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Tuesday 30 March 2021

Typewriters in the Sky

A woman alights from a Westland Limousine with a Royal 10 typewriter in July 1919.

This blog has shown in the past few months that Britain can lay claim to very few “firsts” in typewriter history. But one I think it may be entitled to relates to using typewriters in the air. In its June 1920 edition, Typewriter Topics drew the attention of its American readers to “The Business Man’s Aeroplane” taking to the skies over England. Topics said the plane was “equipped as an office” and illustrated the point with photographic evidence provided by the English Speaking Union, an international educational charity founded by journalist Sir Evelyn Wrench in 1918. In the same issue of Tropics the Corona advertisement showing a man using the folding portable while flying in a Curtis JN-4 ‘Jenny’ made its first appearance (see below). The ‘Jenny” had been in the air since at least November 1917,

“The Business Man’s Aeroplane” had, in fact, been flying in Britain for almost a year before Topics caught sight of it. The first mention of an aircraft specially fitted for typewriter use that I can find appeared on the front page of the London Daily Mirror on January 28, 1919, with a large halftone under the heading “Up-to-Date Business Man’s Flying Office”.  But this is clearly a Royal Air Force plane – the image shows it with an RAF roundel (the RAF was formed in April 1918) – and not the aircraft in the Topics images.

The aircraft in Topics was a Westland Limousine, a single-engined four-seat light transport biplane built for Westland Aircraft Works by Petter’s Ltd in Yeovil in south Somerset and powered by a Rolls-Royce Falcon Mark III engine. The first of these commercial aircraft took to the sky in July 1919. It was developed by civil aviation pioneer Robert Arthur Bruce (right, 1869-1948) as the “private motor car of the air”. Its use as a plane in which “a business man can dictate letters to his typist and sign the completed letter while on his way to his appointment” was publicised on August 2, 1919, after successful trial flights.

Between 1919 and 1921 there were many claims about the original use of a typewriter in the air, but this British breakthrough would appear to have got up there first. In the United States, Joplin, Missouri, editor Philip Ray Coldren (left, 1882-1955) claimed he was the first newspaper man to type a story in the skies after going aloft with French-born barnstormer Joseph Benjamin ("Joe Ben") Lievre (1888-1980) on January 13, 1921. Coldren had a Corona strapped to his knees when he entered his aviation cauldron. “I made up my mind to write something on a typewriter in an airplane and by the time we were 10 feet up I began. Every time we dipped a little I took my hands from the keyboard to grab the frame of the plane … I wouldn’t have unfastened the belt for the finest editorial inspiration in the world.” During a loop-the-loop the Corona’s carriage toppled over on to Coldren’s fingers.

This what Coldren typed during his flight:

“Well, here we are some hundreds of feet off the ground with Joe Ben Lievre trying to do something new under the sun. So far as we know there never have been any editorials written in an airplane, though it strikes us as quite possible that some day in the future the big editors are going to take advantage of this new system for getting clear of Mother Earth for a nice quiet place to write. Why not? Up here there is some noise, it is true, but they used to say of Horace Greeley that he could write just as good an editorial with a brass band playing as in perfect quiet.

“This typewriter is showing signs of engine trouble, but probably the trouble is with the engineer. Sure hope it doesn’t fall down with us at this altitude (!) Just as we got this written we ran into a heavy fog, which, of course, means that we are in a cloud. Under the circumstances, a man’s thoughts might be expected to be a little cloudy, might they not? But if one got used to it, he ought to be inspired to write some real ‘high-brow’ stuff.

“One impression to be gained from this altitude is that the entire district is pretty small, after all. It seems queer that some of the people who live over toward the north there should ever get it into their heads that their needs and desires are any different from those people who live such a little way over to the south. Probably if more people would take airplane rides they would have a broader vision.

“There is another moral pointed by this airplane business, too, and that is that it is a lot pleasanter to go up and straight ahead than it is to go down. There is a sinking sensation that some portion of your anatomy registers when you start on the downward route that probably is not much dissimilar to the feeling of a man who wakes up after a morning of dissipation and feels he is on the way to Gehenna. [In rabbinic literature, Gehenna is a destination of the wicked.] 

