Ch. 1, Inventing the Pretty Typewriter

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Oct 30, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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1

Ch. 1,
Inventing the Pretty Typewriter




Virginia
Woolf was fascinated by the
gap
between the real and
the fictional,
the world and the word. They were distinct, yet n
ever

wholly dissevered
. “Fiction

is like a spider’s web,
” she wrote,

attached ever so
lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at
all four corners . . . attached to grossly material things, like
health and money and the houses we live in.”
1

If we are to
probe

the
fi
ctional webs
that came to be
spun

around the
modern secretary,
the hundre
ds of novels and films in which she is the

heroine, we
must
attend to th
at

world of “grossly material things” in which
those stories took shape and made sense.

On
e “grossly material thing” that connected millions of
typists, secretaries, and stenographers was
plainly
the
typewriter. Traditional histories credit its invention to a single
man, Christopher Latham Sholes (1819
-
1890) (
f
ig. 1
), at one time
the editor o
f a small
-
town newspaper in
Kenosha,
Wisconsin
,

and
a
sometime dabble
r

in politics.
In his editorials

he
took
positions
that were
idealistic,
downright i
mpractical
, or forthrightly
progressive
: he urged abolition of the death penalty
, demanded

the
eliminat
ion of war, and
staunchly supported

equal rights for women.
In 1848 he was elected a state senator, then served a brief term
as city clerk of Kenosha, and
in 1851
returned to the state
legislature as an assemblyman.
I
n January, 1853, he met James


2

Densmore
(1820
-
1889)

(fig. 2)
, then the editor of the
True Democrat

(
a newspaper in Oshkosh, Wisconsin
), a meeting that would
ultimately
have a profound effect on
his life.

M
onths later the
two men
attempted

to
transform
Sholes’s weekly
Telegraph

into the
Daily
Telegraph
,

a

venture
that
e
nded
in failure
a year later
w
hen
the price of their wire service from the Associated Press became
too high. The two parted amicably
:

Sholes
stayed on

to edit his
weekly
,

slightly renamed
Tribune and Telegraph

in Kenosha while
De
nsmore moved to
a
nearby
town
and

another newspaper.

But it was
not the end of their story.

In 1857 Sholes moved to Milwaukee, where he worked as a
journalist first for the
Free Democrat

and later
The Sentinel,

both
Republican newspapers. When the Civil War broke out, Sholes
volunteered, at his own expense, to be the governor’s personal
representative and report on the physical care of Wisconsin
soldiers serving in the Union army. As a reward he was named
collec
tor of the port of Milwaukee in 1863, a sinecure that entailed
only light duties and consumed little time. It enabled him to quit
the newspaper business and devote himself to his growing interest
in inventing

machinery, a penchant he had indulged ever sinc
e his
move to Milwaukee. In 1860, working with Samuel W. Soule, a
draftsman and civil engineer, he had designed a machine for
addressing newspapers sent to customers subscribing by mail, one
that was soon
successfully m
anufactured. He had also designed


3

ano
ther machine for numbering documents requiring successive
pagination or enumeration, such as ledgers, tickets and coupons.
He patented it in 1864, together with improvements made in 1866
and 1867. It was at this point that he came across an article in
the
journal
Scientific American

of 6 July, 1867, which reported
on a “Type Writing Machine”
that had
recently
been
invented. It
prompted Sholes to wonder whether he might be able to devise a
better one.
2
Working once again with
Samuel
Soule and also with a law
yer
named Carlos Glidden, Sholes set out to build a working model of
a machine that would embody his essential insight. The writing
machine
described in
Scientific American

had characters
that were

arranged on a wheel that would rotate
a

character into pla
ce,
supplemented by

a hammer
that then
st
uck

the paper against i
t. The

procedure entail
ed

so many steps
to produce

a single letter that
it could never be faster than normal writing. Sholes, instead,
decided that he would put each type or character on a sep
arate bar,
and that each bar would individually strike the paper: a single
motion for a single character. By September, 1867, he had a working
model and
even
arranged for a demonstration. Charles E. Weller,
chief operator at the local office of Western Uni
on telegraph, was
so impressed that he put in an order for the very first one to leave
the shop. He would receive it
only four months later:

Sholes had
devised the working model of a potentially useful machine; but


4

reproducing it by manual production was
slow and costly
.

To
remedy

this problem, Sholes and his colleagues decided they
needed capital and manufacturing expertise. Soule was sent to New
York and Washington, lugging a bulky model with him, but failed
to find a backer. Sholes, instead, recalled hi
s former colleague
and friend James Densmore; he sent him a letter, typed
with the
new machine
, in which he described the invention and hinted at its
possibilities with a quotation from Shakespeare:


There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at th
e flood, leads on to fortune.


Densmore, now living in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and working as
an attorney for
a

m
achine
c
ompany, was immediately interested.
Weeks of negotiation by correspondence led to an agreement in
November, 1867: in return for paying Sholes,
Soule, and
Glidden
$200 each, Densmore would receive a 25% share in the venture and
undertake to finance the

mach
ine’s

manufacture. In the years since
his collaboration with Sholes in Kenosha, Densmore had also become
an inventor, having devised and patented an early version of a tank
car for transporting oil on railroads. His set of skills was
suited
to

the typewrit
er enterprise: former editor

and publicist
,
inventor, and lawyer.
In March, 1868,
he finally arrived in
Milwaukee
,

took command of the project
, and swiftly

discover
ed

that


5

he was part
-
owner of a

machine
mu
ch cruder than he had thought
.

He immediately
deman
d
ed

improvements.

In late June
that year

he journeyed to Washington, D.C., and
filed claims for two patents
:

one covered
the design of the earlier
machine demonstrated back in September, 1867
; the other, the

improved machine
developed over the last three
months
. Densmore
now took the newer, improved machine to Chicago. In association
with Soule and E. Payson Porter (who ran a telegraph school), he
spent $1,000 to manufacture fifteen machines. Alas, when tested
at Porter’s school
,

the
y

swiftly jammed
.

