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Saturday, 17 April 2021

What to do About Portable Typewriters for Children When We're Not in a Perfect World


In a perfect world we could all still pop into a typewriter shop close by, of even a large department store, and be confronted by a display wall with a wide range of brand new portable typewriters. If that could be the case in 2021, and I was looking for portables for the Museum of Australian Democracy’s “Yours Faithfully” exhibition, I know exactly what model typewriters I’d be there to buy. They’d be the cheapest on offer, Japanese-made, and either Nakajimas or Silver-Seikos (and at a pinch Brothers).


None of us involved in setting up the “Yours Faithfully” exhibition, which opened on December 17, 2019, had any real idea what would become of the portables being used there. I for one didn’t grasp what little supervision there would be. I appreciated that most of the typewriter users would be young children, but assumed they would be there in the company of adults who would understand some care of these machines was required. The museum guides are volunteer staff, and there are too few of them to keep a regular eye on all the exhibitions going on at what used to be called Old Parliament House. The curators are usually occupied elsewhere, and unable to constantly attend to existing exhibitions. But “Yours Faithfully” is absolutely unique, in that it is a “hands-on” exhibition – the machines are there to be used, and as often as possible.


I have been called in many times in the past 15 months to carry out running repairs on the typewriters. At first the problems were mostly minor things – ribbons yanked out and twisted up, carriage locks inadvertently applied (“This doesn’t work!”), spools replaced incorrectly, ribbon colour selector switches moved to stencil, that sort of thing. It was more interesting for me to see which typewriters stood up to the pounding they got – initially, not surprisingly, the Olivetti Lettera 32 and the Hermes Baby seemed to fare best. A Silver-Seiko kept plugging along, as did, in the main, the Olympias. But in time things have become more serious, most notably carriage levers broken off the Baby, an Adler Gabriele and, most alarmingly, a lovely Facit TP1.

Ribbons and typebars are irresistible to children.

In all of this the one important thing has been to maintain the required number of working typewriters (I would say a minimum of six, with at least four to six as back-ups). The demand has been great, and with the start of school holidays last week there were queues of people lining up waiting for when one of the portables became available to use. That’s great in terms of our wish to see people, especially young people, using typewriters, but the level of wear and tear sometimes appears to almost match the popularity of these machines.


That’s why I say my choice of typewriters for the exhibition would be different now than it was back in December 2019. Back then I supplied what I could, and assumed they could all cope. There were only a couple of Japanese portables among them. In hindsight, and if I’d had a range of typewriters to choose from, I wouldn’t be including Olivettis (there are now two Studio 45s in the line-up), a Dutch-made plastic Remington (also now two), an Adler, a Hermes Bay or a Facit TP1. I’d be just looking for Nakajimas and Silver-Seikos, sold in this country under many brand names (Chevron, Craftamatic, Imperial, Kmart, Majitouch, Pinnock and Royal, to list just a few). These are simple designs, put together in a simple way, and are nothing if not durable - and easy to fix when not. Plus, I must confess, it doesn’t break my heart to see a Nakajima or a Silver-Seiko damaged. Not that any have been, at least not seriously.


I suspect, however, as demand for Japanese machines rose, production techniques changed and machine assembly became more prevalent. Take for example a Chevron, one of the “Yours Faithfully” faithful which has just joined those few which have fallen by the wayside. It’s actually a Brother 30oT, known variously as an Underwood and Antares 130 and a Privileg, among other brand names. The escapement rail is machine attached to the carriage, pivoting with the carriage release lever on metal studs, and when this arrangement comes apart under heavy usage, manually applied screws can’t fix it. The plate underneath the ribbon spool capstan on the Olivetti Studio 45 is similarly attached, and again beyond repair if it breaks loose.


Those portables – thankfully, the large majority - that survive the beating they get at “Yours Faithfully” will be kept going as long as I can manage to continue to make them operational. The bottom line, of course, is that whatever happens to them, they have brought much joy to many, many hundreds of children, and I guess that makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

In early December 1967, Royal advertised a range of portables for various age groups, including this Silver-Seiko-made Royal Mercury, aimed at ages nine to 12, which broadly speaking would be the age range of children using typewriters at the "Yours Faithfully" exhibition. Royal didn't make it for kids, Silver-Seiko did, and for all age groups. Still, Royal's other claims are valid - the Mercury is made of steel and it was comparatively cheap back then (K-Mart labelled Nakajimas sold for $50 in Australia, even in 1978). Royal argued there were typewriters made for nine-year-olds, and they were right. It doesn't have doodads, and spending more than $50 on a very sturdy typewriter for a pre-high schooler would have been a boo-boo. 

