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It’s pronounced “Mollie”

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Molle Typewriter 1373 machine

Hello Mollie!

Collectors have long wondered how to pronounce “Molle,” the name of a highly sought-after typewriter that was sold from the late 1910s through the early 1920s. Only about 7,000 were ever manufactured, so it is a rare machine of sorts. An advertisement from 1922 answers the question about the name: it’s pronounced “Mollie,” as in a woman’s name. But this begs another inquiry. Why did the manufacturer feel compelled to answer the question? Who was asking it? Why was it being asked?

Molle Pronounced Mollie

Advertisement from the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin), March 11, 1922.

Certainly, manufacturers want customers to know the names of their products. In the age of the internet, sometimes it’s the spelling that’s problematic (e.g., customers hearing “zero” should type “xero” for the web address), and sometimes it’s the sound (e.g., “Hyundai” is pronounced “hun-day” — see video here). Knowing how to pronounce (or type) a name increases brand recognition. All companies want that.

But with Molle, one suspects additional reasons.

German ancestry and WWI

The Molle Typewriter Company was started by John E. Molle, a watch and jewelry repairman whose family had emigrated from Germany in the mid-1800s. As the Typewriter Museum describes, “He found himself confronted regularly with clients asking him to repair typewriters. Being the only repairman for 100 miles around, Molle handled quite a few of them. He was frustrated by their complicated designs and finally set out to produce a machine of his own.”1 Molle’s solution was a series of designs that greatly simplified the internal workings of a typewriter.

Robert Messenger at oz.Typewriter offers an essential biography of John Molle and the company here. The short version is that the Molle Typewriter Company really launched, struggling at every turn and missing by a wide margin any opportunity to establish itself as a leading manufacturer. Richard Polt offers further insight into Molle’s troubles here.

John Molle’s German ancestry (or the ethnic cast of the Oshkosh community) might also have caused difficulties, particularly during the Great War and subsequent peace. However “Molle” was actually pronounced (“Mollie” is common in the U.S.; “Mull… -uh” elsewhere),2 consumers may have been inclined to hear Molle as having a distinctly Germanic feel. One also observes that advertisements for the Molle typewriter work hard to establish the company’s patriotism.

In a poignant 1919 advertisement (presented also below), the Molle Typewriter Company wrote, “In September, 1918, we closed a contract with the War Department for twenty-five machines for immediate delivery, with two-hundred and fifty more to follow in sixty days. Then when we were asking for priority orders, we pledged 100% of our out-put to the Government during the period of the war. (Estimated by the War Department to between five and ten thousand machines for 1919). This was on September 12th, 1918. Two months later the Armistice was signed, we were all very glad the war was ended. However, we lost the Government work and backing we had while the war continued.”

The company continued its narrative describing that it would direct its efforts — almost as service to humanity — to international markets, realizing that the destructive war increased the need for peace-time goods such as typewriters. Granted, many companies emphasize service to community, but Molle seemed pressed to demonstrate its fidelity. A sampling of advertisements illustrates this point.

A product and an idea

Molle Advertisement Supporting War Effort

All manufacturers supported the war effort in their advertisements, but generally to sell its machines (or at least keep the company’s name at the fore). With Molle, one senses more was at stake. Molle isn’t selling itself, but the idea of America, and in profoundly religious terms. From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Sept. 26, 1918.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Feb. 13, 1919

Again, Molle seems eager to demonstrate its patriotism, reprinting communications between itself and the government. Note that the final word in the advertisement is that a Molle contract would result in a weekly payroll of $10,000, thus supporting the community. (It should be noted that Molle was very “public” about its doings, often publishing company documents in advertisements, assuring investors that Molle was a thriving enterprise.) From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Feb. 13, 1919.

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Feb. 1, 1919

In these endorsements Molle is twice placed in quotation marks. Also, the correct pronunciation, “Mollie” is offered in the second endorsement. The company name was often presented in quotation marks in advertisements, as if for emphasis, but more assiduously than other typewriter manufactuer’s advertisements. From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Feb. 1, 1919.

The end of the war meant the cancelling of a large government contract.

