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Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Taking it Home, to the Place it Belongs - West Virginia: Carl Augustus Joerissen’s Silent Writer

Herman Price Collection, Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum,
 Morgantown, West Viriginia.
This coming Saturday will be the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carl Augustus Joerissen, inventor of the basket-shift Joerissen Silent Writer. Joerissen was born in Ilion, New York, the home of the typewriter.

Carl Augustus Joerissen (1871-1942)

How fortuitous was it that in 2018 Carl Augustus Joerissen’s Silent Writer found its way into Herman Price’s Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum outside Morgantown in West Virginia? It’s a 100 years since this typewriter was conceived by Joerissen, in the early months of 1921, while he was convalescing from a serious illness at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, just 188 miles south of Morgantown. Joerissen had been a high-flyer within the Underwood Typewriter Company since he joined it in 1900, becoming its first branch manager and in turn rising from European director to “special representative”, vice-president and from 1913 the company’s 2IC as assistant to founder and president John T. Underwood. But the workload and almost constant overseas travel, mainly by sea to France, had taken its toll on Joerissen’s health. He was already a very wealthy man, and he and his wife, socialite and author Gertrude Laughlin Joerissen (1881-1933), moved among Washington DC’s crème de la crème, hosting dinners for aristocrats, ambassadors, politicians and high ranking government officials. From 1905 they entertained royally at their apartment in The Rochambeau on Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC, and in 1914 Joerissen paid $27,500 for a handsome three-story brick house at 1619 Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Washington, described at the time by the Washington Post as “one of the most attractive in the city”. Joerissen immediately had it remodeled and redecorated. (The price is $730,000 in today’s money, but the property is now worth about $28 million. More to the point, Joerissen paid the equivalent of 1.7 per cent of Underwood’s net profit that year of $1.665 million.) Worried about his health, Joerissen transferred the real estate to his wife for a token $10 in March 1921. Money wasn’t a problem for him, but his physical wellbeing was.

At White Sulphur Springs, the health scare forced Joerissen to start planning his future. Typewriter company administration was but one string to his bow, albeit the primary one. Typewriter design was another, and Joerissen knew that, if successful, there could be a good living to be made from it. Joerissen had been patenting designs for typewriters since the age of 22, in 1893, when he came up with an ingenious combined ribbon winder and type cleaner (above), which he half assigned to his German-born father, Louis Ferdinand Joerissen (1837-1909). Carl Joerissen patented 17 typewriter designs for Underwood between 1902 and 1911, by which stage travel commitments for Underwood made further design work next to impossible. Most pressing for him in 1921 – apart from recovering his health - was his concern that Underwood was surrendering a large slice of its potential market share by not entering the noiseless typewriter field. Royal had gone that way with a Quiet No 10 in 1921 and Remington was to follow with a Quiet No 12 in 1922. Joerissen had ideas of his own on this score, and came to believe there might be financial security in it.

By the time Joerissen decided to retire from Underwood, in 1926, at the relatively young age of 54, he was well off and able to meet the costs of his own planned venture into noiseless typewriter manufacturing. He also had the courage of his own convictions. Striking out for independence from Underwood, Joerissen had first applied for an unassigned patent for a “minimum noise” design on March 22, 1926, (#1846339, above) while he was still in Washington DC. This patent was issued on February 23, 1932, and reissued on February 13, 1934.  In the original application, Joerissen talked of overcoming “the objectionable noise produced by the typebars striking the platen
 and providing a key action whereby the typebars will be forced into printing relation with the platen by a positive movement, securing clear impressions, but without forcibly striking the platen.” He went on, “I am aware that it has been heretofore proposed to provide typewriter key actions in which the noise produced by the typebars striking the platen will be materially reduced, but by the present invention the movement of all the parts is positively effected through connections with the key lever, and without the necessity of employing auxiliary parts for imparting movement to the typebars.” He did, however, illustrate the invention “as embodied in a keys action mechanism of substantially the type employed in the well-known Underwood typewriting machine.”

Newspaper illustration accompanying its report on John T. Underwood's
May 1926 speech about a Chinese language typewriter. 
Joerissen’s independent move in this direction must be seen in the context of Underwood’s policies. In May 1926 John T. Underwood gave every indication he was more interested in the development of a Chinese language machine. Mr Underwood announced in New Haven, Connecticut, that his company had built just such a typewriter. (A Bridgeport-made four-bank portable was also released.) Admittedly Underwood was flourishing financially, with average net profits from 1916-1925 at 19.12 per cent on common stock. In November 1927, just four months after Remington had become Remington Rand, Underwood signaled a major change of direction itself when it merged with Elliott-Fisher, with John T. Underwood as chairman of the board and Elliott-Fisher’s Philip Dakin Wagoner (1876-1962) president and general manager.

