The MAP continued to be made until 1954. To ensure its initial success, Sanders put together a hugely impressive board of directors, who included: Louis Renault, the industrialist and pioneer of the automobile industry; Émile Pathé of the Société Pathé Frères, the largest film equipment and production company in the world, as well as a major producer of phonograph records; Ernest Chenard, a railway engineer and bicycles manufacturer who founded automobile business Chenard, Walcker et Compagnie with mining engineer Henri Walcker; Gustave Adolphe Clément-Bayard, an entrepreneur who raced and manufactured bicycles, pneumatic tyres, motorcycles, automobiles, aeroplanes and airships; Louis Delâge, a pioneer automotive engineer and manufacturer; and Léon Ernest Gaumont, an inventor, engineer and industrialist who was a pioneer of the motion picture industry.
Thursday 31 December 2020
Wednesday 30 December 2020
Douglas Fairbanks rehearses for his swashbuckling role as D'Artagnan in Fred Niblo's movie The Three Musketeers. With him is scriptwriter Edward Knoblock, who co-wrote the screenplay of the film with Fairbanks and Lotta Woods.
September 17, 1921: European speed typing champion Millicent Woodward and Robert G. Curtis face off before a typing duel in the Roneo Building in Holborn, London.
April 24, 1921, a woman at a typing exam in Paris, France.
Camillo Olivetti sitting with his employees in Ivrea.
A woman in an office in the US.
Another woman in an office in the US.
Maybe the typewriter fiasco had become a dark family secret, and George, who was born three weeks before his parent’s first wedding anniversary (becoming the then 6th in the line of succession to the British throne), and more than seven months after the typewriter factory equipment was sold off, might not have known anything about it. Perhaps he didn’t read London’s Daily Telegraph (no doubt being a Times may himself), in which on August 24, 1974, a “Conned by QWERTY” item appeared in the London By Day column. In it was a photograph of one Wilfred Beeching, noted British typewriter collector, historian and author, holding what was claimed to be the only Conqueror ever made. Beeching called it his “million pound typewriter” – and one million pounds sterling in 1974 would fetch $US14.2 million today. But Beeching was basing this figure on what he estimated it had cost to build. And he was actually under-estimating! Lascelles’s £300,000 investment in 1920 would have been worth £1.287 million in 1974.
Tuesday 29 December 2020
Throop advertised heavily in the Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, the Buffalo Sunday Morning News and the Buffalo Commercial, all to little avail. As Richard Current wrote in his 1954 classic The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It, “During the latter half of 1874 typewriters moved so slowly that Densmore and Yost had to delay payments to all their creditors.” One stopgap solution was to incorporate their company, which was done on December 28, 1874, when it became “The Type-Writer Company”. This organisation granted Yost and English-born Edward Denning Luxton (1830-1901) the contract to make and sell typewriters, under the company name Densmore, Yost & Company, General Agents. Poor George Throop was out on his ear.
So who was this man, one of the typewriter’s earliest salesmen? George Bliss Throop III was born in 1833 in New Berlin, Chenango, New York. From 1862-64 he was a private with F Company in the 114th Infantry of the Union army. After the Civil War he worked primarily as a carpenter, not the most obvious employment background for someone wanting to sell typewriters. But he did grow up in something of a literary surrounding. His father, storekeeper and manufacturer George Bliss Throop II (1793-1854), a close friend of Martin Van Buren, was Clerk of Cayuga County from 1821-25, Postmaster of Auburn and Cashier of the Cayuga County Bank. He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1828-31 and a member of the Michigan House of Representatives in 1847. His grandfather was George Bliss Throop I (1761-94) and his grandmother Abiah (née Thompson, 1762–1846), a sister of assemblymen Jesse Thompson and Israel Thompson. His mother, Frances (née Hunt, 1806-72) was a sister of United States Supreme Court justice Ward Hunt. His step uncle was Congressman Israel T. Hatch (1808-75) and his step-aunt Eliza Hatch (1800-85) who married first Congressman Gershom Powers (1789-1831) and then Judge William B. Rochester (1789-1838). Even more significantly George B. Throop III was a nephew of Enos Thompson Throop (1784-1874), a lawyer, politician and diplomat who was the 10th Governor of New York, from 1829-32. In 1814 Enos was elected to the 14th United States Congress and in April 1823 he was appointed Judge of the Seventh Circuit and remained on the bench until 1828. In 1833 he was appointed by President Andrew Jackson naval officer at the Port of New York, an office he held until February 1838, when President Van Buren appointed him Chargé d'affaires of the United States to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where he remained until January 1842. The town of Throop, Cayuga County, is named after him.