The end of the war meant the cancelling of a large government contract. Writes Molle, “We were all very glad the war was ended,” though it meant a loss of business. This advertisement was mentioned above. From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Oct. 28, 1919.

From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, April 26, 1920.

In the post-war years, Oshkosh needed cheering up! Collectors will find the figures presented in this advertisement important. From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, April 26, 1920.

Though the company was no longer a going concern, its machines were still offered by various retailers. This advertisement emphasizes that a

Though the company was no longer a going concern, its machines were still offered by various retailers. This advertisement emphasizes that a “Standard American Keyboard” was available, alongside Greek, French, German and Polish keyboards. From the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, March 10, 1923.

No longer a Molle, now a Liberty. Collectors will be interested to know that Liberties were being sold as late as 1926! From the Dixon Evening Telegraph, Dixon, Illinois, May 24, 1926.

No longer Molle, now Liberty. Collectors will be interested to know that Liberties were being sold as late as 1926! According to the advertisement, these machines were not rebuilts. From the Dixon Evening Telegraph, Dixon, Illinois, May 24, 1926.

Notes for collectors

Because of its history — its rise and fall, its struggles — the Molle is among my favorite typewriters. Much of its story is still being told, and in that spirit, I offer the following notes:

Labeling iterations:
The Molle No. 3 was unchanged throughout its run, except for its labels. Here are the iterations:

  • On the earliest machines, the words “OSHKOSH, WISCONSON” are printed on the base of the machine below the company’s name, as in many advertisements. “Molle” is printed on the paper table.
  • Subsequently, the words “OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S. of A.” are printed on the base of the machine. Also, an emblem appears on the paper table adjacent “Molle”. The emblem displays a “T” superimposed upon an “M,” creating the “MT” logo which presumably stands for “Molle Typewriter.” These machines are rare.
  • After a brief run the emblem disappears (too Germanic?). The words “OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S. of A.” remain.
  • The Liberty maintains a similar design, but displays the words “CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, U.S. of A” on the base and “Liberty” on the paper table. Same paint scheme and lettering style. Also marked No. 3.

Serial numbers:
It is frequently stated that only around 50 Molles are extant today, offered by the Typewriter Museum on its John Molle page here. This research, however, dates to 2000. Since then, many machines have been sighted — I have observed dozens of Molles — and though my notes are somewhat incomplete, I have collected serial numbers for some 30 or so machines. My list can be viewed on this Google sheet and below.

The list (sans notes; see link for notes and updates):

Ser. No. Color
Paper Table
Base Text Keyboard
1055 Black
Standard
Not visible in photo unknown
1160 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WISCONSON QWERTY
1373 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WISCONSON QWERTY w/ foriegn keys
1800 Black
Emblem
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
2539 Black
Emblem
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
2590 Black
Emblem
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
3013 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. AZERTY
3907 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
4177 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ £
4240 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ £
4450 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. unknown
4473 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
4756 Black
None
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
4827 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. unknown
4905 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ £
4994 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
5509 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
5571 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
6065 White
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. unknown
6394 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
6545 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY (Spanish)
6827 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY
7464 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
7728 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $ and tilde
7857 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
7865 Black
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
unknown Black
Standard
CHICAGO, ILL., U.S. of A. QWERTY w/ $
unknown Black
Emblem
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. Greek Keyboard
unknown Black
unknown
OSHKOSH, WISCONSON unknown
unknown White
Standard
OSHKOSH, WIS., U.S.of A. QWERTY w/ $
unknown Black
Standard
CHICAGO, ILL., U.S. of A. unknown

NB: Machine 4240 was offered with paperwork dating to 1921, perhaps suggesting a timeline.

For production figures, see Will Davis’ page here. My research does not greatly expand on his observations, and I too note that Molles below 1000 and much above 7800 have not been sighted. (It would be interesting to know the serial numbers on the few extant Liberty machines, though.)

Keyboards

A wide variety of keyboard arrangements illustrates Molle’s international aims. One also senses that Molle was intended for multi-lingual consumers: it’s often in American newspapers that foreign-language keyboards are mentioned. Several advertisements also boast of a “universal” keyboard. QWERTY keyboard arrangements with tildes and foreign characters and accents are not uncommon.