As far as Joerissen’s interests were concerned, the most telling decision by Underwood came in June 1929, when it negotiated a five-year deal with Remington Rand to pay for the rights to use Remington’s patents covering the Remington Noiseless. Remington Rand chairman James H. Rand Jr told stockholders at their annual meeting in July 1929 that he believed this deal could be worth between $500,000 and $1 million a year to his company. Oddly enough, in September Underwood-Elliott shareholders were told $500,000 and $1 million was that company’s projected annual earnings from Noiseless sales. The Underwood Noiseless typewriters, almost identical to the Remington Noiseless machines produced in Middletown, Connecticut, were made in Hartford, Connecticut, and put on the market at $150, $50 dearer than a standard Underwood and $15 dearer than the Remington Noiseless. Naturally Underwood believed it stood to profit, but perhaps not as much as Remington Rand would from the arrangement. For Underwood, one key factor in the agreement was that bulk buyers, such as schools, were keen to both remain loyal to Underwood and yet have noiseless typewriters, too. Part of the patents deal was an understanding that rival salesman would not try to cut into one another’s territory. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said:

Whether Joerissen might have regarded himself as part of the “deadwood” swept clean from Underwood we may never know. If so, he may well have come to feel vindicated for his extra-curricular work. He was certainly not finished with his plan to produce a noiseless typewriter of his own. The Remington-Underwood Noiseless deal expired in 1934, although Underwood continued to market the Noiseless machines it had made, at ever-decreasing prices.

By this time Joerissen was based in Paris. He had become friendly with Britain's largest landowner, Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross, 9th Baronet (above, 1872-1942), a Scottish inventor, commercial entrepreneur, soldier and big game hunter. In an attempt to evade British tax on  income from arms manufacturing, Ross declared his Balnagown estate in Scotland to be a territory of the US, which led to his being branded an outlaw by the British Government. In 1930 Joerissen swapped his home at 1619 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington DC, for Ross’s house in Paris, on a 15-year lease deal. However, Joerissen’s wife became ill and the couple returned to Washington, where Gertrude died in the Mayflower Hotel in 1933. Joerissen, at the age of 63, remarried the next year and he and Elmina, the former Mrs Joachim (née Nance, 1888-1976), took up residence at 2100 Massachusetts Avenue. Carl adopted his second wife’s children. The Joerissens moved to 6900 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, just across the district line in Maryland. A $10,000 robbery there in 1938 gives a clue to their wealth: the theft included a mink coat, a silver-fox coat, linen, silverware and jewelry.

Joerissen was in Paris when, on June 7, 1931, he applied for a United States patent (#1918106, above, issued July 11, 1933) for his basket shift version of a noiseless. He said, “so far as I am aware, there is no machine which combines the advantages of noiseless action with the advantages of the basket shift. The probable reason for this is that noiseless actuating means which have been designed heretofore have involved rather complicated mechanism dependent upon the maintenance of a fixed relation between the keys and the typebars. The difficulty has been overcome by my invention by arranging the typebar actuating and checking means on the basket and designing them so that the swinging and checking actions are all accomplished by simple connections with the key levers whose operation is not disturbed by the shifting of the basket.”

It was, however, his earlier 1926 patent that Joerissen believed Remington Rand had infringed with an updated design by Remington’s George Gould Going (above) for the “new” Remington Noiseless. Joerissen’s case against Remington Rand was finally decided on July 11, 1938, in an appeal from the District Court for the District of Columbia. Joerissen appealed against an earlier judgement, but again lost his case. Chief Justice Duncan Lawrence Groner (1873-1957) presided with Associate Justices Henry White Edgerton (1888-1970) and Harold Montelle Stephens (1886-1955).

Going had applied for his patent (#1908140) on January 10, 1929, and it was issued on May 9, 1933. The court heard this embodied improvements over patents #1471152 and #1471153, issued to Going on October 16, 1923. The finding said that Remington Rand and the Noiseless Typewriter Company had “been making and marketing noiseless machines, under 367 patents of Going and others, for many years. On the other hand [Joerissen] has never built a complete machine embodying the claims in suit. He produced in court a model of a single typebar and its actuating apparatus.”

The finding went on, “The principle of ‘noiseless’ typewriters, which is old, consists in reducing the speed of the typebar before it strikes the platen. In [Joerissen’s] model, as slow-moving pictures showed, the typebar is brought to a full stop before it reaches the platen, and subsequent manual pressure on the key is required in order to complete the printing stroke. In other words, the operator of a machine made on [Joerissen’s] principle, if there were such a machine, would have to apply to a key a briefly protracted pressure (or else two distinct pressures) in order to make the key print. What is true of [Joerissen’s] model is true of the claims in suit. [Joerissen] claims a key bar operable ‘to impart to the typebar a terminally checked throw to a position slightly in advance of striking position, and means thereupon effective to operatively swing said link portion to complete the stroke’. This clearly implies that there is ‘a position’ which is critical, in the sense that the typebar comes to rest there, and that ‘thereupon’ a new impetus is ‘operatively’ imparted to it. That the typebar in [Joerissen’s] patent is momentarily stopped, ‘for a split second rested’, before it reaches the platen, appears from the testimony of [Joerissen’s] expert, [Underwood engineer John J.] Mason.

