The wire was abuzz last week when news spread about India's last typewriter manufacturer reportedly being down to its final few hundred models for sale. That was good enough to set off a round of nostalgia on the Twitter transom, even though there still seem to be a few factories in Asiamaking typewriters.
But - pardon the pun - the proverbial writing has been on the similarly proverbial wall for years. The indelible fact is that typewriters long ago got elbowed into obscurity by personal computers and it won't be long before the only place you'll find them will be in antique shops and museums (or your crazy uncle's basement.) But even though typewriters may be fast passing from memory, let's also offer a tip of the hat as these mechanical marvels had an outsize influence on the development of modern office automation.
In the early and mid-19th century, Several inventors tried their hand at building a mechanized writing machine. A breakthrough came in 1870 when the Danish inventor, Rasmus Malling-Hansen, took out a patent on what would become the world's first commercially-produced typewriter, the Malling-Hansen writing ball.
Credit: International Rasmus-Malling Hansen Society
This is the printed patent drawing for a "Type-Writer" invented by Christopher L. Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and J. W. Soule. Their idea, which they patented in 1867, bore fruit a few years later in the form of the world's first commercially successful typewriter.
Credit: U.S. National Archive
An image of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter. Not only was it the first commercially successful typewriter, it also was the first to feature a QWERTY keyboard. Not much would change in the basic design for the next 100 years.
A woodcut of the Hammond typewriter invented by James Bartlett Hammond in the 1870s and manufactured by the Hammond Typewriter Company.
A Remington typewriter, from around 1875. The Remington Typewriter Company donated this model to the Smithsonian, describing it as "one of the very first models of the writing machine ever manufactured." Following the Civil War, Remington, which was a major armaments supplier, diversified into office equipment manufacture.
The typewriter also became an agent of social change, helping create a demand for laborers who could do office work - a need filled by women entering the workforce in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries.
The Blickensderfer typewriter invented by George C. Blickensderfer in 1891 and manufactured by the Blickensderfer Typewriter Company, was one of the first true portables. Instead of QWERTY, it featured the DHIATENSOR keyboard.
The Remington Noiseless Typewriter 6, first made in 1925 by the Remington Typewriter Company.
In 1933 IBM bought much of what remained of Electromatic Typewriters, Inc., of Rochester, N.Y. Big Blue then went about redesigning the Electromatic Typewriter and by 1935 introduced the Model 01 IBM Electric Typewriter.
This one got me through college: the IBM Selectric typewriter (also popularly known as the IBM golfball typewriter). Big Blue debuted this electric typewriter in 1961 and it remained an office stalwart right up to the 1980s.
The product that spoiled all the fun. Not many people realized it at the time, but the debut of the IBM PC doomed the typewriter's fate. The first personal computer to win wide acceptance in the business world, the IBM PC was soon joined by a proliferating number of clone-making computer rivals. Of course, we know how the rest of the story turned out. Any company in its right mind soon stopped ordering typewriters as their budgets for IT ballooned. For the truly ink-stained wretches among us - and there still are a few of us out there who remember having changed typewriter ribbons - the typewriter's demise offers another reminder how rapidly technology has revolutionized the modern office.