Densm
ore abandoned plans
for further manufacturing
and instead

returned to prodding Sholes
and his colleagues to make more improvements.

The next stage of tinkering required more than two years, and
it was only in March, 1871, that Densmore felt he could
undert
ake
a second

attempt
at
manufacturing. This time he used a machine shop
in Milwaukee owned by Charles F. Kleinsteuber (
fig. 3
); it included
a brass foundry
as well as
general machine tools for model making.
The newly manufactured machines worked well enoug
h at the
beginning, but after intense usage some of their characters fell
out of alignment.
Production was halted after making only
twenty
-
five machines, and once more
Densmore directed his team of
inventors to find a solution.

By the spring o
f 1872, Densmore was again convinced that the
machine was technically ready; he also decided that he would


6

personally supervise a third attempt at manufacturing,
this one
to tak
e place in Milwaukee but at a different location, an old mill
with water power.

By late June he had installed second
-
hand tools,
chosen a superintendent, and hired several laborers.
But

the
machines were still being handmade. Densmore inspected each one
and often required alterations or the remaking of parts. Even he
could see that t
he scale of the Milwaukee operations was
inappropriate
:

“I am anxious to get everything in such shape that
the various parts can be made by machinery, without this
everlasting filing and fitting, which makes but a bot
ch after it
is done.”
3

T
he machines were a technical success
and a

financial
failure. “The fact is that as we are now making them they are costing
more than we ask for them. And until we cheapen the making, we are
losing all the time,” he complained.
4

It was in November, 1872,
th
at Densmore and Sholes decided to make one last change to the
machine, altering its keyboard in a way that would make it less
likely to jam by separating the most frequently used keys,
resulting in
the
famous QWERTY configuration
--
so named after the
first
six letters in the topmost row of keys
--
that
has

become
the
so
-
called “universal” keyboard
still in use

today.
Every time that
we use or office PC or home laptop, our fingers retrace the steps
that were taken to solve a problem that hasn’t existed for more

than thirty years: preventing the typewriter bars from jamming as
the rose toward the central point where the keys struck the page.



7

One m
onth later, in December,
Densmore

was

visit
ed

by a
friend
who
b
ore

the sonorous name o
f George Washington Newton Yost;

it
was

Yost who
suggested to
him

that he take the typewrit
er elsewhere
for manufacturing. H
e recommended the arms makers Eliphalet
Remington & Sons of Ilion, New York, and offered to accompany him
there.

Some two months later, in mid
-
February, 1873, Densm
ore and
Yost
journeyed

to Ilion
.

A

picturesque town with a small creek that
flowed into the Mohawk River, the largest tributary of the Hudson
,

i
t was dominated by the massive Remington factory, so vast it would
cover five acres if spread out on a single fl
oor

(fig. 4)
. Staying
at a small hotel, Yost and Densmore were greeted by three men: Philo
Remington, the eldest of the founder’s three sons
and t
he firm’s
president since their father

had died

in 1861
;
Henry Benedict, a
you
ng

executive; and Jefferson Clough, the superintendent and head
mechanic of the Remington works. Yost and Densmore
gave

the men
a
working demonstration

of their machine
. Fifty years later,

Benedict recalled
:


We examined and discussed the machine for perhaps

an
hour
-
and
-
a
-
half or two hours and then adjourned for lunch or
dinner. As we left the room, Mr. Remington said to me, “What
do you think of it?”

I replied, “That machine is very crude, but there is an
idea ther
e that will

revolutionize business.”



8

Mr. Rem
ington asked, “Do you think we ought to take it
up?”


I said, “We must on no account let it get away. It isn’t
nec
essary to tell these
people that we are crazy over the
invention, but I’m afraid I am pretty nearly so.”
5


One

part of Benedict’s recollection may have been affected by the
half
-
century of events that had subsequently intervened
,

his
confident assertion that the typewriter would “revolutionize
business.”

If that is what he truly said to Remington, he was
extraordi
narily prescient. Sholes and Densmore, instead, thought
it useful for telegraph operators wishing to convert Morse code
into legible text, which is why the first demonstration of the
machine in 1867 had included the telegraph operator who then
ordered the
first machine to be produced
, or why Densmore’s first
manufacturing attempt in Chicago had been
in collaboration

with
a
man

who ran a school for t
raining telegraph operators.
6

Who would
use the typewriter was still an unanswered question that lingered
in t
he background during the t
wo weeks of negotiation

that
followed
. On 1 March, a contract was at last signed, with terms
that greatly favored the Remingtons. Densmore would pay the
m
$10,000 in advance, and

also grant a royalty of $0.50 per machine
to Jeffers
on Clough, the Remington head mechanic who would redesign
the machine for mass manufacture. The Remingtons agreed to produce


9

at least 1,000 units, plus a further 24,000 at their discretion,
and would receive a fixed price for each machine manufactured (the

exact sum
is
not known).
7

Densmore now had to find cash to meet these new obligations.
He borrowed $3,000 from Clough, enough to keep a few creditors at
bay, then returned to Chicago to hustle up $10,000 from Anson
Stager, a telegraph entrepre
neur who, in exchange,
received

exclusive rights for selling typewriters in certain western states
for the Western Electric Company
. It was
yet another financial
complication
--
just when Densmore thought he had solved them
.
In November, 1872,
four months
before Densmore signed the
agreement with the Remingtons
,
he had added up his own investment
in the typewriter and found that he had spent $13,000 in financing
experiments, patents, and manufacturing.
8

Most of it was money he
had borrowed against the futur
e royalties that would accrue to his
25% share of the project, including substantial loans advanced to
him by his brothers Amos and Emmet. It was time to reach a
comprehensive settlement that would not only convert these loans
from liabilities into assets,

albeit passive ones, but also
formalize other transactions that had altered the financial
relations among the fou
r co
-
owners of the patent claim
: Christopher
Latham Sholes, Densmore himself,
the draftsman Samuel Soule, and
the lawyer Carlos Glidden.
Soule
,
during the intervening years
,
had moved to New York and agreed to sell Densmore his 25% share