“Too many writers have written about the wonderful view from an airplane to make any attempt of the sort justified here, but it is a fact that a man up in an airplane gets an entirely new idea of what a beautiful country southwest Missouri is. There may be others equally as beautiful, but -

“Lievre just shouted back that he is going to loop-the-loop –

“He did!”

Saturday 27 March 2021

RIP Larry McMurtry (1936-2021)

The legendary Larry McMurtry has passed away at the age of 84. He died on Thursday at his home in Archer City, Texas. Typewriter lovers will forever salute him for his acceptance speech at the 2006 Golden Globes, when he paid tribute to his Hermes 3000. He and Diana Ossana won the Best Screenplay Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, adapted from a short story by E. Annie Proulx. "I thank my typewriter," McMurtry said at the Golden Globes. "My typewriter is a Hermes 3000, surely one of the noblest instruments of European genius. It has kept me for 30 years out of the dry embrace of the computer."

ozTypewriter Reaches 4.5 Million

ozTypewriter has just reached 4.5 million page views, a long-awaited target which, not so long ago, I thought wouldn’t be attained until May. It has arrived one month after the blog marked 10 years, and it now has 2650 posts.

For once a milestone was reached at a reasonable hour of the day (3.38 on a sunny Saturday afternoon), so I could come inside from gardening to watch the counter tick over. Again, I must thank Bill MacLane in Kalamazoo (one of my favourite place names) and Richard Polt in Cincinnati (one of my favourite cities) for their great and constant support. When a parcel arrived in the post from Bill earlier this week, with the gift of two spring hooks inside, it seemed to me to be extremely timely. Bill enclosed a wonderful letter about the blog, and it’s through people like him and Richard that I’ve been motivated to keep the blog going. How much longer I can’t say, but for the time being I seem to be still able to find things to write and post about.

There are obviously many hundreds of other typewriter fanatics out there who I should also thank. Please know I appreciate the effort you all make to pop in and have a look at ozTypewriter each day. You keep me keeping on (at least for the foreseeable future).

Friday 26 March 2021

March 1921: Remington Was Self-Destructing When its Portable Typewriter Saved the Day

That the triumph of its four-bank portable saved the Remington Typewriter Company from self-destructing in 1921-22 is evident from The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of 21 months of bitter boardroom and courtroom in-fighting between the company’s shareholders and its board of directors. A group of justifiably upset investors had seized control of Remington in January 1916 with a five-year voting trust, resulting from a bond issue which had saved Remington from an even earlier demise. In May 1919 the voting trust put a finance committee in charge of operations, but the conservative “old guard”, refusing advice from this committee, had regained command by May 1920. A truce was finally settled on in mid-November 1922, following the elevation of Benjamin La Fon Winchell (1858-1942) to the presidency, succeeding Frank Nicholas Kondolf (1863-1944).

"Let's get back on track," says ex-railways boss Benjamin La Fon Winchell.

It was almost exactly 100 years ago, in mid-March 1921, that The Wall Street Journal signaled fresh “trouble at mill” at Ilion. A large part of the festering problems being experienced by Remington had been caused by four years of its board's refusal – from 1916 to 1920 – to respond to constant urging from the voting trust to bring out a portable. Unfortunately, the Journal added, by the time Remington did produce a portable, Corona was selling 120,000 machines a year. “[Corona] has the field practically usurped,” said the newspaper. “Here again, Remington’s failure to appreciate the industry’s trend is the cause.”

Remington planned an annual output of 250,000 portables, but its total production of all typewriter models in 1919 was 120,000 machines, rising to 165,000 in 1920. It earned $2.9 million in 1919 but just $1.9 million in 1920. Ultimately, of course, Remington was to win over the portable market from the three-bank Coronas and Underwoods, once production delays were overcome. And the board settlement of November 1922 had much to do with the early inroads the portable had made, stablising the company’s finances and showing that in spite of all the bickering, Remington could still get some things right.   

Neither one thing nor the other.
In a scathing critique of Remington’s blind obstinacy from the turn of the century to 1920, the Journal said that just as Remington had declared an efficient visible writing standard typewriter a mechanical impossibility, so too had it said the same thing about a portable typebar machine weighing under 10lb. “So [Remington] proceeded to put forth, as a great advance in typewriter design, the Remington Junior. This machine, on account of its weight, was not ‘portable’, and because of its double shift was not an office machine. Therefore, having no field, it proved a disaster.”