*None of the photographs above were taken at the "Yours Faithfully" exhibition.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Fluffy Ruffles and the Quest for the ‘Q’ Factor: Noiseless Typewriters – ‘Silence, like a poultice, comes to heal the blows of Sound’


 Alas! Alas! No longer shall the song of the typewriter be heard in the land

For no more shall Fluffy Ruffles* flip the keys with tuneful clicks

For the rattle of the Remington is banished to the Styx.

-       Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 1, 1908, soon after the Silent and the original Noiseless Typewriter Companies were incorporated, in Albany and Buffalo respectively.


*Fluffy Ruffles, above, was a 1907-09 New York Herald  comic strip character created by Wallace Morgan (1875-1948), the “Dean of American Illustrators”.  It was syndicated throughout the US and “Fluffymania” swept the nation. She was all the rage among young working women, often compared to the already well-established Gibson Girl, the personification of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness as portrayed by the pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson. Both Fluffy Ruffles and the Gibson Girl were associated with large hats, shirtwaists and hair piled high. Fluffy was the “type to which all the girls aspire” - she inspired songs, haughty pets were frequently named in her honour, and there was even a Broadway musical about her (in which both Florence Gear and Hattie Williams played Fluffy). There were references to “a Wall Street Fluffy Ruffles typewriter”, but Fluffy actually wrote society and arts in a newspaper office on Herald Square on the intersection of Broadway, Sixth Avenue and 34th Street in Manhattan. That is, until she became such a distraction to male journalists she was forced to work from home (as if there was a pandemic going on!).

As pointed out in an earlier post, in 1921 Remington was subjected to a great deal of biting criticism in US newspapers, from The Wall Street Journal in particular, because of its reluctance to acknowledge and embrace emerging patterns in the typewriter industry in the first two decades of the 20th Century. This notably applied to visible writing and portable machines, fields which were led by Underwood and Corona respectively. With the November 1922 settlement of a 21-month-long dispute between Remington’s “old guard” board of directors and a group of disgruntled shareholders, the Ilion company obviously decided to change its ways. Coinciding with the internal armistice, Remington launched its Model 12, which it called “The Quiet Typewriter”. This model, said Remington, was “the sum of typewriter merit”, in that it combined strength and reliability with what the company dubbed “natural touch”, “features which prevent mis-operation” (whatever they may have been!), the so-called self-starter automatic indenter and “a degree of silence in operation which insures the quiet desired in every business office” (Remington’s italic stress, not mine).


In launching its Model 12, Remington had become the second major typewriter company to embrace the “Q Factor” within 14 months – the other being Royal on October 1, 1921. In both cases, with patented designs from George Adam Seib for Remington and Edward Bernard Hess for Royal, the plan was to put “quiet” typewriters on the market to try to compete with the very apparent success of the Noiseless. (It was Royal which titled the “quiet” version of its Model 10, revamped by Hess, as the “Q Model”). In April 1921 Noiseless's "quiet feature" was held by The Wall Street Journal to be responsible for the company's excellent sales. But by October Royal was quickly catching up. Its sales for the previous month were 70 per cent higher than in August, which had been the best of the year. Royal's US domestic sales were its largest ever, and the launch of the "Q Model" was expected to maintain that upward trend. "Q Model" Royals and "Silent" L.C. Smiths were on the market at $105 each, while the Noiseless sold for $135, with the yet-to-be-quietened Remington (still the Model 10) at $102.50. 


Someone high up at Remington must have been reading and taking careful note of The Wall Street Journal’s critiques, or perhaps had been the “inside man” all along, feeding the Journal with information about his own company’s failings. If so, he got his way, because for the first time in its then 49-year history of typewriter making, Remington was reacting positively to a steadily emerging market trend. Admittedly, the notion of a “noiseless” typewriter had been around since at least 1887, when a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Western Union telegraphist named Ed Brandenburg claimed he had invented just such a thing. In 1891 Yost declared its typewriter was both noiseless and portable. That same year Smith Premier said its machine was the most “noiseless typewriter known”, while one of Jay Gould’s younger sons made claim to inventing a noiseless machine. In 1897 a Pittsburgh patent attorney listed a noiseless typewriter among 11 “Articles in Demand” (“It will pay you to invent any of the following”). The same year The Los Angeles Times wrote about 200 things wanted by the public: “A noiseless typewriter. There is a fortune in this invention. It would prove a blessing to the whole human race.” This very call had been echoed since 1892, and continued well into the 20th Century. In 1899 noiselessness was claimed for the Pittsburgh Visible, and the ubiquitous Harry Bates was among those backing a George H. Ennis electric noiseless in New York.