10

for $500 (which Densmore duly purchased, though his actual payments
were extended over time). G
lidden
, instead,

had drifted away from
the typewriter project, ab
sorbed in another invention, and to
finance work on
it
had offered Sholes his 25% share i
n

exchange
for his serving

as co
-
signer for a note of $250. When Sholes
hesitated, Densmore instructed him to go ahead and promised that
he, Densmore, would pay for th
e note, as he later did. Densmore,
in short, owned 50% of the original patents and co
-
owned 25% with
Sholes; while Sholes owned
his own
25%. Glidden, meanwhile, had
returned

to the typewriter project and helped Sholes
in

further
developing it
between

1870
and

1872
. He w
as therefore justified,
or so he thought, in claiming back
a

portion of the share he had
sold. Densmore rejected this claim; he himself had paid Glidden
a salary
for working with Sholes, and in his view owed him nothing
further. Glidden
then

turned to Sholes, asking that he give him
a portion from his share in the business.

Sholes had so little faith
in the commercial
viability

of the typewriter that he was happy
to placate Glidden with a portion from his own share.

The formalization of these
arrangements was an “agreement of
trust” that Densmore drew up and executed on 16 November, 1872.
The various owners of all interests in patents already obtained,
pending, or to be applied for, agreed to assign them to Densmore
and Sholes jointly, as trust
ees. The trustees could make and sell
instruments or license others to do so, and a
ll

proceeds would be


11

divided as follows:

James Densmore



40%

Christopher Latham Sholes

30%

Carlos Glidden



10%

Amos Densmore



10%

Emmett Densmore



10%


But i
n April, 1873, less than a month after Densmore had contract
ed

with Remington, Sholes decided to sell off one of his three
remaining 10% shares
;

h
e
mistrusted

the typewriter’s commercial
prospects, and his
present

needs were pressing. He

disposed of it
in fractions to Amos Densmore and two other
s

for a total of $5,350,
partly paid in cash. Densmore
grew
alarmed
: o
utsiders buying shares
from Sholes might create trouble for his ongoing management
.

In
response

he
formulated a new plan: toget
her with his brother Amos
and G. W. N. Yost, he would buy out Sholes and any other
shareholders. To do so he created a new firm, Densmore
,

Yost &
Company, one that promptly
re
purchased all the portions Sholes had
sold to outsiders,
as well as
Emmett Densmore’s entire tenth, and
one of Shole’s two remaining tenths,
the latter bought with $10,000
in promissory notes.
The agreement

was
struck in September, 1874
.

Sholes was now left with only
a
single share, ten percent of the
whole.
9

M
eanwhile, on 30 April, 1874, the first Remington
-
made
machine finally arrived at the sales office that Densmore had


12

opened in New York. It was a handsome piece, enclosed in metal
painted with glossy black enamel, and distinctly resembling a
sewing machine,

replete with a foot treadle (such as contemporary
sewing machines had) that
shifted

the paper

from one line to the
next

(fig. 5
)
.

Two months later

six
more
machines were shipped to
Washington and ten to Chicago, all for use by shorthand reporters
who woul
d pay
for them

by writing

glowing
testimonials. T
hings were
up and running

at last. Remington
announced
it was ready to produce
as many as a hundred machines in the next month.
But
its

estim
ate
of production capacity bore
no

relationship to real demand. By the
end of 1874 only 400
machines
had been sold.
And f
igures for the
next four years were hardly better, averaging 900 per year. Between
1874 and 1878, four thousand typewriters were manufactured and
sold.
10
Tellingly, that

figure
broadly
coincides with another figure
from the U.S. census for the year 1880
, one that

shows only 5,000
people employed as stenographers or typists in the United States.
But it also shows something else more startling: already 2,000 of
them
(or 40%
)

were female. Those figures are still more startling
when compared to the corresponding figures from the census of a
decade earlier in 1870, when the same occupational category had
contained only 154 workers in total, of which a mere 7 were female
(or 4.5
%). Not only had the number of total workers increased by
more than 3000% in the intervening decade, but the percentage of


13

female workers had multiplied by tenfold.
11

It signalled the
beginning of a revolution. And yet it was also a revolution that
a conte
mporary might have failed to discern. For while the census
of 1880 was plainly conducted in the year 1880, the labor of
compiling and collat
ing

its results was so vast that it was not
completed and published until ten years later, in 1890. The delay
was a
sign of a broader development: private enterprise was growing
so large that government efforts to monitor it were
hamstrung

by
inadequate data retrieval and coll
ation technologies. T
he
typewriter would become a critical instrument for more rapid and
effici
ent data production in large corporations; but this use was
apparent to
n
either Sholes
n
or Densmore. Densmore
had poured his

energ
ies

in getting the typewriter manufactured; but his ability
to bring it to market was hampered by his
inability

to imagine it
being used by
a commercial sector, rather

than isolated
individuals. The machine, early advertisements urged, was suited
to lawyers, clergymen, editors, and court reporters. But th
o
se
made
up a tiny market

when compared to the business sector that would
so
on
adopt
it
. Yet already in 1875 there was a telling hint of the
future. The firm of Dun, Barlow & Co. (predecessor of the celebrated
business information firm, Dun & Bradstreet) purchased
one hundred

typewriters to equip its
main

office, then sent another forty to
its bra
n
ches throughout the United States, together with
instructions that all reports now had to be typed. Previously


14

subscribers who
sought out

the firm’s business evaluations had to
go to its offices to consult a hand
written ledger; now typewritten
reports would be routinely mailed to
them
.
12

It was data intensive
firms such as Dun Barlow that constitute
d

the real market for the
typewriter.

