Ah, typewriters

 

Anyone my age, and certainly any former editor/writer my age, will recall some years spent pounding the keys of a manual typewriter. Mine was a Royal portable, and it was definitely a hate/hate relationship. You see, I didn’t take typing in high school because it didn’t count toward college admission requirements. And besides, I thought naively, when I started working after college, I’d have a secretary, not be one. Imagine my frustration when, despite my degree, the first thing every employer wanted to know was how well I could type. Worse, by then they were expecting proficiency on electric typewriters and I’d never used one.

I had learned to type, sort of, during one of my high school summers. A neighbor lady decided to teach typing to some of us kids on the block, and I managed to learn the bottom three rows before school started. That was the extent of my typing skill when I hit college — 30 words per minute, including having to hunt-and-peck the top row. It was so inadequate and frustrating for college work that I hired typists to type anything longer than a couple of pages. It was also a major obstacle to any creative writing I attempted.

Today I still have to look at the top row, but at least with a computer, I no longer have to stress out over making corrections and possibly ruining (and having to retype) the entire page. (I wish the kids in the video had been given the appropriate erasers instead of white-out.)

I do regret not hanging on to my little Royal portable as a keepsake from the old days. No doubt it would intrigue my grandkids (ages 9 and 12) just as much the kids in this video.

1950s Royal portable typewriter



Categories: Sci/Tech, video content

27 replies

  1. Although I learned to type fairly well in high school, I also felt it was a block to my creative juices and resisted “thinking” at the typewriter. I would write everything out longhand and then type it out later. Since these were the days before white-out, much less self-correcting typewriters, I screamed my frustration at every typo. But years of working as a reporter taught me the value of speed, so I managed to come to terms with the clanking machine.

    But then I discovered the IBM Selectric with built-in correction tape. I fell in love. Long after everyone else was using a computer, I kept using my IBM. I still had one at the last real job I held, and the machine hadn’t been manufactured for years at that point. There was one guy in the whole Dallas area that would work on them, and he kept me going in my creaky old way.

    Although I’ve come to love the ease and versatility of a computer now that I’m retired, I still keep a portable typewriter in its case beside my desk. I use it whenever I have to fill out a form…and whenever I get to feeling nostalgic…

    • I wrote everything in longhand too. That damned typewriter interfered with my thought processes. How could my thoughts and words flow when they had to go through that thing to get to the paper?

      At some point I got a portable with a snap-in cartridge that included a correction tape and that helped a lot. At work I usually had a job that didn’t involve a lot of typing — editing and proofreading just required a pencil in hand. Good thing, too, because I never did get that secretary I’d dreamed of.

      The Selectric was a marvel, wasn’t it? The correction tape was a godsend. But for me the fun was being able to change fonts. Pop the little ball out, pop in a new font. Typing with italics! Would wonders never cease?

      I do wish I’d kept my little Royal. I’ve found a few on eBay that look like the same model and color, and even have the same case. But they wouldn’t be my typewriter. So I move on.

  2. Funny, but another big part of our lives is antique! I did have typing in hs, you missed out on miserable timed exercises on machines with blank keys… among others all year. Senior yr, we got 2 electrics. The best scores during exercises each wk won time on them… so of course, i didn’t touch an electric till my 1st job! I loved WhiteOut, but now use a correction tape hand dispenser thing– we still have a Selectric II on hand for forms not yet automated. One other machine kids don’t know is the purple-ink mimeograph with the overpowering fumes. I definitely appreciate computerized typing/correcting/printing! Thanks for a laugh today–

    • I was well aware of all those timed exercises, and that’s exactly the kind of pressure that would turn my typing into gibberish. But they were what built speed and muscle memory for the entire keyboard, something I never learned. (Who knew I was handicapping myself for life!?) For those summer lessons I had, we did use snap-on key caps to hide the keys. I remember keeping them in a little metal box like Sucrets used to come in. (Do they still sell those things? Loved their boxes.)

      Ah, the mimeograph! Every school office had one. Student office aides learned how to run them. Take-home assignments and classroom exercises, notes for parents, etc. I forget what all they were used for, but I do remember the smell and the purple ink. Yuck.

      • Gosh, i don’t remember the last time i saw Sucrets… nowadays, the tin mist seen is probably Altoids– i keep emergency change in one and needles & matches in one in the car. You have snow yet? Our 30% chance is about an inch so far, coming down steady. Temps falling, high was 24. I want 68 here, too!!

        • The Altoid tins are nice, but the Sucrets tins, as I remember them, were bigger. Lots of uses for them.

          Been snowing lightly this afternoon, but not sticking to the pavement yet (it was 70 at the airport yesterday). Supposed to snow tonight and tomorrow, but without significant accumulation.

  3. Okay, here’s another one: waiting in line at the grocery store when my middle daughter was probably in junior high, hearing a song play overhead, and said I, “I used to have that on a 45.” To which my daugher replied, (you guessed it)…”what’s a 45??”

  4. I remember the first electric typewriter – how space-age! My mother insisted I learn to type, b/c all women who were unlucky enough to be spinsters had to be secretaries, nurses, or teachers. Drilled into my head “Keep your fingers on the home row keys!” Good advice for tying and life.

    • I fully expected to have a career (in addition to marriage and family, of course), and thought for sure a well-educated woman wouldn’t have to be a secretary. I was wrong then and wrong till the day I retired. I distinctly remember a particular poster that was popular in the early ’70s — an imposing photo of Golda Meir with the caption “But can she type?”

  5. Oh my, I think I had the same model. I learned to type in 8th grade typing class on a typewriter with blank keys – still can’t look at my fingers and type without hearing, “Heads up, don’t look at your hands.” I remember my first job where I got to use an IBM Selectric – heaven to type on. The young guys in my office don’t believe some of my typewriter stories.