The Belgian Maximilian Soblik got a great deal of publicity in the US from 1900 for his pneumatic typewriter with fixed perforated keys that were operatively connected with an air compressor, operated by the feet. “All objectionable noise is entirely avoided," he said. By 1904 Soblik had moved to Düsseldorf to continue his work. The next year the typewriter patent term “substantially without noise” emerged with the start made by Wellington Parker Kidder and Charles William Sponsel on what would become the Noiseless. In 1907 the German Norica (Kührt & Riegelmann GmbH, Nuremberg) was advertised as noiseless and a similar boast was made about the Oliver. The plant to build the Buffalo-backed Kidder-Sponsel Noiseless was opened on June 1, 1909, in Middletown, Connecticut, under William Caryl Ely’s leadership. Also in 1909 a noiseless typewriter was developed in Austria, arousing some interest in the US. Then, of course, there was the ill-fated Albany-backed Silent Typewriter Company, a sort of subsidiary of Noiseless and involving Ely, Kidder and Charles William Colby. Quite why two companies had to be incorporated to make the same machine remains a mystery (at least to me).


The Noiseless, with its creeping tiger logo, did finally reach the market, in March 1912, under the guidance of Kidder, William Albert Lorenz and Joseph Albert Ronchetti. By that time, however, the Middletown plant had already closed and its workers laid off, and the original company called in the receivers in October 1913. This company changed its name to the Middletown Typewriter Company in June 1914, and three days later a new Noiseless Typewriter Company was incorporated, under the presidency of Joseph Merriam. It took over the Middletown plant, which was in part set aside for making munitions during World War I, and re-employed former workers. Eventually, in May 1917, the upgraded Noiseless went on sale, 15 months after Typewriter Topics announced it was ready to go.


In the period between 1911-15 there were two rather bizarre claims from so-called “inventors of the noiseless typewriter”. One was “Noiseless Joe” O’Byrne (1879-1929), a former miner in Jarbidge, Elko County, Nevada, and later professor of descriptive geometry at the Colorado School of Mines, whose idea was no more than a large casing device to create a “vacuum chamber”. “I remove the noisy medium, air, from around the machine,” O’Byrne wrote in his patent application. Two years later he said he had sold the rights to a Springfield, Massachusetts, typewriter manufacturer for $10,000. (Densmore, which had manufactured its machines in Springfield, had shifted to Bridgeport, Connecticut, in September 1905.) O’Byrne did achieve some fame, designing the landmark “M” on Mount Zion and creating Foss’s ice cream. Another “noiseless” typewriter idea came from John Sanders McRaven (1870-1951) of Little Rock, Arkansas, a man with extensive experience in the typewriter business, who in 1914 wanted to manufacture in Cincinnati an upright platen machine which would be “almost noiseless”.


In September 1915 L.C. Smith had made an effort to convince potential buyers that its Model 8 “would seem to be as nearly silent as human ingenuity could make a typebar machine”. Typewriter Topics said the industry “has had practically no advance knowledge” of its arrival. L.C. Smith labelled the typewriter, designed by Carl Gustav Gabrielson, as the “Silent Smith”, when by its own admission it had merely reduced noise by between 50 and 75 per cent. This was primarily down to ball-bearings. “The most striking feature of this new writing machine,” said Topics, “is its silence. It meets in no uncertain manner the growing demand for a quiet machine, and fulfils what many regard as the chief issue in the campaign of making and marketing typewriters.” Topics explained that “Ball bearings throughout continue as a Smith Brothers feature which has been an immeasurable benefit to operators of that machine, speed and light touch as a consequence of the ball-bearing construction now being even more attractive to the user than heretofore because of the present accompanying noiselessness of operation.”  