Densmore
also
didn’t foresee

another problem, the question
of who would operate

the machine and where he or she would get
the
training
.
Yes, the

typewriter was significantly faster than the
pen,
producing

some
sixty words
per

minute
, much more than the
twenty to thirty of someone writing by hand
. But
if an employee

had
to spend three

months or more
to learn how to use it,

the price
of the machine became formidable

when the cost in lost productive
labor w
as

added to
its already

hefty

price

($125).

At the end of the first year when the typewriter was
manufactured by Remington, 1874, Densmore tried to
address
the
sales problem. Together with George Washington Newton Yost and his
brother Amos, he formed a new firm, the Type
-
Writer Company; Yost
and Den
smore were each credited with 1,000 shares in the firm, and
Densmore’s brother Amos with 500.
13
It

immediately granted to Yost
(
and a new associate of his
)

both its contract with Remington for
manufacturing typewriters and its agency for all sales. But sal
es
throughout the early months of 1875 were so poor that a
nother

arrangement
soon
had to be

found. On 1 November, 1875, the
Type
-
Writer company set aside its original contract with Remington


15

and entered into a new one. Remington
acquired

the exclusive righ
t
to make
and sell

the typewriters in return for a fifteen dollar
fee paid on each machine. But Remington w
as

wary of the
expense

required to assemble

a sizeable sales force
;

instead
it
struck a

deal with yet another firm headed by Yost
, wh
ich

became the
e
xclusive selling agent till the end of 1878.

When that arrangement
expired, Remington turned to Fairbanks & Company, famous scale
manufacturers who had outlets throughout the country
;

a

four
-
year
contract grant
ed

Fairbanks an exclusive agency for typewriter
sales. But Fairbanks found itself in the same position: it had
offices in many places, but no
t

employees familiar with the new
machine or
cognizant of
its potential clientele. In response they
did what the Remi
ngtons had done
: they

turned to the irrepressible
G. W. N. Yost, whom they hired to direct and organize sales
.
14

Already back in 1876, Yost had found his best salesman in the
field, a man named William O. Wyckoff (
fig.
6
). Wyckoff was a court
reporter for
a judicial district formed by ten counties in central
New York, the same area assigned him as his sales territory. When
he encountered resistance to buying typewriters on the grounds that
nobody was qualified to operate them, he opened his own typewriting
school and soon offered a skilled operator to accompany e
ach

machine that he sold. During 1876, when the total sales of
typewriters across the United States numbered 900, Wyckoff
alone
sold 157 machines. His pupils, it was
claimed
, could produce


16

seventy wo
rds per minute (wpm
).
15

While Wyckoff’s

student pool was composed of both m
en

and
women
, that was
not the case
for students
at
f

another institution
that soon took up the typewriter. In 1881 the Young Women’s
Christian Association (YWCA) in New York City offered its first
class in typewriting. Eight pupils were permitted to attend. All
were promptly hired to work in business office
s where the only
previous female employees had been scrubbing women who cleaned up
at night.
16

We know
little

about the content or structure of these
early lessons in typing
, but they

must have differed substantially
from later practice, for it was only in

1882 that the first book
appeared which advocated typing with all ten fingers, or “touch”
typing as it came to be known
.
17

How much these pedagogical
developments improved the actual performance of typists cannot be
precisely quantified, but it
was
probab
ly

co
nsiderable.
Until now, the Remingtons had enjoyed a virtual monopoly
.
But
a
fter working only a year for Fairbanks & Co.,
the selling agents,
Yost left to
pursue his
own
ambition
s
: to
create a rival brand of
typewriter
that would co
mpete with Remingto
n.
T
o do this
, however,

he had to persuade Densmore and the Type
-
Writer Company to let him
use their patents, despite the exclusive contract with Remington.
A lawyer working with Yost convinced Densmore that he could do so
with impunity: the Type
-
writer Co
mpany had issued bonds to secure
its
many

debts
,

and
in his role as trustee for the bondholders


17

Densmore could violate the Remington contract
as

long as any fees
that
came to
him

were
strictly
applied to retiring the bonds
.

On
12 January, 1880, Densmore and Yost signed an agreement to just
that effect. Whether a typewriter was sold by Remington or Yost,
it would always mean profit for Densmore, or at least a reduction
in the mountain of debts he had accumulated.
E
vents did n
ot turn
out as he hoped.

When Remington learned about his deal
, it was
furious. I
t cut off all payments due him from ongoing typewriter
sales. It further demanded that he turn over
to Remington

any new
patents that
he

had obtained since 1873 (two had been
applied for
in 1878), as well
as
rights to a new portable typewriter that Sholes
was

working on. Densmore resisted

manfully
.
But
after

more than
a year he

was
s
tarved
into submission
.
Remington set out to

castrate

him
.
It

took over
all the functions of the Type
-
Writer Company from
him
.
Henceforth,
Remington
itself
would directly pay
all

royalties
due
to
third parties;
of any remaining sum,

one half
would then
go
to pay off the $59,000 in debts to Remington that Densmore
($9,000) and
Yost ($50,000) had
built up
. Densmore
, henceforth,

would receive only $3.00 per typewriter.
18

The question of the other shareholders in the Type
-
Writer
Company had also been simplified the previous year, in 1880. Sholes
had long wanted to sell

his
last
remaining share of 10%. He heartily
disliked the machine that Remington had made from his invention.
“It simply
don’t pay, can’t pay,”

he wrote to Densmore already in


18

1876. “It is too large, too cumbrous, too complicated, too
expensive, too troub
lesome for what it achieves. . . . What I wanted
from the
first

was to get out entirely.”
19

He disliked it so much
that he even refused to use it, preferring to write with a lead
pencil. In the summer of 1878 he reiterated his account of why
typewriter sal
es were so poor: “The trouble is just where I have
always placed it
--
to wit: that the machine, taking everything into
account, is not a labor
-
saving machine. The public doesn’t need
it
--
doesn’t want it. It doesn’t sell itself.”
20

In 1880
he

was
finally granted his wish to
sever

all financial connections to the
Re
mington typewriter.
Densmore agreed to pay
him

the amount still
due him on the old promissory notes that had been signed when Sholes
had
last

sold a 10% stake in the firm
, and

f
or th
e
last
remaining
share

he

paid
him
$3,000 in cash, as well as another $2,800 for
Sholes’s entire interest in a portable typewriter he
was

working
on. Sholes, in his own words, was “glad to get out entirely.”
21

After
1880,
he

had no financial connection to
the typewriter; and after
1881
,

Densmore was reduced to a mere recipient of royalties,
without
no further

role in
its
develop
ment
.

