We all know what type is. And we know at least a bit of its history (such as the advent of movable type in Gutenberg’s day). The typewriter, while a much later invention, still goes back many years further than we might think.

When I was a boy I remember my Uncle had an old Oliver typewriter. It was a curious contraption and had belonged to my grandfather who was a newspaper editor. The strikers came in from the sides instead of from below. I thought of it today, and it caused me to look into the history of typewriters. Typewriters have passed from public view rather quietly for devices that accomplished so much. I suspect a comeback might be in order. (As has happened with record players.) One advantage for creative thinkers, you had to use more self reliance. The machine wasn’t doing a lot of your thinking for you. 

To go a long way back with this invention, in 1714, Henry Mill obtained a patent in Britain for a machine that, from the patent, appears to have been similar to a typewriter. The patent shows that this machine was actually built and tried out. The antique description reads: “[he] hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and public records, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery” Hows that for a fancy description of a typewriter?

Well , the typewriter has had a long and fruitful career. All through most of the 1900s writers like Hemingway and Presidents like FDR made use of them in the making of literature and history. As the century wound down the advent of word processors and computers with printers pushed the typewriter out of the limelight. And now the use of print has been infiltrated with so many apps and efforts at “artificial intelligence” that it is  hardly recognizable in relation to the original idea.(Expressing our thoughts and creations, in print and staying in touch with family and friends). Most of the spiel today about updating the use of typed messages is almost the opposite of that concept. Now new apps are touted as saving time for us by more or less thinking and composing and anticipating what few original thoughts we still retain, so that we can be free to be busy doing the important things of modern life ie: spending money on more apps and tech products. Our messages are to be prepared and sent for us based on what we might have said or thought.  (Gleaned from all our emails and other personal information we have handed over) and now these hucksters are actually finding ways to cajole us into handing over access to our remaining hard copy personal documents so that they can further study us and own us “all for our own good” because they “care” so much, and want to make us (and them) , digital copies of all those beloved personal papers ( just check the fine print user agreement, however, and feel to see if your soul is still there). We may eventually not even know what we’re sending, but perhaps by that time, if we don’t wake up, we might not even care. I can see why Ray Bradbury was such a diehard proponent of handwriting and of manual typewriters for most of his career. He saw the writing on the wall back when we were still being taught how to write in cursive.

(One last note, We will wake up. Of that I’m certain.)