Five-and-a-half years after the new Noiseless had appeared, Remington put its “Quiet” Model 12 on the market, having come to a conclusion about market trends more rapidly than it had ever done before. And it had more than competing with the Noiseless on its mind. On the surface it seemed the Noiseless had turned out to be a typewriting triumph, and on November 15, just as hatchets were being buried in the boardroom at Ilion, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia awarded Colby, representing the resurrected Noiseless company, the Longstreth Medal for engineering a “thoroughly successful commercial noiseless typewriter”. Yet a mere three weeks later, on December 5, the company filed a final certificate for dissolution, ending its corporate existence in Connecticut. Why? It was moving to Delaware, to become on January 30, 1924, the Remington-Noiseless Typewriter Corporation, with Remington president Benjamin La Fon Winchell at its head.  George Gould Going, who had worked for Noiseless, transferred his allegiance to new masters and quickly set about adapting the Noiseless into the Remington-Noiseless (the hyphen was significant, in that the product wasn’t a noiseless Remington, but the result of Remington and Noiseless amalgamating).


So much for Remington’s own attempt at a “quiet” typewriter – which, after all, had only ever been an attempt by Seib (who also designed the Remington 10) to reduce noise by padding the interior of the mask and further enclosing the mechanics.  His November 1922 patent application stated that, “One of the specific objects of the invention is to provide a noise reducing or sound deadening frame for a typewriting machine; another object is to provide closures, plates or panels having sound deadening characteristics to a marked degree; and another object is to provide an improved typebar rest which minimises the noise due to the impact of the typebars on their return after printing, and is moreover so related to other parts of the machine as to assist in providing a substantially enclosed space to accommodate the actuating mechanism for the typebars.”


In this, Seib was merely following the example of Hess, who had patented something approaching Kidder’s Noiseless typebar action for the Royal “Q Model
. In his July 1921 patent application, Hess said, “the typebars abut against a striking plate which serves to assist in stopping the movement of the bars and to ease the intensity of the impact of the type on the platen. In such machines considerable noise is made when the type strike the platen and when the typebars impinge on the striking plate, and the principal object of my present invention is to materially reduce such noise. This I accomplish by eliminating the striking plate and by a new way of connecting the key levers with the typebars which is such that the depression of the keys will cause the type to be raised positively to a point in front of the platen and a considerable distance therefrom and thereafter to be moved into contact with the platen by the momentum of the typebars. This is done each time that a key 1s depressed and before it has commenced its return movement after depression. In this way, while the typebars are carried upward with an accelerated movement this movement is arrested quickly before the type reach the platen while the momentum of the typebars, obtained by this accelerated movement, causes the type to impinge the platen with reduced force and with consequent reduction in noise but with sufficient power to make clear impressions.”


The Hess patent, in terms of the “arrested” typebar movement, indicates a closer relationship to what Kidder, Nils Hjalmar Anderson and Going had, between them, achieved with the Noiseless. Royal promoted its “Q Model” by saying it had “an impressive quietness of operation”. The new Model 10 was unveiled to the company’s staff in February 1922, but The Wall Street Journal, forever nudging Remington along, had declared the Royal to be both “practically noiseless” but “not absolutely noiseless” in a puff piece published on October 1, 1921. It compared the sound of the Royal to “the very light running shuttle in a modern sewing machine”. So pleased was Royal with the Hess design that it took the unusual step of including the patent number in its advertising, describing it as an “exclusive mechanical feature”. Royal said the Special Model 10 was the “typewriter of today – and the future. [It] embodies the last word in a light-running, quiet key action.” But the quiet was “notable” rather than “complete”.


Was there ever such a thing as a “completely noiseless” typebar typewriter? Remington began to advertise its Model 7 portable as such in 1948. But four decades after Fluffy Ruffles had stopped flipping the keys with tuneful clicks, the novelty had quite worn off.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Horsewhipped For His Love of a ‘Typewriter’


Philandering Henry Truesdale Morgan was a man for whom the people at the Springfield Union and the Pittsfield Sun in Massaschusetts had little sympathy. Indeed, the Union’s and the Sun’s reporters positively relished covering the story when, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 11, 1891, Morgan was horsewhipped in his New York Life Insurance Company office at 317 Main Street, Springfield, by one George William Pratt, the then 17-year-old brother of Morgan’s ‘typewriter’, Alice Richmond Pratt, just 19 and 18 years Morgan’s junior.

Under the headline “The Checkered Career of Henry T. Morgan: Horsewhipped by his Typewriter’s Brother – His Springfield Doings”, the Sun said, “The affairs of Henry T. Morgan have formed a general topic of conversation during the past week. It isn’t by any means the first time that Morgan has come in for unpleasant notoriety, for his career of the past few years has been sprinkled with incidents of a more or less scandalous nature. The recent revelations concerning him, however, have caused a vast amount of gossip and have not surprised at least a few people who knew of his goings on in Springfield since he left this city [Pittsfield].”