Knowing that Yost’s new rival machine, the Caligraph, would
be coming onto the market in mid
-
1881, Remington took another ste
p.
It discontinued its selling agreement with Fairbanks & Company

and
instead turned to the man who
’d
directed

Fairbanks’
s

sales division

ever
since
Yost’s

departure
, Clarence W. Seamans (
fig.
7
)
.

Seamans,


19

in turn, recruited William O. Wyckoff, the
salesman who had started
his own classes in typing back in 1876
, and

t
ogether

the

two

approached

Henry Benedict

(fig. 8)
, the

young

executive who had
first urged the Remingtons to take on the typewriter in 1873.
T
he
three formed a partnership
(
Wyckoff, Sea
mans, and Benedict
)

and
on 1 August, 1882, contracted with Remington to be the exclusive
sales agents for the typewriter. They would take all the
typewriters the firm could produce. Their
impact

on sales was
immediate
:


1880


610

1881


1,170

1882


2,272

1883


3,376

1884


4,000

-----------------

Total
11,428
22







Despite the
rising
sales figures, the firm of E. Remington
& Sons was increasingly in trouble, as it had been ever since the
late 1870s. In the wake of the American Civil War,
Remington had
adopted a dual strategy for growth, expanding firearms sales to
foreign governments while diversifying into non
-
military and
consumer products, especially agricultural equipment and sewing


20

machines. The decision to manufacture typewriters

had

formed part
of this
plan
. But over the next decade (1875
-
1885) things had
slowly

gone awry. The Egyptian and Mexican governments had defaulted on
large orders of firearms that could never be retrieved; the
agricultural equipment division was being hammere
d by competition
from manufacturers in the midwest; and Remington sewing machines
did poorly against competition from the established Singer brand.

By early 1886, Remington was in crisis
.

It was now that

Wyckoff, Seamans, and Benedict

made an
audacious mov
e
. In March that year they purchased the entire
typewriter bu
siness from Remington. H
ow they raised the capital
for this is not known, but they paid the very substantial sum of
$197,000 for the whole business, which included plant,
valued at
$50,000; stock

and material,
valued at
$25,000; and franchise and
patents,
valued at
$100,000.
That left them with

$50,000 in cash
with which to continue manufacturing. The three men now created
the Remington Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company with an
authorized
capital of $225,000. (It had also been agreed that they
could continue to use the Remington name on their typewriters.)
E
ven this massive cash injection was not enough to stave off
disaster for Remington & Sons. The next month, on 22 April, 1886,
the firm
was placed in the hands of receivers who
took two years
to liquidate it.
23

Other firms were
now

gearing up to compete. In addition to


21

Yost’s Caligraph, new models being made by
three other firms

by
1885
. Wyckoff, Seamans, and Benedict responde
d by cutting the
price:
in 1883
the
y cut f
rom $125

to $100
,

and in 1885

to $95.
24

They also

reorganized and rationalized the
ir

manufacturing; by
1888, only two years after
buying

out the Remingtons, they were
producing 1,500 typewriters a month, or 18,000 per year
. Compare
that with the 11,000 produced and
sold
between

1880

and
1884.
25

(Their achievement is even more impressive if one recalls that each
machine had more than 2,000
parts.)
Their business was booming for
reasons identified by

an anonymous
contemporary
writ
ing

in

the
Penman’s Art Journal
: “Five years ago the typewriter was simply
a mechanical curiosity. Today its monotonous click can be heard
in almost every well regul
ated business establishment in the
country.”
26

Wyckoff, Seamans, and Benedict
also
expanded exporting
sales
: the
y ope
ned offices in Berlin in 1883, Paris in 1884, and
London in 1886.
27

The
y

aimed at global dominance
.

The typewriter’s explosive

growth in production and sales
occurred in tandem with an impressive expansion of office culture.
In 1880, recall, there were 5,000 stenographers and typists
according to the U. S. census, of whom 40% were women. A decade
later the figure had increased mo
re than sixfold to 33,418, of whom
63.6% were wom
e
n
.

T
he number of women stenographers/typists had
jumped from 2,000 to 21,270, a more than tenfold increase. Some
of this increase in typists could be explained as merely a part


22

of a much larger growth in of
fice workers. In 1880 bookkeepers,
cashiers, and accounts had numbered 74,919; by 1890 their number
had more than doubled to 159,374. Women’s share of this
occupational category also expanded vertiginously: in 1880 they
had constituted only 5.7% of all boo
kkeepers, cashiers, and
accountants; by 1890, instead, their share had tripled, reaching
17.4%.
28

True, the American population had also been increasing
during the same decade, from 50.2 to 63 million people, a gain of
25%. But during the same decade, by o
ne generous estimate, the total
of all clerical workers had leaped from 172,600 to 801,500, a gain
of 364%.
29

Even a more conservative reading of the census data
discerned an increase in clerical workers from 152,536 to 427,944,
a gain of 280%.
30

Women wer
e
join
ing the business workforce at an
unprecedented pace. Yes, within a decade the overall population
had grown by 25%; and yes, the number of clerical workers had
expanded by 364% (generous) or 280% (conservative reading); but
even by a conservative read
ing, the number of female clerical
workers had jumped from
7
,
000

to 76,
000
, a gain of nearly 1100%.

