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Rebuilt typewriters

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.

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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Typewriter Topics notes the end of WWI

From Typewriter Topics, December 1918.

The Great War was a great interrupter, too. The typewriter industry, which had only begun to flourish at the turn of the century, was stymied by the conflict as manufacturing shifted from consumer goods to war goods. For a short period, typewriters were scarcely to be found, as the government was purchasing most machines. Foreign markets were entirely shuttered. (See my previous post on this topic, “WWI’s impact on typewriter manufacturing,” here).

The post-war years presented new difficulties: supply chains were not adequate to meet manufacturing demand; strikes halted supplies of steel to some typewriter manufacturers; and, consumer markets were only just recovering.

It is noteworthy that the major typewriter manufacturers — Remington, Underwood, and Royal — entered the portable typewriter market only haltingly, reaching capacity only at the tail-end of 1921. The roaring 20s certainly saw unprecedented growth for all industries, but at the end of World War I, the path forward was not so certain for the typewriter industry.

© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


The writers’ round up

I don’t have a Nanowrimo offering, so I submit this notice about a writers’ group dating to nearly 100 years ago. From the New York Times, September 10, 1922:

© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.