The newspaper went on to say that Morgan had been, until a few years previously, “a respected Pittsfield merchant”. He was doing good business in the clothing trade. “He had married an estimable young woman of Norwich, Connecticut, and they were well liked in Pittsfield”. The “estimable young woman” was Sarah Adams Osgood (1855-1926), who married Morgan in Norwich on September 27, 1876, she at the age of 21 and he 23 by a fortnight. Their son, William Osgood Morgan, was born on January 19, 1879. He lived until 1966.

“Recently,” the Sun went on in 1891, “Morgan gained a name for paying undue attention to various women. Nothing of this sort was made public concerning him until his intimacy with a certain milliner in one of the large dry goods stores became so notorious as to find its way into print. Mrs Morgan proved herself to be one of the most trustful, devoted wives man ever made. In the face of the disgusting notoriety which her husband had gained for himself she still refused to believe the stories of his infidelity. For a time it looked as if Morgan had resolved to lead a straighter life.” The unfortunate milliner “whose name had been so disagreeably associated with his” was practically driven out of town.

But Morgan’s “good resolutions, if he had any, did not amount to a great deal, for in a year more or less, more stories of his amorous affairs began to circulate. One of his numerous intimacies was common talk about town.” His clothing business failed and he went into insurance work. Then fresh rumours emerged of his “affections for another woman, a young typewriter in his Springfield office”. To add indignation to outrage, Morgan then filed for divorce from Sarah, citing “extreme cruelty”.

Outrage turned to a whipping, when Alice Pratt’s younger brother George read a stash of correspondence between Alice and Morgan. George turned up at Morgan’s office, saying Morgan was “paying undesirable attentions” to his sister. George, the Sun said, was “old enough to see how things were going”. George first ordered Alice to leave, then instructed Morgan to make her leave. Rebuffed on both fronts, George left and returned soon after, armed with a rawhide whip. Again his requests were denied, so he produced the whip from a pocket and said to Morgan, “Then, take this.” The Sun said George had done “the proper thing in administering a thrashing to the man who has lowered his sister’s name into the dust.” Six days after the whipping Morgan was sacked by the New York Life Insurance Company, owing it $200.

The Boston Globe reported that in efforts to keep Alice away from Morgan’s evil grip, her family had tried to have her installed in a Episcopal seminary in Peekskill, New York, then at the Boston Conservatory of Music. But each time she returned to Morgan’s employ. The Globe headlined its story of the whipping: “Used a Rawhide. Springfield Lad Struck Agent Morgan. Young Pratt was All Prepared to Chastise. Found His Pretty Sister In Agent’s Office. Mandate to Go Home Was Not Obeyed. Perusal of Love Missives Was Cause of His Indignation.”

Close to the first anniversary of his whipping, on June 23, 1892, Morgan married Alice. They settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, and had two sons, Henry Truesdale Morgan II (1903-1967) and Crossett Morgan (1909-1983). In 1910 members of both the Morgan (Henry’s mother Mareietta) and Pratt (Alice’s cousin Cora Crossett) families were living cosily together with Alice and Henry and their offspring under the one roof, the bitterness of 1891 all but forgotten. Alice, born on September 19, 1871, in Springfield, Massachusetts, died in 1919, aged 48. Morgan, born at Chatham Center, Columbia, New York, September 10, 1853, died on January 30, 1923, aged 69. By 1910 George Pratt, born in Springfield on November 8, 1873, had gone to live in Oakland, California, and was still alive in the 1930s. Sarah, Morgan’s first wife, remarried in Norwich on February 21, 1894, to William Wirt Gamwell (1850-1913), and had a son by him in 1898, to join two stepchildren. She died on October 23, 1926, aged 71.    

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Three Thousand Thank-Yous for Giving me this Remington Model 2 Portable Typewriter Back


This Remington Model 2 portable typewriter will appear in the upcoming epic fantasy romance film Three Thousand Nights of Longing, being made in Sydney by George Miller (of Mad Max fame) and due for release in September. The movie stars Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. The two-month filming schedule finally got underway last December, more than six weeks after I had sold the Remington to the production company. After filming they decided it was best off back in my collection, so yesterday they returned it to me for free. A far better outcome than most of my past experiences with film and theatre companies wanting to use typewriters! I was amazed when the set decorating co-ordinator called and said the company felt that instead of the typewriter languishing, gathering dust, among props at the studio, it should be back with me here. I didn’t think twice about accepting! It is, after all, a $60 million production.