The finding said that Joerissen’s original application was rejected on Remington Rand’s  prior Going patent #1471153, and Joerissen had “thereupon amended his application to make clear this ‘radical difference in operation’ between his device and the patent previously issued to Going, that the Going patent ‘may be considered to slow up movement of the type carrier, but does not positively check it prior to coming into printing relation to the platen.’ [Joerissen’s] reply brief and a later memorandum, without questioning that a full stop and a new impulse occur in the operation of [Joerissen’s] model, assert that an actual arrest is not an essential feature of [Joerissen’s] claims. The record justifies, if it does not require, a contrary conclusion. In a memorandum filed by [Joerissen’s] counsel it is conceded that [Joerissen] uses ‘a follow through stroke’. This is not a concession that the operation of [Joerissen’s] claim requires a full stop of the typebar, but it appears to be a concession that it requires a continued manual pressure upon the key.

“In the [Remington Rand] machine, on the other hand, as in the earlier Going patent, there is no stop of the typebar on its way to the platen. Its movement is sharply decelerated, but not stopped; a sort of slug, known as a momentum accumulator, keeps it in continuous motion until it strikes and prints. Accordingly, the manual pressure of the operator upon a key of [Remington Rand’s] machine need not be protracted even for the briefest instant, to cause the type to print; one single touch upon the key, occupying the briefest possible moment of time, is sufficient. [Joerissen] does not dispute the fact that there is no stop, and no new impulse, in [the Remington Rand’s] operation. He does not suggest that [Remington Rand] uses a ‘follow through stroke’. As [Remington Rand’s] typebar never comes to rest until it strikes the platen, and never in its entire trajectory receives a new and distinct impetus, it is not within [Remington Rand’s] claim of a ‘terminally checked throw to a position slightly in advance of striking position, and means thereupon effective to operatively swing said link portion to complete the stroke.’

“Again, in [Joerissen’s] claim, the toggle is said to be ‘relatively straightened’ before the stroke of the typebar to the platen is completed. [Joerissen’s] expert Mason testified that it is ‘actually in a straight line, and the term ‘relatively straightened’ must refer to that condition.’ In the [Remington Rand] device, on the other hand, the toggle is not straightened until the type strikes the platen.

“The essential difference between [Joerissen’s] claim and the accused device is not so much in the full stop of [Joerissen’s] typebar, which is proved but not conceded, as in a related phenomenon, viz, the protracted pressure upon [Remington Rand’s] key, which is undisputed and appears to be conceded. In the operation of a typewriter, a touch is essentially different from, and superior to, a thrust. We think it is clear that [Remington Rand’s] machine does not infringe [Joerissen’s] patent … As there is no infringement, we need not consider [Remington Rand’s] contentions that [Joerissen’s] patent is void for inoperativeness, lack of utility and insufficient disclosure.”

I first came across mention of the Joerissen prototype in an exchange on a site called Typewriter Talk, sparked by an eBay listing. Someone who linked to a mention of Joerissen on ozTypewriter (a post about Underwood’s ‘crypto’ typewriter) without mentioning ozTypewriter, pointed to what looks like a segment as a typebar rest. This is shown in figure two of Joerissen’s #1918106 1931-33 patent. One must wonder why, if the machine was built, the court was told Joerissen “has never built a complete machine embodying the claims in suit”.

Joerissen was born in Ilion, Herkimer, New York, on April 24, 1871. Family members worked there as machinists for Remington. Joerissen became Underwood’s first branch manager, having been rewarded with the role in Philadelphia after, in March 1900, heading off competition with all other leading brands to secure an order for 250 Underwoods from the US Navy Department, which was followed up by an order for 150 Underwoods from the Army. In 1903, the year after being appointed to Philadelphia, he patented a tabulating mechanism for Underwood, and in 1904 became Underwood’s Washington DC-based but much-travelled “special representative”. In October 1911 he was bestowed with the Order of the Ruban Violette by the French Government for his services to the French Education and Literary Society in establishing a chain of free industrial schools in France. In 1939 Joerissen moved to Miami Shores, Florida, from Chevy Chase, Maryland. He died while on a visit to Washington DC, on April 19, 1942, just five days short of his 71st birthday. 
He is buried at the Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington DC.


Bill M said...

Excellent history Robert!
I've not heard of either the typewriter or its inventor before to day.
I'm sill searching for more information about the noiseless Royal 10 from your post of 15 April.

Richard P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard P said...

Wow—another Messengerian flood of facts, about a fascinating invention. I don't understand all the technicalities. Now I want Herman (who, I hope, knows about this article) to film the Joerissen in action, in closeup, slow motion, from many angles.

Robert Messenger said...

Thank you Bill and Richard
Bill, Royal only advertised the "Q Model" from late 1921 until 1924. I can't explain why they stopped. Maybe the merger of Remington and Noiseless had something to do with it? By 1925 the Royal catchline was "easy writing".
Richard, I must apologise for not mentioning here that it was your comment on my Noiseless post that got me looking into the Joerissen. It was in my original draft but somehow missed the cut, sorry about that. I owe you a big thank you for reminding me of it. When I first looked at Joerissen a few years ago, there didn't seem to be much out there about him, but it turns out there is heaps. Yes, like you, I'd love to see more of this typewriter, in action if possible, so I do hope Herman sees the post.

Richard P said...

No need to apologize, I'm glad I was able to remind you of that interesting machine.