Known arrangements:

  • English (QWERTY w/ $ sign, AND w/ or w/o foreign characters)
  • English (QWERTY w/ £ sign)
  • French (AZERTY)
  • German (not observed by this author, but listed in advertisements)
  • Polish (also not observed, but listed)
  • Spanish (QWERTY w/ tilde only key OR w/ Spanish accents and “n” with tilde)
  • Greek (see specimum here)

The “universal” keyboard may be the QWERTY w/ foreign characters and accents.

My machine (1373) is pictured at the top of this post, and it is listed at TypewriterDatabase.com. Yours should be too!

© 2016, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

  1. John E. Molle (1876-1921), Typewriter Museum. []
  2. I’ve made inquiries of my German friends, who suggest a variety of pronunciations. This website offeres two that I’ve heard: http://www.pronouncenames.com/pronounce/molle. []
{ 16 comments… add one }
  • T. Munk August 7, 2016, 7:44 am

    heh, guess I have updates to do already on the page I just finished 😀
    Thanks for the new data!

  • T. Munk August 7, 2016, 8:06 am

    hmmn, by the numbers Wynn gives us in April 1920, it would seem they built about 3500 of what we think existed in the year and a quarter between Jan 1919 and April 1920. Assuming a fairly slow ramp-up in 1918 (maybe <1000 in that year) and a fairly quick dropoff of govt. contracts later in 1920 (maybe total of 2500 that year) and a slow decline in 1921 and the first half of 1922… however, that #4240 in 1921 kinda sinks everything – I'd be expecting serials in the upper 5000's or 6000's.. it kinda makes the idea that they'd produced 3500 machines by April 1920 kind of absurd too, especially if they started at #1000. Are we sure that #4240 is dated to 1921?

    • Mark Adams August 7, 2016, 3:05 pm

      No, not entirely sure that 4240 dates to 1921. When it was offered for sale, it included a lot of “ephemera,” including stockholder meeting booklets dated from 1919 and 1920, an advertisement dated to Oct. 28, 1919, and a stock certificate dated April 20, 1921. If these documents belonged to the original owner — Linda Deaesn (?) — then it’s possible the machine was purchased in 1921, being given past stockholder reports (the meetings were held at the end of each year). Of course, a typewriter collector could have separately amassed these documents, meaning none of these items are related. Here is a link to images of the docs: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/idu84v982dsf0bn/AADGVxHYVBsulpHipI863FiSa?dl=0

      • Mark Adams August 7, 2016, 3:10 pm

        Note also this, from Polt’s Molle page: “Molles are not rare, but they are somewhat hard to find, because the company went out of business after only four years. Many Molles were exported to Europe. They also seem to be found more frequently in Wisconsin, where they were made. My own Molle came from Wisconsin, and the dealer told me that he had heard that the typewriters were given away as premiums to the company’s stockholders. — Well, that’s one way of reducing your inventory!”

      • T. Munk August 7, 2016, 3:18 pm

        ok, I see no actual sales receipt, so we can surmise that Linda might have bought the machine earlier, then as a customer, might have been marketed the stock offering and become a stockholder later – or as you mention, the whole package might have been assembled from unrelated pieces as a collection. Good – a verifiable serial number that low that late would have given me problems trying to come up with a series list 😀

  • JoeVC August 7, 2016, 12:40 pm

    I know this is a collector’s typewriter, but can you give us a sense of how it feels to operate it?

  • Bill M August 7, 2016, 3:40 pm

    Wow! A huge amount of information on a somewhat obscure (at least to me) typewriter.

  • T. Munk August 7, 2016, 10:49 pm

    okie doke – how’s this for a theory:
    They switched to the “US of A” labeling came about right when Molle started signing up exporters, so near the start of 1919. That would mean they made not much more than 700 machines in 1918, that the “MT” labels started right when exporting started and may mean either an “export” or “domestic” model, or may mean they just decided they didn’t like it. With 2000 accounted for in 1919, and maybe 2900 in 1920, that would leave about 1200 for 1921 and maybe a hundred or so for 1922. Total: 7000 units.