One of George Bliss Throop III’s half-brothers was the novelist Higby Throop (1818-1896). He first wrote under the pseudonym Gregory Seaworthy but later took his father's first name, George, as his own. He spent much of the 1840s as a schoolmaster and mariner. Six months after Higby had passed, George Bliss Throop III died, on September 29, at his home at 21 West 18th Street, Manhattan. By then people were having no trouble selling typewriters.
Typewriter Topics closed out its last edition of 100 years ago with a full-page colour advert for the Underwood 5, listing its achievements in world speed typing championships since 1906. In the same December 1920 issue, the Corona portable was described as “a small Hercules”, and there was a counter-claim to Underwood’s for the Remington 10, saying it was the “speediest of all typewriters” (holding the world’s record for “actual for gross speed”). Yet in my humble opinion, the Underwood 5 remains the greatest typewriter ever made, the pinnacle of 100 years of American typewriter design, engineering and manufacture. To paraphrase Elvis, “two million buyers could not have been wrong”. And it was in 1920 that the Underwood 5 reached that remarkable sales figure, “equal in quantity to all of the other firms in the typewriter industry combined” according to George Nichols Engler in his 1969 PhD dissertation “The Typewriter Industry: The Impact of a Significant Technological Revolution” (University of California at Los Angeles).
After many years of various frustrations in my hunt for an Underwood 5 in excellent condition, I finally secured one in 2020. Fittingly, the serial number of 1291438 means it was made in early February 1920. My typewriter needs are no longer what they once were, dictated as they now are by financial and storage considerations which once did not apply to the extent they do today. So these days I’m far more selective than I might have been 10 years or so ago. But when this Underwood came up for auction, I had no hesitation in “pulling out all the stops” to get it. And I’m so pleased I did. It now takes pride of place in my smallish collection, alongside a New Zealand Typewriter Company Blickensderfer 5, Miles Franklin’s Corona portable, a Remington Model 2, Raymond Koessler’s Simplex 1 (and maybe one or three dozen others!).
Sunday 27 December 2020
All this may well be explained in Eberhard Lippmann’s 2008 Die historische Entw icklung des Betriebes Optima Erfurt, in which he points out that the West German company Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven won a 1951 court decision over what had become known in 1946 as Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Sowjetische [Soviet] AG für Feinmechanik Erfurt, a part of a Soviet joint-stock company incorporated into the Totschmasch group. This case gave Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven exclusive use of the Olympia trade name. Lippmann says that in 1950 the Erfurt plant became known as VEB Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt and in 1951 as Optima Büromaschinenwerk VEB Erfurt.
What emerges from the serial numbers is clear evidence that the Erfurt plant kept making Planas under the name Olympia right up until the time Olympia Büromaschinenwerk Erfurt lost the court case to Olympia Hamburg-Wilhelmshaven in 1951. What also becomes apparent, from articles published in United States newspapers in 1951-52, is that there may have been a Soviet economic imperative for doing this. That is, to continue to trade under Olympia’s good name. Given this, it’s possible serial numbers on the Olympia Planas played a part in the subterfuge, to give dealers in North America the false impression the machines were from 1949 being made in West Germany (Macy’s was among the stores fooled). Lippmann concedes that in 1951 at least a small number of Planas, perhaps as few as 150, were exported to the West, but were they labelled Olympias or Optimas? Olympia Planas were advertised in Western Australia at the end of 1949 and in August 1951 in Canada. The Canadian ads said the machines were imported direct from the “British Zone of Germany”. (Olympia portables advertised in Australia from 1950-52 were made in Wilhelmshaven.)
In January 1951 American political journalist Theodore Harold White (1915- 1986), filing from Paris for the Overseas News Agency (ONA), wrote a widely-syndicated column describing the Western distribution of the Soviet-made Olympia Plana. The one White had was stamped “Made in Germany” and had the serial number 206405. White said the Russian Government was offering the portable for sale at $25, “half the cost of a typewriter anywhere in Europe”, and claimed they were shipped out of Leningrad. White and US typewriter dealers wondered whether the Soviets were selling the machines at a loss.
“Or another thesis,” added White. “Are the Russians so desperately short of dollars to purchase essential materials that they will offer a valuable typewriter like this at bargain prices just to earn dollars to buy the raw materials we control?” He went on, “Were these typewriters wrung out of the Germans as reparations … Do the Russians get these typewriters from the Germans by one of their tough trade treaties … How can Eastern Germany have reserve capacity to make such typewriters when it is so short of steel?” White would have been astonished to learn that in April 1952 Erfurt signed a deal with the Chinese Government to build typewriters with three keyboards of 2500 characters.
White concluded, “The typewriter is one of the objects that illuminate our dark times. Never has the world been sealed into such air-tight halves, one half so completely ignorant of the life of the other half. We have no idea what else the Russian industrial empire can make, at what cost, under what circumstances, under what pressure and motives.”