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Rebuilt typewriters

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The odds are high that a typewriter in your collection was rebuilt — i.e., not factory original — as the market for reconditioned machines was robust from the late 1800s through World War 2. The extent to which these machines were reconditioned varied, but complete rebuilds were not uncommon. Typewriter Topics, a leading trade publication, chronicled this industry extensively in a variety of articles, including the one presented in this post.

For context, it should be observed that the first World War posed unique challenges for manufacturers. First, the industry had only just begun to gain traction, convincing consumers that typewriters were essential, only to see that market constricted during the conflict. Second, war mobilization made both labor and resources scarce. More than ever, the second-hand market was needed to fill the gap.

Rebuilt machines were attended by logical concerns for the “quality and merit in the merchandise for sale,” wrote Typewriter Topics in 1918. The publication presented the Typewriter Emporium, headquartered in Chicago, as an organization that had addressed this concern through standardization. “Each person in the Emporium employ has certain established duties to perform. He performs those and not others. He becomes a specialist in that particular branch and thereby increases his own personal efficiency.” Employees even received bonuses for error-free operation.

The article details a process whereby machines were entirely disassembled, stripped of paint, and rebuilt.

It is worth noting that the company employed both men and women, though the latter were called girls. African-Americans were also in their employ, though whether or not this was a war-time expedient, I cannot say.

Dave and Will Davis are authorities on rebuilt machines, and they have published several articles about this industry at their blog. “Rebuilt Typewriters – A Discussion and Categorization” (link) is essential reading; other posts can be found via search (link). That said, Typewriter Topics offers a vital and early first-hand account.


From Typewriter Topics, January 1918 (digital copy here):











© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Bill M December 4, 2018, 12:58 am

    I think I have an Underwood No. 3 rebuilt by Shipman-Ward by the SW and number stamped under the front right foot. I discovered it this past winter as I was cleaning and restoring it.

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