Calling for changes to the board of directors, the Journal said, “The same people who refused to recognise the value of the visible typewriter, and so would not buy out Underwood for $1.5 million, and who had so little mechanical understanding as to foster the Remington Junior, are in charge of the Remington company.” Earlier, the Journal said, “There was a time when Remington stood first in the typewriter field and there was no second. And there was a time also when it could have bought out Underwood. This was in 1903 when Remington shares as dividend shares were selling to 130. But sound financial management did not prevail .” The company’s shares sunk to 8⅛ in 1915. Bonds issued for new capital resulted in the voting trust being installed.

The Journal believed a fear that control of the company would not change at the April 1921 annual meeting was the reason its shares were “showing such peculiar weakness”. With earnings down $1 million on 1919-20, the newspaper pointed out Remington’s shares had gone from 105½ in October 1919 to 24½ in February 1921. Given Remington had started to sell its improved Model 10 standard (the “self-starter”) only a few weeks earlier, and was pushing production to meet huge demand for the portable - both in the US and overseas - the newspaper put the company’s share weakness down to boardroom matters. The Journal said there was apprehension in the stock exchange concerning the outcome of Remington’s annual meeting in April. It was anticipated there would be a new challenge from shareholders over the way Remington was being operated. The Journal said, “The financial district does not view an inventory increase and the borrowing of $1 million soon after the old regime regained control as indicative of the type of management the company needed in uncertain times like the present.”

The share value had dropped in December 1920 but picked up by 13 points to 37½ in January. That there was renewed weakness in February 1921 gave the Journal clues about the wariness of investors having little to do with the company’s line of typewriters. “Many attach far greater importance to certain internal factors in the situation than to the external signs of the company’s progress and renewed life [with the Model 10 and the portable],” the Journal said. “The real reason for the decline appears to be an increasingly belief that the general run of Remington stockholders do not realise what is the real weakness in the company, and that therefore at the annual meeting next month the same crowd which ran the company into the ditch in 1915 will secure control of the board and again dictate Remington’s policies.” The Journal said a lack of financial foresight and conservatism had resulted in inventories rising from $6 million to $10 million since May 1920 (in the same period Underwood increased its stock of typewriters by $250,000). Close to $1 million had been spent on buying and equipping a plant in Flushing to meet overseas orders for the portable, followed by the borrowing of another $1 million.

George Ed Smith
The Journal quoted an unnamed source, “one of the most prominent men in the industry”, as stressing that no typewriter company had succeeded without having a president thoroughly acquainted with typewriters. “Inevitably the prestige of a typewriter company begins quickly to decline as soon as those in charge of its affairs lose touch with the industry and are no longer able to anticipate the trend in its development. The whole trouble with Remington ... is that with the passing of the ‘blind’ typewriter those in charge lost completely their touch with the trend in typewriter developments.” The Journal pointed to Underwood, saying it had succeeded with something Remington declared to be impossible [“visible writing’]. Similarly, Royal’s early success was attributed to it having George Ed Smith in charge.

“The Remington company today would not have the [L.C.] Smith, the Royal … and the Woodstock machines as serious competitors had the directors, 15 years or so ago, listened to L.C. Smith and striven to develop an efficient visible writer with which to meet the Underwood competition. Because of the refusal, year after year, of the Remington directors to realise the significance of the increasing seriousness of the Underwood competition, L.C. Smith withdrew from the Remington company [the Union Trust], and with the proceeds from the sale of his shares, began to develop the L.C Smith machine, which, within a few years, became one of the best visible models on the market.

“As a result of all this blindness, the Remington company, 13 years after Underwood displaced it from its commanding position in the typewriter industry, is out with the first really efficient visible model bearing the Remington name [the Model 10]; and even now would not have it on the market had it not been for four years of continual prodding by the voting trust to modernise the company’s standard model.”