Y
et perhaps the most telling statistic of the many associated
with the 1890 census was another detailing how long it took to count
and collate t
hese vertiginous numbers.
Previously
, it had taken
a decade

to compile and publish the data from the 1880 census; by
contrast, the much larger data field for the 1890 census was
processed within two years (and also cost
$5 million less!). T
his


23

extraordinar
y acceleration was
brought about by
a new machine
called the Hollerith tabulator, a device that relied on something
equally novel called the punched card
, b
oth devised by Herman
Hollerith (1860
-
1929).
The idea was simple: a
n electric current
would attempt to pass through, but be blocked by
a

card, except
where a hole had been punched through it; where the current then
passed through, it set off a counter.
(
Herman Hollerith went on
to found the firm that became IBM in 1921.
)
3
1

The Hollerith
tabulator was only the most dramatic sign of a much wider
technological revolution sweeping through office culture.
Assessing
the scope
o
f that revolution can be
difficult

because

it entailed techniques of information

m
anagement

so
elementary, and later so ubiquitous, that only with effort can we
appreciate their novelty. Consider the loose
-
leaf ledger system,
sometimes called a ring or post bound system, which was first
marketed in 1894. It meant that an account of any size coul
d be
kept together in its proper alphabetic or numeric order; as it grew
over time, new bits of information could be added ad infinitum,
while bits that were no longer active or relevant could be removed
and discarded. It sounds simple, and almost everyone

has maintained
a loose
-
leaf ledger or notebook at some point in life. But compare
it with the bound ledger
-
books that all firms used prior to its
invention. When an account reached the end of a book or the set
of pages allocated to it, it had to be restar
ted again somewhere


24

else, with laborious cross
-
referencing to enable someone to keep
track of it. Another
device
was the ve
rtical filing system,
first
devised in

1892 by the Library Bureau (an organization founded in
1876 by Melvil Dewey to promote his dec
imal system and sell supplies
to libraries). One year later, replete with the first file cases
to hold the new system, it was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair,
where it won a gold medal.
32

By about 1905 it had become a standard
office practice.
33

With heavy card
-
stock dividers and folders that
could
be
re
-
labeled as needed, it offered flexibility and order
in managing complex, constantly changing pools of information. The
same was true for card files
or index cards

in standardized sizes;
they could

be arranged into any convenient order (alphabetical,
chronological, numerical), removed for work and then reinserted
in their proper place; and in more advanced systems using punched
cards, they could even be sorted and collated by tabulating
machines

of
the sort

first deployed for the American census
of

1890.
34

These elementary yet crucial techniques of information
management were increasingly complemented by an array of new
machines, starting with the telephone, itself invented at the same
time as the fi
rst typewriters were being produced (1876).
T
here
were mimeograph or stencil machines, “business phonographs” or
D
ictaphones, stenotypes, adding machines and calculators attached
in turn to billing and address machines.
35

The office
, with its
ranks

of new
information technologies and techniques, was
itself


25

becoming
a gigantic

machine
that
produc
ed
,
collated,
stor
ed
, and
retriev
ed

information
.
At
its

center stood t
he
female
secretary
or typist
, a fallible

mechanism
lodged
within th
e

larger
machine,
another d
evice for producing
,

storing
, retrieving

data. As if to
underscore this new

relationship,
writers

between

1890
and

1920
often referred to
the new writing machine and the

secretary or
typist with the
same
term
,

“typewriter,” merging
them

in a single
word.
Edna, the Pretty Typewriter

designated

a contemporary novel
(
see t
he next chapter) that recounted the doings of an attractive
young woman, not the activities of

a nicely decorated machine.
36
In the United States, typewriters of both sorts, as well as
the o
ffices that housed them, were increasingly nestled within
another new machine,
an

architectural machine
,

the commercial
high
-
rise building or “sky
-
scraper” as it was called
after

1890.
It took shape at a confluence of technological and commercial
imperativ
es. Consider that new material, steel, an alloy of iron
with a low percentage of carbon and small amounts of other elements,
an achievement made possible by discoveries of Sir Henry Bessemer
in England in 1855, William Kelly in the United States in 1847 an
d
1857, and Siemens
-
Martin in Germany by 1868. That it possessed
greater homogeneity, strength, and ductility than iron was well
established by the 1870s when its powers were dramatically
demonstrated in the carbon
-
steel wires used to form the suspension
c
ables of the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883. But variations


26

in quality caused it to be distrusted by architects and engineers
even after steel beams bega
n to be rolled on a large scale
in
the
1880s.
37

By

1893, instead, its use was being unequivocall
y urged
for modern office buildings: “The frame should be of mi
l
l
e
d steel,
columns, girders, beams, etc., using the usual commercial shapes.
The various parts should be rivetted together and the column
connections made so as to maintain the full strength
of the
column.”
38

The frame, bolstered by wind bracing, now became a
“skeleton”
that
support
ed

the body of the building. Walls no longer
fulfilled a support or load
-
bearing function; they became like
curtains that were draped on the building’s exterior. As

a
consequence they could be much thinner and so free up space within
the building’s interior, which in turn meant more rent from
occupants

and

more profit for the owner/developer. It was necessary
to add only a few more developments: the electrically oper
ated
elevator (introduced by Otis Brothers in

1889), central heating,
incandescent electric lighting throughout the building,
forced
-
draft ventilation, and automatic controls. Furnishings
would also have to accommodate women, wrote the architect and
engine
er George Hill in 1893: “In the floor where the toilets for
women are there should be placed a double number of water
-
closets,
and, if possible, sufficient room for a sofa and a connection for
a small gas stove.”
39

One last, yet crucial change

would take place in the design


27

of the typewriter. In 1893 the Underwood firm, previously a
manufacturer of typewriter supplies (ribbons, etc.), introduced
its own typewriter designed by Franz Xavier Wagner. Unlike all the
Remington and other models produc
ed until now, it had a
front
-
striking mechanism, which is to say that all the keys, laid
out in an arc that was visible to the typist, would rise upward
and forward to strike the paper, then fall back, so that a typist
could instantly see the character tha
t had just been produced.
Amazingly, at least to a later observer, all the machines that had
been produced till then were back
-
striking machines: the key would
rise at the back of the machine and strike the paper from behind.
Only after a typist had comple
ted three or four lines could he or
she pause to discern whether any errors had been made. All
manufacturers, including Remington, were soon imitating the
front
-
striking mechanism.

