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The End of an Era as the Last Typewriter Factory Closes its Doors

Updated on December 4, 2012

If there has been one constant thing in my life it would be the craft of typing. From the moment I first set my fingers on the keys I felt at home. The year was 1972 and in preference to pursing the science and mathematics subjects I had chosen the commercial courses. Shorthand, bookkeeping and typing provided the basics for a study path in business studies. Almost forty years on and the one remaining typewriter factory, Godrej and Boyce has ceased production.

The QWERTY keyboard invented to reduce key jamming
The QWERTY keyboard invented to reduce key jamming | Source

Still Making Typewriters in the 21st Century, Who Knew?

I’ll have to admit my surprise at finding out there is still, or at least was, a typewriter being made at the start of this century given the increased availability of computers at reasonable prices. It seems incomprehensible that anyone would still have a need for the click clack of a typewriter in the past twenty years. Yet in Mumbai, India there had been a market for the trusty keyboard as recently as 2009 with reports suggesting government departments, defence agencies and courtrooms opted for typewriters over computers.

A representative of the company, Godrej and Boyce claims they had orders for as many as 12,000 typewriters a year in 2009 but there has been a significant drop in numbers with only 200 machines available currently. To my mind, the only obvious benefit of using a manual typewriter over a laptop would be limited access to electricity.

Typewriters Changed the World

Since its introduction to the American market in 1893 the typewriter changed the way people worked with the production of a Sholes and Glidden typewriter. No longer reliant on pen and paper, letters, inner office memos and even lengthy reports could be produced in less than one third of the time it took to write out in long hand. The typeset could only produce letters in the capital version. It was Remington that took the concept one step further to the keyboard we are still familiar with today.

QWERTY What? Is That a Word?

The QWERTY keyboard, now recognised as the Universal keyboard, had little to do with speed for the operator and more to do with the way the keys hit the paper on a conventional typewriter. The QWERTY keyboard is named for the first six letters on the top of any modern typewriter or computer and was invented by Latham Sholes in 1878. He had previously experimented with the letters arranged in alphabetical layout but found the keys jammed together at a central point when hit with increasing speed. After much trial and error the original keyboard layout was designed with a similar theme to the one we use today. The numbers started at two and the letter ‘M’ was up in the middle (or home row) but the remainder of the keys are essentially in the same place.

Dvorak Keyboard Layout

Dvorak tried and failed with his layout of separated vowels and consonants. Not to say that Dvorak’s keyboard is necessarily a less workable option but by the time he put his ideas forward there were too many typists familiar with the QWERTY layout. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks after all. This old dog struggles with the layout of the mobile phone keypad.

Copyright © 2011-2012 Karen Wilton

This dog is too old to learn new tricks at the keyboard.
This dog is too old to learn new tricks at the keyboard. | Source

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    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Yes, computers have made it easier to tell our stories and the typewriter was all there was for many years. Thanks for commenting AnnaCia.

    • AnnaCia profile image

      AnnaCia 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting hub. It is funny because I love writing since a was a child, but I never had a typewriter until my sister began high school (3 years older than me). I never had the interest of using it. Later on I did for school over the years and then computers. Good for many of you that can tell your stories.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      6 years ago from Australia

      We are of like minds Feline Prophet. Sometimes I think the keyboard is my brain. I love that you still have your portable typewriter and only wish I had mine tucked away in a cupboard somewhere to pull out when I feel inclined. But I'm used to the light touch of the keyboard now which means I can 'think' all that much quicker.

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 

      6 years ago

      Ever since I was first introduced to the typewriter as a fledgling journalist in India, I was hooked! I still have a portable typewriter that I've preserved for posterity! I find my brain only functions when I'm seated at a keyboard...and I've quite forgotten how to write with a pen! :)

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 

      7 years ago from Central United States of America

      Great hub of information...and memories too - shorthand, carbon paper, whacking those keys...Really enjoyed your hub and the comments following!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      I also got a portable Remington for high school graduation (must have been the thing to give back then). I used it all through college.