Thursday 25 March 2021

Typewriters in the News

Another typewriter has appeared on a wall in Reading, England, just three weeks after the now world famous Banksy mural was spotted at Reading Gaol. This new black-and-white stencilled image looks exactly like the Banksy typewriter, but is on the wall of a bridge. First it was there on its own, now it is suspended below an image of a pensive boy beside the words, "Cherish, Love and Hope". The original at Reading Gaol had a "Team Robbo" tag added over the weekend, but that has now been removed. The new mural has under it the word "Peachy" in a typewriter font. All a bit of a mystery really. We know "Robbo" was a Banksy rival, and maybe "Peachy" is another street artist adopting the "Banksy-style". The original, an escaping prisoner using bedsheets to lower himself and a typewriter, was thought be to a nod to Reading Gaol's most famous prisoner, Oscar Wilde.


In Seifhennersdorf in Saxony, Germany, Steffi Rücker, dressed up as Lotti Langohr in an Easter bunny costume, sits at a Robotron typewriter in a wooden house on the grounds of the children's and youth recreation center "Querxenland". Baskets of mail from children arrive at the Upper Lusatian Easter Bunny Post Office every spring.


Yesterday was 
"Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day" in San Francisco. Here poet James O'Brien Makowski types on a Royal Quiet Deluxe portable during an impromptu gathering outside San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore in remembrance of Ferlinghetti, the bookstore's co-founder. The day before the gathering, February 22, Ferlinghetti had died of interstitial lung disease. Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti was a poet, social activist, publisher and painter. He would have celebrated his 102nd birthday yesterday. He was best known for his first collection of poems, A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), which has been translated into nine languages and has sold more than one million copies. 

Wednesday 24 March 2021

1889 Writers and their Views on Using Typewriters

Typewriters were still considered “newfangled” machines in 1889 when stenographer Sylvan Brooks Phillips (1866-1944), of Portland, Maine, writing for The Phonographic World, canvassed leading authors for their views on using typewriters in their work. One of the most enthusiastic replies came from Eleanor Maria Easterbrook Ames (1831-1908), who wrote under the name Eleanor Kirk, described by the New York Herald as “the most pronounced of the women’s rights women.” She used a Remington No 2 and likened the typewriter to the gift of a good angel, “a friend who is always ready and invariably correct … There is something irresistibly fascinating about this labor-saving apparatus of mine. The typewriter is one of my enthusiasms, and my delight and gratitude will last as long as the brain can plan and the hands can execute.” She praised the typewriter for its compactness, reliability and tidy work, which she said “raises [the typewriter] to the realm of the artistic”.
The Phonographic World was a magazine started by Kenosha, Wisconsin-born Enoch Newton Miner (1854-1923) in New York City in 1885, just 11 years after the typewriter first appeared on the market. Miner was a shorthand teacher before he became an editor and publisher, having been taught shorthand in Cincinnati by Elias Longley (1823-1899), who himself had learned phonography in Cincinnati, from Andrews & Boyle’s class book. Longley had started Phonetic Magazine in July 1848 and was the husband of eight-finger typing pioneer Margaret Longley (1830-1912). Miner moved to New York City soon after the advent of the typewriter and started a magazine called Phonetic Educator. It didn’t last long, but Miner’s second venture, The Phonographic World continued under his ownership from 1885 until 1912. In the latter year he sold the magazine and entered the business college line of work.

Eleanor Kirk

In its March 1889 edition, The Phonographic World started a series written by Phillips and called “How Authors Write”, which in particular elicited views on the use of the typewriter. Two identified their typewriter as a Remington No 2, one a Hammond and another a Caligraph. Here are the writers the magazine approached for its first installment:

Robert Jones Burdette
(1844-1914) was a Greensboro, Pennsylvania-born humorist. In 1869 he became night editor of the Peoria Daily Transcript. He joined the staff of the Burlington Hawkeye in 1872 and his humorous paragraphs were soon being quoted in newspapers throughout the US. In 1884, he left the Hawkeye to replace Stanley Huntley as the staff humorist for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

George William Curtis
(1824-1892) was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He worked for the New York Tribune, Putnam's Magazine and Harper's Weekly. He was involved in the founding of the Republican Party. In 1863 he became the political editor of Harper's Weekly and contributed to Harper's Magazine.

Robert Grant
(1852-1940) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His first novel appeared in 1880.