By 1893, twenty years after James Densmore had first
negotiated the contrac
t with E. Remington and Sons to manufacture
the typewriter, an entire office ecology had evolved in which the
machine had
finally
found its home
,

a world in which new machines
and information management techniques were marshalled to execute,
record, and ex
pedite an immense quantity of transactions. At the
h
e
art

of that world
stood an equally novel

figure: the typist, the
secretary, the
pretty
typewriter, the female clerical worker, the
office girl, the business girl,

the bachelor girl
.

In the ensuing


28

decade
s, th
ese

real
-
life figure
s

w
ere

reformulated as spectacle
and placed at

the cente
r

of a fictional universe,
becoming
the
principal protagonist in hundreds of novels and films, the heroine
of comic strips, cartoons, and postcards, the subject matter of
worried office manuals and anxious conduct books, the enigmatic
muse of poetry and popular song. The result was a mytholo
gy as
sprawling and complex as the
metropolis that was its setting.
Already in the 1890s, newspaper headlines
testify to

an almost
obsessive fascination with th
e

doings of this
semi
-
real,
semi
-
mythical

figure:

Pretty Typewriters on the Limited

(1890)

Elope
d with His Pretty Typewriter

(1891)

Did Not Kill Herself: Investigating the Death of the Pretty
Typewriter

(1894)

Suicide of a Pretty Typewriter

(1894)

Rescue Pretty Typewriter

(1899)
.
40

“The lady typewriter,” a New Yorker wrote in 1893, “has come to
stay and afford a mark for wit and
humor rivalling the
mother
-
in
-
law, the tramp, the amateur fisherman, and the other
time
-
honored subjects of jokes.”
41

A
nother noted the same
phenomenon, but
also a profound transformation in the very
appearance of the cityscape
:



29

O
ne of the most striking features of the industrial life of
New York to
-
day is the conspicuous part played in it by the
female sex. Not many years ago it was rather an uncommon thing
t
o see girls or women employed in business offices. . . .
To
-
day women
-
workers are everywhere. . . With the invention
of the typewriting machine a vast new field was opened to
wage
-
earners of the gentler sex, which they were quick to
occupy. On few subjects

have more jokes been made, and
ill
-
natured slurs cast, than on the “pretty typewriter.”
42


It was in the early 1890s that the first novels appeared which
featured a secretary as their heroine. One
novel
,
Estelle’s
Millionaire Lover; or, The Prettiest Type
writer in New York
.
m
ustered

hyperbolic prose
to describe
Estell
e
’s

effect

on her
contemporaries as she
set off

to work in the morning;

she becomes
a goddess who transfixes the gaze of fellow commuters

and
mesmerizes her male colleague
s

when she enters

the
office:


The
clerks all looked up from their work to smile and nod at her,
thankful for a glance of her beautiful eyes in return; for, without
exception, th
ey were all infatuated with her.

43

The clerks, of
course, are figures who stand in for the book
’s readers
,
contemporaries experiencing a collective infatuation with this
uniquely modern heroine.

They

epitomize an entire

culture
feeling

the first flush of attraction toward a
figure who encode
s

all
the


30

allure

and

promise
, and
all
the mystery

of
the

modern
world
.

The
typewriter, a useful if somewhat noisy machine, had
become the
precondition for something far more arresting: the pretty
typewriter.























31





Notes

to Chapter 1

1. Virginia Woolf,

A Room of One’s Own

(New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1929),
43.
2
. Richard N. Current,
The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It

(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1954; second edition
Arcadia, CA: Post
-
Era Books, 1988), 1
-
11;
herafter cited simply
as Current. See also

Anonymous, “Type Writing Machine,”
Scientific
American,
17.1 (6 July 1867): 3. Current’s account of the
typewriter’s invention and early manufacturing remains the most
authoritative because it was based on the correspondence between
Sholes and Densmore, t
hen in the hands of Priscilla Densmore, who
later donated it to the Carl P. Dietz collection at the Milwaukee
Public Museum. Maddeningly, Current does not furnish footnotes to
indicate the specific dates of letters, though he did so earlier
in essays prece
ding his book’s publication: “The Original
Typewriter Enterprise, 1867
-
1873,”
Wisconsin Magazine of History

32, no. 4 (June 1949): 391
-
407; and “Technology and Promotion: The
Typewriter,”
Bulletin of the Business Historical Society

25, no.
2 (June 1951): 7
7
-
83. Also useful is George N. Engler, “The
Typewriter Industry: The Impact of a Significant Technological
Innovation” (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles,
1969).

3
. Quoted in Current, 53, 55.

4
. James Densmore to Walter J. Barron, 8 Nov
. 1872, quoted in


32

Current, 60.

5
.
Henry Benedict, quoted in
[Alan C. Reiley],
The Story of the
Typewriter, 1873
-
1923

(Herkimer, New York: Herkimer County
Historical Society, 1923), 57
-
58.

6
. In October, 1870, furthermore, Densmore showed the machine to
Geo
rge Harrington and D. N. Craig, officers of the newly organized
Automatic Telegraph Company,
without

securing
their financial
support. On 31 October, 1869, Sholes wrote to Densmore about
a
nother

visitor who had examined the current model of the
typewriter:

“The Colonel talks about it very much as you do,
anticipating that it will become as important in the literary
world, as the sewing machine is in the stitcherary world.”
Densmore, in other words, anticipated that the typewriter would
be of use to the lite
rary world, or the telegraphic world; but he
did not see the business world as a significant market, and it is
unlikely that Henry Benedict did so already back in 1873. For
Densmore’s approach to Harrington and Craig, see Current,
The
Typewriter,

41
-
43; fo
r Sholes’s letter to Densmore, see Current,
“The Original Typewriter Enterprise,” 405 n. 35.

