Remembrances: Typewriters

Today, we bring you one of Sylvia Henricks’ “Remembrances.” You can read more of Sylvia’s columns weekly in The Franklin Township Informer, or in her book From The Ash Grove(available directly from the FTHS, and via the web site).



At left: Oliver Typewriter, No.9, patended Nov.5, 1912.

I’ve always loved typewriters, ever since I first played with my father’s old Oliver typewriter. He wrote business letters on it, and my mother used it to copy recipes. In junior high I took a typing class and persuaded my parents to buy me a typewriter of my own, a used L.C. Smith (if I remember right) – and I’ve been typing ever since.

When I saw that my eldest son, John, had in the back room of his bookstore in Alabama, a dusty old Oliver typewriter, I wanted it. (I told him it was for the Township Historical Society.) The only problem was, how would I get it home on the airplane?

But for the last couple years Ann and her friend Jean have driven me to Nashville, Tenn., where John and his wife Karen have met us, and the next day taken me the rest of the way to Alabama. Reversing the process two weeks later would, I figured, provided an easy way to transport a heavy object such as an Oliver typewriter, to a new home in Indiana. John was agreeable, and I have my Oliver No.9, patented Nov. 5, 1912.

It’s in good condition, considering its age, but has no ribbon, nor do all the parts work as smoothly as they should. This, in spite of the order written on it, “Keep Machine Cleaned and Oiled.” I dusted it and took some photos.

And I learned more about it on the Internet. It was conceived by an Iowa Methodist minister, Thomas Oliver, who thought it would be an aid to producing more legible sermon notes. In 1888 he attempted his first typewriter from “cut strips of tin cans.” He was awarded his first patent four years later in 1891, a “crude model with 500 parts.” He resigned from his church, and sought financial backing. He found it among his townsmen and set up shop in Chicago.

At first he marketed his typewriter through word of mouth, individuals who bought one selling them to their friends. Not until he adopted different selling methods, mail order and the use of credit, did he begin to be more successful.

Mr. Oliver died in 1910 at 55, but his company survived, adding new patents yearly.

The Franklin Township Historical Society’s Oliver Typewriter will be on display at the Meeting House when Open Hours begin on Saturday, March 3. (1 to 4 p.m.) We have two other antique typewriters, a Remington Portable, and a valuable old one in a wooden case, on which past member Fern Carlson’s father used to type his sermons.

The Oliver No. 9’s simple three row, but already standard, QWERTY keyboard.

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