Miller wrote the script and directed Three Thousand Years of Longing, said to be a love story involving a genie. He took some time away from films after the release of his Oscar-winning Mad Max: Fury Road before embarking of this latest project, saying of it that “It’s the anti-Mad Max”. Three Thousand Years of Longing is the story of two people over a very long period of time. Other than that, who knows what to expect? Miller’s long-time producing partner, Doug Mitchell, said the sets are “some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen”, and that’s saying something. Mitchell adeed, “George thinks this is the best crew he has ever worked with.” Miller himself has let loose this much: “It’s a movie that is very strongly visual, but it’s almost the opposite of Fury Road. It’s almost all interior and there’s a lot of conversation in it. There are action scenes, but they are by-the-by …” The International Movie Database says, “A scholar, content with life, encounters a Djinn who offers her three wishes in exchange for his freedom. Their conversation, in a hotel room in Istanbul, leads to consequences neither would have expected.”

Filming was also due to take place in Turkey and Britain, but in the end the entire movie was shot in Australia. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired the distribution rights last May and will distribute via its United Artists Releasing label.

Today was a day of double-celebration, as I had my two sons, grandson and grand-daughter and two daughters-in-law together for my 73rd birthday celebrations:

Friday, 9 April 2021

The Canadian Newspaper Columnist Who Loved Pounding Typewriters

So enamored was Richard Moorsom Harrison with portable typewriters that, armed with a brand new Corona from the Bulmer Typewriter Company in Windsor, Ontario, he light-heartedly envisaged Paul Revere, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte and Horatio Nelson using them. Harrison may have had some insight into this, as his middle name honoured Admiral Sir Robert Moorsom, an officer of the British Royal Navy who served during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic Wars and in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Trent Frayne wrote of Dick Harrison in Maclean’s magazine edition of May 1, 1947, “When he is working he glowers past his cigar at his typewriter, completely absorbed. With his shirt sleeves rolled up a couple of turns he sits patiently awaiting his thoughts and when he gets them he attacks the machine viciously, rapidly and in short spurts. The protesting keys throw up a clatter not unlike that of a machine gun and they seem to take their worst beating when Harrison is thumping out, with two fingers, his ‘Now’ column.”

It would be difficult to image in this day and age of world leaders warring with the Press that a prime minister or president would pay tribute to a newspaper columnist with the words, “He was a benevolent philosopher and humorist and I am very saddened by his death.” But this is exactly how Canadian Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker described Richard Moorsom Harrison when he heard that Harrison had died suddenly after a heart attack, at 3pm on May 14, 1958, aged 61.


Dick Harrison had written for the Windsor Daily Star on the south side of the Detroit River in Ontario for almost 33 years. In a wonderful profile by Trent Frayne, titled “The Joyful Sage of Windsor” and published in Canadian news magazine Maclean’s on May 1, 1947, Frayne wrote, “Something of a legend in his own time, Richard Moorsom Harrison is one of the most prolific newspapermen in the country, and, the testimony of his contemporaries records, one of the most remarkable in a remarkable business. Harrison is known variously to readers of the Windsor Daily Star, for which he toils six nights a week, as R.M.H., Annie Oakley and plain R. M. Harrison. He is the paper’s columnist, theatre and music critic, book reviewer and editorial paragraphest.  While no one ever has sat down to count his nightly output it is estimated that he subjects his typewriter to roughly 2500 more or less hardwon words per nightly sitting.


“His most widely read endeavor is a double column, page-length feature called 'Now', which appears under his own by-line on the first page of the second section. For the editorial page he turns out a potpourri of nonsense called 'Starbeams' which is signed with his initials. 'R.M.H.' also trademarks his theatre and music criticism, his territory ranging across the river into Detroit for first nights and other highlights of that city’s cultural gropings. Annie Oakley is Harrison’s pseudonym for movie reviews and theatrical promotion roundups. He contributes anywhere from eight to 11 editorial paragraphs every day, including his day off. These are the two- and three-line observations on a newspaper editorial page or in a separate column; pithy, succinct, often barbed, frequently subtle comments on controversial subjects. Personally Harrison is one of those interesting people about whom the man must have been thinking who observed that in the newspaper business you meet all sorts of interesting people, and they’re all in the newspaper business.”