      A couple of friends and I had learned to type in a summer class a couple of years before. The desktop machines were ancient, even then, and must have been made out of WW1 tanks. It took some strength to 'tap' those keys, and the classes were two hours a day. I don't know that we could type that well when we finished the class, but we could crack walnuts with our bare hands. :)

      Years later I got a selectric from a company going out of business.

      A few years back, I actually bought a portable at a garage sale, similar to the one I had.

      There is an old on at the print shop exhibit at the museum where I give tours. I was showing it to a school group one day and pointing out that the keyboard was almost the same as their computers. One boy asked me. "But where's the screen?"

      I enjoyed this a lot. Stirred lots of memories, as you see.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Yes, I think my dad said that it printed on the underside because the keys were underneath, as well, and struck upward from behind and under the platen when you pressed down on the keys.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Sally's Trove, I know what you mean about the physical work out for the fingers. Those manual typewriters were hard work. The comparison is a bit like riding a bicyle or a motor bike.

      My knees are stronger since we moved into a house with stairs so there's something to be said for keeping the joints moving.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 

      7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      This brings back such wonderful memories. Like many other commenters, I had my share of experiences with manual typewriters and carbon paper!

      Our finger muscles were challenged in those days, and I think the manual typewriter was therefore a healthy thing, a piece of fitness equipment. My fingers are quite toned, even now. Wish there had been a typewriter for knees, though!

      Thanks for this interesting Hub...I had no idea manual typewriters were being produced this late. Wish I'd hung on to my Underwood Olivetti. :)

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      I've never heard of the paper rolling the other way DzyMsLizzy, it makes you wonder how long it would have taken to type anything if you had to read from the underside. Don't you love how far we've come?

      Poetry is difficult to write using a computer. Perhaps that is something for the next phase of software - poet friendly to allow for spacing as the writer deems fit.

      Good point about the handwriting. I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter long hand but I do know even my shopping lists are hard to read!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      7 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Ah, yes. And I remember my father telling of using a very old, probably 1st generation typewriter in his bachelor days. Apparently, the paper rolled the other way, and you had to look on the underside of the platen to see what you'd typed!!

      I received a portable manual typewriter for high school graduation. I had it until the late 1990's, too.

      For some things, such a poetry, where you want to play with the spacing of the words in a visual way, there is no substitute. It is difficult if not impossible to do on the computer, as the word-processing programs want to 'auto-format' everything for you!

      I the end, it was a problem finding ribbons for the thing, and that was what completed my conversion to the computer. The old typewriter left in a garage sale about 12 years back.

      But I do not look back fondly on carbon paper (and trying to make CORRECTIONS on carbon copies!), or spilled white-out.. ugh!

      I do notice one thing since becoming computer-addicted, however: my handwriting has deteriorated badly!

      Very interesting..I do recall seeing this information as a news blurb on TV one night..but it was glossed over with a very light dusting of attention.

      Voted up!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for the comment and vote Casey White. As a real life reporter from the sixties I'll bet you have some stories to tell. I agree the manual typewriters were a lot of effort.

    • Casey White profile image

      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 

      7 years ago from United States

      I have to be honest...I don't miss the old manual typewriter even one little bit! I worked as a newspaper reporter in the 1960's and I remember "banging out" stories LITERALLY. Great job. Voted you up and will be following your work.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      b. Malin so sorry I missed your comment earlier. Hang on to that old electric, you never know how much it would be worth now.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      One of those computers that recognise the sound of your voice as you type would be perfect for you Keith @attemptedhumour. Can't believe you get so many words in your Hubs with one finger. Way to go.

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Being a one finger specialist, it's no skin off my nose. Times change but i wonder what will be next? cheers

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      7 years ago

      I too remember in High School learning on a manual typewrite and I'm so glad today that I took that course. I now have my Mac, but with out the knowledge that I learned back then, I wouldn't know how to type. Loved this Hub. I still have my first electric typewriter, a Smith Corona...I almost sold it on Craig's List.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thank you Seeker7 and yes I remember too how the pinky would get stuck between the keys. I love the way my fingertips seem to fly across the keyboard now compared to those cumbersome manual typewriters. Thank goodness for technology.