Charles Howard Montague
(1858-1889) was city editor of The Boston Globe when he died of typhoid fever aged just 31. His contribution to The Phonographic World had appeared eight months earlier. He was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, and had a story published by the Cambridge Tribune when he was still at school. He started his journalism career at the Tribune after graduating, later moving to the Somerville Journal and the Boston Traveller. He joined the Globe in December 1880, becoming city editor in 1886. Montague wrote several clever novels which were serialised in US newspapers.

Louise Chandler Moulton
(1835-1908) was a poet, story-writer and critic born in Pomfret, Connecticut. He contributed to Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic, The Galaxy and Scribner's.

William Osborn Stoddard (1835-1925) was an author, inventor and assistant secretary to Abraham Lincoln during Lincoln’s first term. He was born at Homer, New York, and started work in 1857 at the Daily Ledger in Chicago. The next year he was editor and proprietor of the Central Illinois Gazette in Champaign, Illinois. Stoddard first published work in 1869 and wrote both poetry and fiction, ultimately producing more than 100 books.

Murat Halstead
(1829-1908) was a newspaper editor and magazine writer, and a war correspondent during three wars. Halstead was born at Paddy's Run (now Shandon), Ohio, and begun contributing to newspapers when he was 18, writing for The Hamilton Intelligencer and The Roseville Democrat. While a student near Cincinnati he contributed to the Commercial and the Gazette. After leaving college, he became connected with the Cincinnati Atlas, and then with the Enquirer. He afterward established a Sunday newspaper in Cincinnati and worked on the Columbian and Great West, a weekly. He became news editor on the Commercial. The Cincinnati Gazette was consolidated with his paper in 1883. In 1890 he moved to Brooklyn, where he edited the Standard Union. He spent his later years writing books, mainly biographies, and contributing articles to magazines. He died in Cincinnati.

Frank Richard Stockton
(1834-1902) was a writer and humorist. He was born in Philadelphia and moved back there in 1867 to write for a newspaper founded by his brother. He was also an editor for Hearth and Home magazine.  Stockton's work of science fiction, The Great War Syndicate, describes a late 19th century British-American war in which an American syndicate made up of some of the country's richest men and ablest scientists conducts the war on behalf of the US. The Syndicate quickly wins this nearly bloodless war by repeatedly demonstrating an overwhelming technological superiority.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox
(1850-1919) was an author and poet. Her works include Poems of Passion and Solitude, which contains the lines “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” She was born on a farm in Johnstown, Wisconsin, and had her first poem published when she was 13.  Her poem “The Way of the World” was first published in The New York Sun in 1883.

Eleanor Maria Easterbrook Ames
(1831-1908) was known by her pen name, Eleanor Kirk. She wrote a number of books and published a magazine entitled Eleanor Kirk's Idea. She was also a regular contributor to The Revolution and Packard's Monthly. “Nellie” Easterbrook was born in Warren, Rhode Island, and later moved to Brooklyn. In 1870, the New York Herald said she was “the most pronounced of the women’s rights women.”

Mary Virginia Terhune
(née Hawes, 1830-1922) was known by her penname Marion Harland, a prolific and bestselling author in both fiction and non-fiction genres. Born in Dennisville, Virginia, she began her career writing articles at the age of 14. In 1871 she wrote Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery, a cookbook and domestic guide that was a huge bestseller, eventually selling more than one million copies over several editions. After breaking her wrist, Terhune learned to use a typewriter.

James Parton
(1822-1891) was born in Canterbury in England. He was a biographer who wrote books on the lives of Horace Greeley, Aaron Burr, Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, and “Eminent Women of the Age”.

William Henry Rideing
(1853-1918) was born in Liverpool, England, but raised in Chicago. At 17 he worked for the Springfield, Massachusetts Republican. In 1874 he gave up newspaper work to devote himself entirely to literature and magazine writing. In 1878 he served as special correspondent with the Wheeler Survey expedition in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, California, and Arizona. From 1881 Rideing edited Dramatic Notes in London, England. On his return to America he again entered journalism, in Boston.

Edward Eggleston
(1837-1902) was an historian and novelist. He was born in Vevay, Indiana, and ordained as a Methodist minister in 1856. He wrote a number of tales, some of which, especially the “Hoosier” series, attracted much attention.