Harrison was born on July 11, 1896, in Carberry, Manitoba. His mother, Julie Mathilde (née Cotte) was descended from the first white child born in what is now the city of Montreal (then 
Fort Ville-Marie)Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maisonneuve, first French governor of Montreal, was that boy’s godfather. Dick Harrison began his journalism career with a Winnipeg weekly, the Northwest Review, then went to the Saskatoon Star in 1915 on $12.50 a week and joined the Windsor Daily Star on September 10, 1925.  He had been writing his “Sunbeams” column in Saskatoon and transferred it to Windsor, where it first appeared the day after he joined the Daily Star. His health began to fail after a heart attack at the Windsor Press Club in the spring of 1955. In September 1957 he was stricken with a brain hemorrhage (he called it a “junior thrombosis”) while returning to Windsor from New York. Another heart attack occurred on March 6, 1958. He recovered and returned to work after all these setbacks.


Perhaps one of the most notable among the many awards Harrison won was the 1951 Freedom Award from the British American Association of Coloured Brothers of Ontario in recognition of Harrison’s constant stand for tolerance among people of different races. Throughout his career he also fought particularly hard for the rights of women.

Harrison wrote in his April 25, 1940, "Starbeams" column that it had been inspired by buying a Corona portable from Wilf Bulmer, below:

Frayne wrote of him: “Harrison is regarded as one of Canada’s best all-round newspapermen, and one of the most brilliant writers. Gillis Purcell [general manager of The Canadian Press] calls him ‘a real student of the technique of newspaper work’. He can handle and has handled any assignment or job in the business from head[line] writing to copyreading to slot man to sports editor to feature writing to straight reporting.”

Mention of typewriters on bicycle handlebars brings me to this, jokingly seen in the late 19th Century as the "Future for journalists, writing articles on the bike".

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Earl Victor Broughton Brandenburg’s Cleveland Article: Typewritten ‘Super Scoops’ (II)

Broughton Brandenburg dressed as an Italian immigrant at Ellis Island, for his 1904 book Imported Americans; The Story of the Experiences of a Disguised American and His Wife Studying the Immigration Question.

He was the sweet-talkin' son of a preacher man who became one of America’s more notorious serial swindlers. Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems somewhat surprising that in March 1908, three months before former President Grover Cleveland died, The New York Times was foolhardy enough to agree to pay “literary agent” Broughton Brandenburg $500 ($14,300 in today’s money) for a 3000-word article allegedly written by Cleveland while the former president was on his death bed. Only four months earlier Brandenburg had been involved in a bribery and blackmail plot against labor union leader Samuel Gompers (1850-1924), so he had some form in this regard. It turned out that stenographer Lillian Mae Bacon (1889-1941) had bought the typewriter on which the Cleveland article was written on July 20, 1908, almost a month after Cleveland had died. Ms Bacon testified to this in the criminal branch of the Supreme Court of New York City on June 17, 1909, during a trial in which Brandenburg faced a charge of grand larceny in the second degree.


At the same trial, The New York Times’ managing director, the great journalist William Charles Reick (above, 1865-1924), said that in early September 1908, a week after the article had been published, “doubt about its genuineness began to bother him”. Too late! The article, regarded as “anti-Bryan” by most readers, must have been too great a temptation for the Times to resist leading into the 1908 US Presidential election, especially given Brandenburg’s dicey background. Though Cleveland was one of only two Democrats to be elected president during the era of Republican presidential domination from 1861 to 1933, the Brandenburg article indicated Cleveland favoured Republican candidate, William Howard Taft, over the Democrat nomination, William Jennings Bryan, who ran a vigorous campaign against the nation's business elite, attacking “government by privilege”. The Republicans were certain of a safe victory, the Cleveland article correctly predicted. It lauded Taft’s “high ideals of honesty and justice” and said, “The South has long taken a stubborn, foolish pride in its enlistment under the Democracy”.


During Brandenburg’s grand larceny trial, Prosecutor Charles Cooper Nott Jr (above, 1869-1957), the then New York Assistant District Attorney, called Ms Bacon, who said she had typed the article according to Brandenburg’s dictation on August 10. It was published by The New York Times in the magazine section of its Sunday edition on August 30, Brandenburg’s 32nd birthday. Ms Bacon had read the published article and recognised it as the one she had typed less than three weeks earlier. She recalled Brandenburg saying at the time that the text she typed was “Clevelandesque”. Her evidence was supported by her young assistant, Madeline Ruth Fearon.