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 

      7 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      I remember at High School learning on a manual typewriter - 1976. Then in 1977 we were so excited by the electric and then finally the electronic typewriter. When the electric/electronic came in, it was the first time I could use my pinky properly to touch type and best of all, my pinky never got stuck down any spaces on the keyboard - ouch!

      Really loved this hub - fantastic.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      The dog's gorgeous but sadly not mine. Thanks for reading, Eiddwen and pushing all the buttons. I love it when you stop by.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      Hi Karen,

      A great hub and I love your dog. I push all the buutons on this one. So well presented and very informed.

      take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      @marwan asmar I remember the change to electric typewriters in the late seventies. What a luxury! No more taking fingers off the keyboard to flick the return lever and it was so easy tapping at the keys. What a shame you no longer have those typewriters. They are collectors' items now.

    • marwan asmar profile image

      Marwan Asmar 

      7 years ago from Amman, Jordan

      I had my first typwriter in 1969 which my uncle bought from London, my second was in 1974 in Hastings, and the third, an Olivetti electrical, I bought in 1984 when I was in Leeds. Sadly, and with moving constantly to different places, these treasures some how got lost...A waste of a craft!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Ah, so you remember the carbon paper Dolores Monet. What a pain. If you made a mistake you had to lift the first sheet of paper, then the carbon and carefully erase the offending letter from the copy. Wow, I can't believe we did that!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I love the look of the old portable typewriters and have one in my basement. But I never liked using them. Modern keyboards are so easy - no carbon paper either!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      CMHypno ouch! Thanks for the giggle.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 

      7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      That's quite sad, Karanda. I'm old enough to have started my working life with a typewriter on my desk, and remember one memorable occasion when I had one too many glasses of white wine at lunch and got my fingers stuck between the keys. My boss had to stop the conversation he was having with a client and release them for me! Looks like those good old days are gone forever!

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Catgypsy it is sad that the old ways have to be abandoned. I resisted using computers for many years because I was way too comfortable using a typewriter.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Thank you storytellersrus. Fancy getting a typewriter as a graduation gift. How times have changed.

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 

      7 years ago

      I like the idea of the dvorak keyboard, boy would that save my hands; this was very interesting. My mom always used the old fashioned one, hers was harder to use that's why I liked the newer electric ones and now the computer ones because I noticed with hers, you have to press down really hard on the keys.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      Carolapple I loved those Selectric typewriters. Hearing the click, click, brrr is part of the memory. It took me a long time to get used to the keyboard on a computer.

    • Karanda profile imageAUTHOR

      Karen Wilton 

      7 years ago from Australia

      That is funny breakfastpop. I was thinking the same thing just before I stumbled on this information. The reason I was longing for my old typewriter was the day the power went out. Now, I'm thinking it would have been a great collector's item too.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Interesting information! I didn't know that typewriters were still being made in this century. The closure of the last typewriter factory certainly is the end of an era.

    • catgypsy profile image

      catgypsy 

      7 years ago from the South

      Although we all enjoy the benefits of computers, it's sad to see the old ways disappearing. I sometimes wish we could go back and do things the old-fashioned way! Interesting Hub!

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 

      7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Awesome, fascinating, I had no idea! What a great hub. My high school graduation gift was a typewriter. I love this!

    • carolapple profile image

      carolapple 

      7 years ago from Suffolk Virginia

      I got through four years of college as an English and Journalism major with a Sears Selectric typewriter (early 80s). How times have changed. Amazing that there was still an active typewriter manufacturer well into the 21th century!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 

      7 years ago

      It's funny but I was thinking about my old typewriter the other day and wishing that I still had it. I loved that thing and held on to it long after people had switched to word processors. Now, of course, I love my Mac Air!

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