R.I.P. Manual Typewriter

The manufacture of manual typewriters came to a halt on 26 Apr 2011. This was announced in the Yahoo! News report reproduced below.


World’s last typewriter factory ‘shuts down’ in Mumbai

By ANI | ANI – Tue, Apr 26, 2011 12:18 PM IST

London, April 26 (ANI): Godrej and Boyce – the last company in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters – has closed its production plant in Mumbai, India.

The company is now left with its last 200 machines – the majority of which are Arabic language models.

Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India – until recently.

But with consumers switching to computers the demand for the machines started falling drastically in the last ten years.

“We are not getting any orders now.” The Daily Mail quoted the company’s general manager, Milind Dukle, as telling India’s Business Standard newspaper.

“From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us.”

“Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among defence agencies, courts and government offices,” he said.

The firm began production in the 1950s. (ANI)

The site www.typewritermuseum.org (Est. Jun 2001) states in its page The End of History that “Today Olivetti is the only Western company producing manual typewriters.” However, the end of manual typewriter production in America was announced by Joe Halderman in his poem MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE, whose date is ascertained to be 1 Feb 2001 by Googlesearch on the term “olivetti valentine typewriter” for the time period 1 Jan 2001 – 31 Dec 2001. The first stanza of the poem reads:

There was an obituary in the business section
that touched me more than those of most humans;
the last manual typewriter made in America
rolled off an assembly line in Smith_Corona
and was presented to some bigwig
in a light-hearted ceremony.

The report about Godrej & Boyce was immediately followed up by announcements elsewhere that the company Swintec was still manufacturing typewriters. (See, for instance, The Daily Feed dated 26 Apr 11.) It was immediately noticed by readers that Swintech produces electronic typewriters and that the manual typewriter was indeed dead.

Descriptions of typewriters of various brands can be found at Typewriter Museum: Mr. Martin’s Web Site.

When Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press with loose type in the 15th century, he cleared the way for a gradual proliferation of the printed word. However, it was not until the 19th century, when production was automated, that the time was ripe for the typewriter. It was in the United States of America that mass production of typewriters started in 1873 with the Sholes and Glidden typewriter.

Inventor C.I. Sholes put together the prototypes of the first commercial typewriter in a Milwaukee machine shop in the 1860s. The machine shop tools available in this small town were too crude for precision work, and the instrument clashed and jammed when used, especially when two keys close to each other were typed in succession, so Sholes had to see that common letter pairs were separated on the keyboard.

Sholes & Glidden Typewriter 1874
Source: http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/firsttw.html

The keyboard arrangement was considered important enough to be included on Shole’s patent granted in 1878. It is shown below; click on image to see magnified copy.

It was designed after a study of letter-pair frequencies by educator Amos Densmore, brother of Sholes’ chief financial backer James Densmore.

The machine was mass produced in 1874 by the arms manufacturer Remington. The first model typed only capital letters. The second model, introduced in 1978, offered both upper and lower case using the shift key.

More information on keyboards is found on the Webopedia page: QWERTY keyboard and the links there.

Remington Arms Company was founded by Eliphalet Remington, who began to craft handmade guns in 1818 at his father’s forge. In 1826 he moved his operations to a site close to the newly constructed Erie Canal. E. Remington and Sons was incorporated as a stock company in 1865.

The company went into the typewriter business in September 1873. This business was sold in 1886 and became Remington Rand.

Godrej & Boyce was founded by Ardeshir Godrej who gave up law in 1897 and turned to lock making. The company then started manufacturing toilet soap from vegetable oil. It began production of typewriters in the 1950s, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the typewriter as a symbol of India’s emerging independence and industrialisation.

After World War II, the electric typewriter advanced, with IBM as the market leader. The IBM ‘golf ball’ system was basically the system invented in the 19th century by Blickensderfer, and perfected in the 1902 Blickensderfer Electric. The IBM Selectric was introduced in 1961.

Later on, electronic typewriters and PCs entered the scene, with the typewriter almost obsolete by the end of the 20th century.


868 CE Earliest dated printed book, DIAMOND SUTRA, printed in China.
1041 Moveable clay type invented in China.
1436 Johannes Gutenberg invents printing press with moveable wooden or metal letters.

30 Sep 1452

Gutenberg’s Bible published.
12 Oct 1492 Columbus lands in Bahamas.
4 Jul 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence.
4 Jul 1817 Construction of Erie Canal begins.
1865 E. Remington and Sons incorporated as a stock company.
1868 Sholes’ first typewriter model built.
1878 Patent granted to Sholes.
Sep 1873 First Remington typewriter produced.
1886 Remington sells typewriter business. Remington Rand formed.
1897 Ardeshir Godrej takes up lock making.
1902 Blickensderfer Electric Typewriter perfected.
15 Aug 1947 India gains independence.
1950s Godrej & Boyce start manufacturing typewriters.
12 Sep 1958 First successful demonstration of microchip.
1961 IBM Selectric.
1981 IBM PC.
1992 World Wide Web.
26 Apr 2011 Godrej & Boyce ceases manual typewriter production.

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