  6. Brings back memories all right. I took typing about 1952 and at that time they were still having us erase errors – the erasers had little brushes on one end. The class used mechanical typewriters but did invest in three electrics – we took turns at them to discover what the feel was like.

    I bought an old Royal portable to use in high school but was never very comfortable at it for just the reasons everyone else here gave. Mine did have a ribbon that could be either black or red – maybe it had belonged to an accountant.

    On the way to computers in the early ’80’s I did invest in a hybrid “word-processor” that had a little screen, allowing corrections to be made before inserting paper and printing. It came with plastic discs for different fonts. I just went and looked – it’s still in the back of a closet, a Smith-Corona “PWP”. I think that stands for personal word processor. Anybody know someone who collects ancient machines?

    • Those horrid little erasers could chew through paper in an instant. Erasing was hardly worth the effort it was so ineffective. And I don’t know why most were round. I thought the pencil shaped ones that came along later were more “accurate.” We had erasable paper for a while, but it was kind of “greasy” feeling and the type smeared too easily.

      My Royal had a red and black ribbon too, like the one in the picture. The red was good for emphasis, I suppose, in correspondence or something.

      I never had a personal word processor (didn’t even remember there being such a thing) but was delighted to get and use the first Wangs that came into the office in about 1978-80. Probably didn’t get a personal one because we invested in a computer for my son (wise move, since he went on to become a developer).

  7. How many trees did I destroy trying to type a page without errors? Being able to correct, cut and paste, sold me on computers – but sigh, typewriters. I had one like in the picture, then an IBM selectric – we still have a word processors in the closet so when we have to fill out forms on occasion – wish I had my mom’s ancient ancient black typewriter with the tiny pica font. It had gold decorative designs. I wish she’d told me she was trading it in for a “modern” one

    • Errors were my primary frustration. They were impossible to correct neatly, so any page that had to be turned in for credit or otherwise look presentable had to be completely retyped, which just compounded my misery. I went through a lot of trees (and tore out a lot of hair). For me the clincher on computers was when I saw the first black-on-white display on a Mac and the page design capabilities of PageMaker.

  8. I resisted at the time, but my older sister, who was an academic wizard, talked my mother into almost forcing me to take the full typing course in high school. Mom bought me a portable as a going away gift when I headed for college. Electric typewriters hadn’t been invented.

    The ladies in my life must have had a bit of ESP guiding their guidance. I intended to pursue a degree in business, which would not have required me to have any typing skills. I switched goals to journalism after one semester, and have been typing merrily along since.

    I can’t imagine a news reporter reaching acceptable levels of productivity without fairly good typing skills. Learning how to think and type almost simultaneously is somewhat difficult, but I did it and so did many other journalists. Hollywood seemed enamored with portraying writers in newsrooms pecking away at their typewriters with a finger or two, but that probably was more fantasy than reality in most places.

    • I wish I’d had an older sister like yours. Somebody should have made me take high school typing.

      Hmm, so do kids take typing in high school these days? Or is it assumed they’re all learning on their phones and iPads in grade school?

    • @ Gabby,

      You may find this amusing, I don’t know, but our family doctor is definitely handicapped by not having keyboarding skills. He’s a two-finger typist and actually left the employ of a hospital, apparently out of frustration with e-health record requirements. He’s currently in private practice and has adopted iPads with dictation capability. It actually works, but is far from perfect.

      • I have one ophthalmologist who was using handwritten records and notes when I first started seeing him in 2005 or 2006. It felt warm and friendly, having him scribble his notes as we talked. He’s converted everything to computer in the last couple of years. I think it was just a matter of getting a new practice up and running and profitable enough to computerize.

        Speech recognition programs are getting surprisingly good. I’ve drooled for years over the prospect of just dictating a story or novel and having it magically appear on a screen, ready for editing or printing. I don’t have a need for that sort of thing anymore, but what a blessing this would be for today’s bad typists.

        • Yep. I’m only 2 months into my iPhone but am already amazed at the utility of speaking to log memos, “messages” (texts), “reminders”, “pages”, and emails. Virtually anything that requires typing offers a little microphone icon that invites me to say it rather than type it. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it screws up, it often does so badly that it’s humorous.

  9. I am kind of partial to the old manual UNDERWOOD typewriter from the early 60’s. Now that was a machine!

  10. I got a ‘C’ in typing when I was in high-school. Probably 1957. I think I may have been the only boy in the class. The girls were way better. But I’d have to say after these many years, that I gained more from that class, learning to touch type, than anything else I took in high school. It kept me alive for almost 10 years, working though temp agencies doing word processing. By that time, I could type 120 WPM. No computer printer can compare with the IBM Selectric for beautiful type on the page–with an imprint from each letter you can feel with your finger. .

    • Oh I’d completely forgotten that — that the classes were almost entirely girls. But that’s in keeping with girls mostly getting secretarial/clerical type jobs while the guys went onward and upward to management and beyond. And I’d also forgotten the temp agencies and all the little short-term jobs I couldn’t get just because I couldn’t type well.

      The feel of the imprints on the page — there was something special about that. It made the words more alive, the page more organic. I’ve always loved fine engraving for the same reason. But expediency and cost lowering and new technologies have rendered such qualities obsolete. I miss those things. I miss fine fountain pens and beautiful handwriting (mine never was) for the same reasons. There’s more to it than just conveying the words. It’s not just the message. It’s also the “messenger,” the quality and elegance of the medium that carries the words. The finest stock, the most elegant typing, printing, or handwriting and, if it’s a book, the binding. Fewer and fewer people value those things. They take time, and nobody wants to take time anymore. Everything has to be fast and cheap.

      Sorry, I ramble …

"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance." ~ Plato

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: