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A typewriter as detective

“It is a curious thing that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting. Unless they are quite new, no two of them write exactly alike. Some letters get more worn than others, and some wear only on one side. Now, you remark in this note of yours, Mr. Windibank, that in every case there is some little slurring over of the ‘e,’ and a slight defect in the tail of the ‘r.’ There are fourteen other characteristics, but those are the more obvious.” — Sherlock Holmes in “A Case of Identity” (1891)

From the Illustrated Phonographic World, April 1895 —

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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It will do away with sending letters by mail

A friend of mine remembers learning about “computer mail” back in the 1980s, which was available only to academics. Today, we know this system as email.

The use of email has certainly impacted the postal service, but not so completely as to “do away” with it. We still send letters and documents.

In the 1880s, the notion of combining the typewriter with the telegraph — or some other messaging system — was heralded as a distinctly practical possibility. The Illustrated Phonographic World, March 1895, observed, “A device is almost perfected for sending messages and having them written out automatically in Roman characters as rapidly as ten operators can work under the present system… It will in due time practically do away with the sending of letters by mail.”

This device is outlined in the following article:
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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


The war on compound nouns

From The National Stenographer, November 1890 —

I’ve written about the hyphen here.

© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


The history of the typewriter begins with an English patent for “Impressing Writing on Parchment” which was awarded to Henry Mill in 1714. The four-age patent (offered below) contains but one sentence describing “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing, whereby all writings whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print.”

The precise function or design of this machine is not known, but the patent does appear to describe the action of a mechanical writing machine.

The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer.

For historians seeking to define the origins of the typewriter, Mill’s patent excites considerable interest. The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, originally conceived in 1866 and introduced in 1874, was not the first mechanical writing machine. Several other machines — the Burt, the Davies, etc. — preceded it, but none effected letters “singly or progressively, as in writing.” The Sholes & Glidden did. (Yes, the Hansen Writing Ball, exhibited in Copenhagen in 1873, achieved practical and commercial success, but not nearly to the level of the Sholes & Glidden.)

Henry Mill appears to have been the first to conceptualize a mechanical writing machine like a typewriter, and his place in typewriter history is thus warranted.

In 1895, The Illustrated Phonograph World sought a copy of Mill’s patent and any illustrations or model of the machine from Author Morton, an English typewriter historian. His reply and a facsimile of the patent (four pages of mostly legal jargon) are offered below.

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


Jennie Wehle: A lady typewriter

When Jennie Wehle took employment as a typewriter in 1888, her decision excited no small amount of interest. According to news reports, she was the daughter of a millionaire, and she had taken employment for the sake of independence. “I think one is much happier for being independent and having something to employ the mind,” she said, explaining her decision.

(The term “typewriter” indicated either the operator of the machine or the machine itself in the late 1800s and early 1900s.)

An article about Wehle, featured in various publications, chronicled her decision in some detail, though the author reserved quotations for the latter part of the piece.

“I am not working simply to gratify a whim,” she said, “nor am I doing it simply for the sake of the experience, for I intend to continue permanently at it. I consider I have two very good reasons. First, I love my work; and, secondly, I love to be independent. I believe every girl gifted with brains should employ them the way nature intended.”

She also addressed general attitudes about lady typewriters: “I think the public have an erroneous opinion about lady typewriters from what they read in the newspapers about them. There is a disposition to surround them with an air of romance. I have become acquainted with a great number. Many of those whom I know belong to excellent families, and have enjoyed wealth and refinement, but through reduced circumstances are obliged to depend upon their own exertions. They are none the less ladies for doing so.”

The piece, entitled “Mr. James’ Type Writer,” was featured in The Exponent, September 1, 1888. Other publications called the piece “A Lady Typewriter.”

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.