For those of a certain age, the title of this post should ring a bell. Perhaps with the “ding” that manual typewriters sounded when you got to the place on the page where you’d set the right-hand margin. That “ding” alerted you that it was time to give the carriage return a whack. The carriage return was a physical lever that you had to hit to advance the paper to the next line, and move the typewriter’s carriage – the apparatus that moved the page left to right as you typed along – back to the left.
When I took typing, which I did during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, a-s-d-f-space-semi-l-k-j was one of the exercises that got you to learn to touch type on the qwerty keyboard, a skill that continues to come in handy, even after all these years. No hunt and peck for me, thank you. I know where all them there keys are!
In my family, learning how to type was gender-related, more or less a secondary sex characteristic.
Girls were the typists, expected to learn how, and to type their own damned papers. Boys were expected to caddy – or loaf – and not spend any of their precious summer hours learning to type. Mother would type those high school term papers for you…
Anyway, my sisters and I all know how to touch type.
At home, we typed on an old manual Royal, battleship gray with green keys. The big graduation gift from high school was a Royal portable typewriter of your very own. They were portable only because they came in a hard-shell carrying case with a handle. In terms of portability, it weight a ton – but less than the older-style home-based Royal, which while also a portable, was a lot bulkier than the streamlined go-to-college Royal.
I remember when electric typewriters became more popular.
They just flew, and it was a dream to type on them.
No more whacking the carriage return lever: you just had to hit the carriage return key.
The IBM Selectric was a particular modern miracle.
Instead of having those keys that always ended up getting tangled, the Selectric had a detachable “element”, a ball with all the characters, in relief, on it. The element made a plain old electric typewriter seem completely primitive in comparison.
A Selectric came into our family in an interesting way.
My feckless Uncle Charlie had a girlfriend of long-standing (we’re talking 35+ years by the time Charlie died). Sue, unlike my ne’er do well uncle, was an accomplished professional, with a very good job as an executive secretary. Sue also had a nephew who was on the fringes of Worcester organized crime, and Mo had occasional, if not regular, access to hot goods. Sue arranged for my mother to buy a Selectric on the cheap.
Now, not in a million years would my mother ever buy anything that had fallen off the truck.
Her presumption was that Sue had just gotten a good bargain through her work. After she had made the purchase, and we mentioned our suspicions about its provenance, she was torn between giving it back and not wanting to embarrass Sue. So she kept the Selectric. Which was mostly used to type my brothers’ term papers on.
The next technology marvel was an IBM typewriter with memory, which I first encountered as a Kelly Girl working in a bank.
It had some type of storage – I believe it was called a carrel – in which you could store 30 or so different pages. No more having to type the same damned thing in over and over. Talk about a breakthrough.
Time speeds up and blurs up, and all of a sudden we’re all typing on PC’s using word processors. (And, no doubt sooner than I hope, dictating our “written works” into The Cloud.)
I haven’t used a typewriter in years.
Which is not to say I’m not a bit nostalgic for them: those two-toned black and red ribbons; the satisfaction of getting through a document without jamming things up; the wonderful “ding” when you reached the end of the line.
Thus, I was a bit saddened to hear on the news the other evening that the last typewriter manufacturer in the world – India’s Godrej & Boyce – was closing down.
Fortunately, this turns out to be not so true.
Godrej & Boyce was, apparently, the world’s last manufacturer of manual typewriters.
Who buys a typewriter these days?
Luddites, it goes without saying. Which may be why I, a techno-embracing quasi-Luddite at heart, want both an old-timey manual typewriter and a gramophone.
Government agencies, who use them to fill in some forms that they want to handle manually, rather than digitally.
And prisons, which go for clear plastic typewriters that can’t be used to hide contraband and can’t be as secretly dismantled to make shivs.
Anyway, given our prison-industrial complex - one of the tried and true, made in the US of A growth industries - there’s apparently a reasonable demand for these puppies.
Personally, I understand the clear plastic thing, but a clear plastic, electric typewriter just doesn’t do it for me (perhaps because I’m not in prison).
This Underwood, on the other had, completely does do it for me:
Nifty Underwood picture courtesy of Richard Polt’s completely quirky and completely entertaining typewriter site. Polt is a philosophy professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Thank you Professor Polt.