Whenever I see the high-tech office items of today, I get a smile on my face and wonder what the kids would say about my first word processor. No, not the pencil, although that’s what I used when learning shorthand. I am talking about a large, clunky, boat-anchor sized typewriter. I believe I started to “keyboard” in 6th grade and have been thankful ever since for the lessons. I am one of the “rare birds” who uses all of my fingers and does not need to look at the keys when typing. It comes in very handy with my writing of articles and selling on the Internet. We had a typewriter at home and I’d do invoicing for my dad’s small auto repair business. It was definitely more professional than the handwritten bills he sent before this modern machinery came to our home.
I started Office Practice classes in 6th grade and went right on through high school. We learned proper business forms such as professional correspondence, both personal and to customers, (including Dunning letters which had to be sent when they were late on payments), how to address an envelope, appropriate formats for billing, etcetera.
I always looked forward to those office classes, maybe because I turned out to be pretty good at it and my “career choice” was to be a secretary. I considered other professions that were offered to girls of my age such as teaching or nursing. I was rather shy when younger and thinking about standing up in front a big classroom was not my cup of tea. And any career where there was the “drawing of the blood” or “giving of the shots” did not appeal to me. My first job out of high school was at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company in Milwaukee. It was a fantastic company (in addition to great opportunities, they had an incredible free lunch program) and the job was perfect for me. Starting out as a Messenger, I would transcribe and type letters for department heads throughout the building, deliver mail and put inter-office correspondence into containers, then shove them into that marvelous old pneumatic tube system that would carry from floor to floor. I remember the “whoosh” it made when being sucked in! (One of our banks has this type of system so maybe some kids have actually seen them at work.)
I had been told that the typewriter was actually invented in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but doing a little research has taught me otherwise. It turns out there was actually a “workable” machine patented in 1714 in Britain by Henry Mill. I also learned that there was a Writing Ball made in Denmark in 1865 by Reverend Rasmus Malling-Hansen and it was the first commercially sold typewriter in 1870. This was fascinating to learn since later in my career we got a typewriter (an IBM Selectric) that had that type of ball and we thought it was a brand new concept!
The first typewriter to be commercially successful was indeed invented in Milwaukee by Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule. The keyboard had the letters QWERTY and was copied by many manufacturers after their model. While many things have changed, a peek at my granddaughter’s iPhone shows me that the QWERTY system remains intact. At least some things do not change!
The collectors of today enjoy displaying the antique typewriters, perhaps in a business setting as a conversation piece, or in retail establishments that sell high-tech items. Creative types make jewelry out of the keys with delightful sayings, messages, initials and such. These are good ways to recycle and repurpose.