    • Mark Adams August 8, 2016, 12:08 am

      I am inclined to push the bulk of production to the later years, as 1919 and 1920 were difficult times for the typewriter industry. Molle’s 1920 stockholder’s report mentions steel and coal workers strikes that “crippled all industries” and crushed the company’s financial outlook. All of the industry was impacted: in 1919, Corona adopted lighter folding arms and eliminated the plate behind the carriage, and Underwood and Remington reduced output of their portables until mid- to late-1921. I imagine a smaller manufacturer like Molle was utterly decimated.

      It would be helpful to know the serial numbers on the existing Liberty machines. My guess would be that the numbers are not much higher than the Molles, perhaps even within the same range. How much do you want to be that Liberties are just relabeled Molles? As we can date the Liberty to 1926, having serial numbers from these would express a definite high end for the Molle, providing another benchmark.

      I agree that the labeling schemes may suggest output “zones” for the earliest years, but I am still inclined to shift the bulk of output to the later years, post-1920.

      • T. Munk August 8, 2016, 12:27 am

        ahh, so you think Wynn was overstating production for 1919 and first quarter 1920? I used those numbers as a baseline for the rest, so if they’re off, the whole thing doesn’t hold. /:

        • Mark Adams August 8, 2016, 5:56 am

          Wynn was certainly optimistic in his projections, but there is no reason to doubt what he says about 1919 — 2,000 machines is not extraordinary, even if supply chains were strained. As it seems we are dealing with a finite number of machines — 7,000, based on serial numbers — I propose a slight alteration to your reckoning:

          1918 = 750
          1919 = 2,000 (from Wynn, above)
          1920 = 1,200 (from Wynn, see https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6155559/1200_machines/; 1,100 were on hand Feb. 1921 — see here: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6155588/1100_molles/)
          1921 = 3,000 (#4240 falls within this scheme)
          1922 = 500

          Basically, my reckoning sees 4,000 machines from 1918 through 1920, and everything else afterwards.

          Scanning through Newspapers.com, one thing becomes apparent: Molle struggled the whole way through. Advertisements for the typewriter (not just stock) really only start appearing in 1921. But even that year, Molle seemed desperate for business, offering “japanning” services to the residents of Oshkosh (see here: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6155621/japanning_molle/). 1920 must have been very grim. In that year, Wynn appealed to stockholders not to bail on the company (see here: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/6155625/molle_stockholders_dont_bail/). In 1921, Molle advertised that it wanted to borrow money from the community.

          Now, we need the following:
          1. What was said in the 1919 and 1920 stockholder reports (someone has them!)
          2. The serial numbers on the Liberties (I’m guessing they are within the Molle range)
          3. Some sales receipts already!

          Good Ted. I’m glad to be able to contribute.

          • T. Munk August 8, 2016, 8:33 am

            Excellent! That production schedule seems sound given the more detailed info you’ve dug up, so I’ve changed the serial list to reflect it. I’ll go over the new stuff in detail tomorrow and do some more updates..

            Ohhh, you have a newspapers.com account – any chance you could look up two articles for me? I was only able to get a tiny blurb since I don’t have an account:
            Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona), Monday, November 6, 1905, Page 8.
            “… and the name of the corporation shall he The Bennington Typewriter Company.”

            and

            Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona), Wednesday, October 4, 1905, Page 6.
            “… E. S. Jones and J. Llewellyn Jr.; Bennington Typewriter company, capital stock.”

            Hunting the wily Bennington still, and have found he was in my own backyard between 1905-1907 and 1920-1921 apparently up to his old tricks. Might even be yet another prototype to discover… Thanks! 😀

  • Richard P August 8, 2016, 12:53 am

    Superb research!

  • Richard P August 8, 2016, 12:55 am

    Herman Price has collected a couple of earlier serial numbers: 1010 and 1029.

    • Mark Adams August 8, 2016, 6:07 am

      Thanks Richard. I’ve added them to my list. Photos? It would be nice to see the labeling schemes (though I think I can guess them). Thanks again.

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