David Nunes Carvalho (right, 1848-1925), a questioned documents examiner of typescripts, ink, handwriting and paper, and the author of Forty Centuries of Ink (1904), told the court he had spent many years studying work done by typewriters, and that Ms Bacon’s typescript matched typing done with the machine she had owned. He was backed up by another typewriting expert, Harry J. Humphrey, of Ilion. But Carvalho’s evidence that the Cleveland signature on the article was a forgery was much more damning. It forced a confession of sorts from Brandenburg on June 18, 1909, when he claimed the real signature had somehow been substituted. These were desperate times for Brandenburg, who could find more ways out of a tight corner than a toilet rat.

The New York Times had, admittedly, satisfied itself at the time it negotiated with Brandenburg for the article that it really had been written by Cleveland. What it didn’t know, until the June 1909 trial, was that earlier in August 1908 the New York Herald had been smart enough to reject the Brandenburg document before it was offered to the Times. It was only after the Herald had turned down the article that Brandenburg had it retyped by Ms Bacon in a more “Clevelandesque” style. The New York Times Sunday editor, Charles Monroe Lincoln (1866-1950), had negotiated with Brandenburg, but it was Reick and fellow co-owner, editor-in-chief Charles Ransom Miller (1849-1922), who made the decision to pay Brandenburg his asking price, accepting the article to be genuine. Reick and Lincoln had come to that decision on the word of Cleveland’s executor, Frank Seymour Hastings (1853-1924). However, Cleveland’s young widow, Frances Clara Cleveland (née Folsom; 1864-1947), still the youngest wife of a sitting president, was among the first to doubt the authenticity of the article. She later testified that her late husband was incapable of writing his signature in full in March 1908. Once the widow Cleveland became suspicious, Hastings quickly notified The New York Times that he was withdrawing his assurances of the article’s validity, then ducked for cover. Again, too late! The Times was less than impressed with him.  Brandenburg was arrested in his home city of Dayton, Ohio, on October 22, 1908.

Frank Hastings and the late President Cleveland's widow leave the trial.

Not surprisingly, given the judge’s summation, on June 29, 1909, Brandenburg managed to get himself acquitted of the grand larceny charge, the jury being unanimous on a second ballot. Justice James Fitzgerald (1851-1922) told jurors that the only thing they had to decide was whether Brandenburg stole the $500. They must acquit him if they found the Times had relied solely on the reputation of Hastings as to the genuineness of the article. The forged signature was immaterial, Justice Fitzgerald added, as forgery was not what Brandenburg had been charged with. But Brandenburg was immediately rearrested and returned to The Tombs, this time for kidnapping his stepson, James Sheppard Cabanne III. He was convicted and fined $500. The next year he was arrested for passing a dud cheque and in 1911 he was sent to Sing Sing for forgery.


In 1919 Brandenburg (above) reappeared as the Earl Victor Broughton Van (also Von) Brandenburg, an “ex-officer of the Czar”, who was involved in a shady stock concern, and the next year he was sent back to Sing Sing, convicted of selling stock in a mythical asbestos mine on Staten Island. Jail time kept mounting up: 1926, second degree larceny; 1933 petit larceny.

President Cleveland: The New York Herald recognised a fake when it saw one.

His real name all along was Earl Victor Broughton Brandenburg, and he was born on August 30, 1876, in Vandalia, Montgomery, Ohio, son of a then 19-year-old Albert Fowler Brandenburg (1856-1924), later a minister in the United Brethren Church. In 1893 Brandenburg started work as the Dayton Journal Herald’s “classy” reporter. He was the newspaper’s “dandy”, the Journal recalled in 1941, “an all-round street man” covering the theatre, concerts and society’s charity balls in silk topper, cutaway coat and tails, steel gray trousers and patent leather shoes. He covered the 1898 Spanish–American War for Ohio newspapers, then joined New York World and later worked for the Buffalo Daily Review. He was commissioned by Leslie’s Monthly and Collier’s Weekly to investigate immigration problems. Things started to unravel after he married Valine Workman Elsess on New Year’s Eve 1902. She called him “Brandy” but perhaps should have dropped one of the letters. The Journal thought he had passed on by 1941, but in fact he was back living in the area, in New Paris, a village which is part of the Dayton metropolitan area. He died there on February 1, 1963, aged 86, and was buried in Vandalia.