyn-based court reporter, later followed the example set by Schreiner and Carrington by changing allegiance to Underwood in 1907.
Carrington’s crowning glory came at the National Business Show at the Madison Square Garden in New York on October 31, 1905, when she beat Rose Fritz in a one hour dictation test, typing blindfold. Carrington typed 3752 words with 20 errors in an hour (Fritz typed more words but made more than three times as many errors). In March 1906 Carrington extended her world record by typing 5221 words blindfold, exclusive of errors, for an average of 87. By October that year, however, she had been overtaken by Fritz, as well as Lillian V. Bruorton (1880-1965) and W. May Matthews in the Underwood speed team. Fritz took the first world title with an average of 82 words a minute, and remained world champion for four years. Fritz matched Carrington’s 87 words per minute to win both the 1907 and 1908 world titles. In 1924, when she travelled to Europe at the age of 45, Carrington described herself as a “typewriter expert” in her passport application.
Mae Carrington in 1924