7
. On Densmore and the Remington firm, see Current,
The Typewriter,

60
-
64.

8. Ibid., 60.

9
. The financial arrangements in the last three paragraphs are
taken from
Current, 75
-
77.



33

10
. Ibid., 73, 87.

1
1
. For these census figures see Margery W. Davies,
Woman’s Place
Is at the Typewriter: Office Work and Office Workers, 1870
-
1930

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), Appendix: Table 1,
[178
-
179].

1
2
. Erastus Wiman,
Chances of Success: Episodes and Observations
in the Life of a Busy Man

(New York: American News Co., 1893; reprint
Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, n.d
.
), 160
-
163.

13. Current, 79.

1
4
. See Current, 79
-
90, and Donald Hoke,
Ingenious Yankees: The

Rise of the American System of Manufactures in the Private Sector

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, 132
-
149, and
especially 299 n. 69.

1
5
. On Wyckoff and his typewriting classes, see Current, 85.

1
6
. Bliven, 71; maybe Mary S. Sims,
The YWCA, an
Unfolding Purpose

(New York: Woman’s Press, [1950]), give page numbers.

1
7
. Mrs. M. V. Longley,
Type
-
writer Lessons, for the Use of Teachers
and Learners, Adapted to Remington’s Perfected Type
-
writers

(Cincinnati: privately published, 1882).

1
8
. Current,
98
-
100.

1
9
. Quoted in ibid., 90.

20
. Quoted in ibid., 97.

21
. Ibid., 128.

22
. Ibid., 105.



34

2
3
. Hoke,
Ingenious Yankees,

147
-
148.

2
4
. Current,108; Engler, “The Typewriter Industry,” 23.

2
5
. Current, 110; Engler, “The Typewriter Industry,” 24
-
25.

2
6
. Quoted i
n Current, 110.

2
7
. [Reiley],
The Story of the Typewriter,

94.

2
8
. Census figures are from Davies,
A Woman’s Place,

[178].

2
9
. William Henry Leffingwell,
Office Management:

Principles and
Practice

(Chicago & New York: A. W. Shaw, 1925), 6.

30
. Davies,
A Woman’s Place,

[178].

31
. James W. Cortada,
Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs,
and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865
-
1956

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 48; Daniel J.
Boorstin,
The Americans: The Democrat
ic Experience

(New York:
Random House, 1973), 172
-
173.

32
. See JoAnne Yates,
Control Through Communication: The Rise of
System in American Management

(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1989), 56
-
63. Earlier but still useful surveys of similar
inno
vations are 1981 Elyce J. Rotella, "The Transformation of the
American Office: Changes in Employment and Technology,"
Journal
of Economic History

41 (1981): 51
-
57; and Thomas Whalen, "Office
Technology and Socio
-
Economic Change, 1870
-
1955,"
IEEE
Technology and Society Magazine

2.2 (June 1983): 12
-
18.

3
3
. Whalen, “Office Technology,” 16, notes that vertical filing
is taken for granted by one writer in 1907 (W. V. Booth, M. D.


35

Wilber,
et. al.,

eds.,
Accounting and Business Methods

[Chicago:
The Syst
em Company, 1907], 5), but treated as recent by another
in 1913 (John William Schulze,
The American Office: Its
Organization, Management, and Records

[New York: Key Publishing
Co., 1913], 39).

3
4
. Hollerith’s first commercial client was the Ne
w York Central
Railroad in 1895. “Between 1900 and 1917, companies in other
industries began to use his equipment, most notably insurance
firms,” writes James Cortada,
Before the Computer,

50. In support
of this claim he cites G. W. Baehne,
Practical Appli
cations of
Punched Card Method in Colleges and Universities

(New York:
Columbia University Press, 1935), 6, and Arthur L. Norberg,
“High
-
Technology Calculation in the Early Twentieth Century:
Punched Card Machinery in Business and Government,”
Technology a
nd
Culture

31, no. 4 (October 1990): 766
-
768. See also JoAnne Yates,
“Early Interactions between the Life Insurance and Computer
Industries,”
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

19, no. 3 (July
1997): 60
-
73, especially 62
-
63.

3
5
. See Cortada,
Before th
e Computer.

3
6
. Grace Miller White,
Edna, The Pretty Typewriter

(New York: J.
G. Ogilvie, 1907).

3
7
. Sarah Bradford Landau and Carl W. Condit,
Rise of the New York
Skys
c
raper, 1865
-
1913

(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996),
146
-
158 and 170
-
175.



36

3
8
. Geo
rge Hill, “Some Practical Limiting Conditions in the Design
of the Modern Office Building,”
Architectural Record

2 (April
-
June
1893): 445
-
468, here 466.

39
. Ibid., 449.

40.
Washington Post,

31 January 1890, 2;
Chicago Tribune,

1 January
1891, 1;
Washington

Post,

21 March 1894, 1;
Washington Post,

15
October1894, 1;
Chicago Tribune,

5 November 1899, 4
.

41.
Erastus Wiman,
Chances of Success: Episodes and Observations
in the Life of a Busy Man

(New York: American News Co., 1893; reprint
Whitefish, MT: Kessinge
r, n.d), 163.

42.
Daniel B. Shepp,
Shepp’s New York City Illustrated

(Chicago,
Philadelphia: Globe Bible Publishing, 1894), 177
-
78.

43. Julia Ward [pseudonym for John Russell Coryell],
Estelle’s
Millionaire Lover
;

or
,

The Prettiest Typewriter in New York

(
New
York: Street & Smith, 1893), 10.