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May 05

In love with the typewriter, a glorious piece of machinery

“The gentle and soothing lullaby of a piece of machinery so perfect…” – swooned Frank, a character in love with his typewriter in the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail”.

The last company on earth to produce the typewriter closed its doors this past week, wrote Todd Wasserman in an online piece, “R.I.P. Typewriters.”

I cried.

Well, not exactly cried, but I was sad when I read the obit.

Reading about the end of the typewriter’s long run made me think of my dear friend and journalism colleague, the late Tom Ladwig who loved to write exclusively on his typewriter.

When he died in 1994, a story about his death in the Columbia Missourian highlighted how much he loved his writing machine.

Tom wrote a lot, every word of which as I recall, on his portable, manual typewriter.

He penned columns for the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Missourian and also was a journalism professor at several universities including the University of Missouri, Columbia. In fact, Tom wrote two books using only his manual typewriter.

“He didn’t like to use a computer and preferred the old hunt-and-peck typewriter, and that’s how he did his work,” the Missourian story read. Writing was his forte, and he preferred the way a typewriter touched his senses.

A typewriter, unlike a computer, did indeed evoke our senses of touch, hearing and sight.

As our fingertips came in contact with the hard keys, we actually “felt” typing happen. We applied pressure and voila, magic occurred.

Those born long after the heyday of typewriters likely would not understand the noisy ding and clack of the keyboard and metal keys nor the soothing gentle whir of the machine.

And when we came to the end of a line of typing, we moved the carriage to the left to start a new line, resulting in another sound, a loud thud.

Hearing those sounds was central to the typing experience and was pleasant, even calming.

The typewriter also engaged our sense of sight. Simply look inside the open contraption, and one could see how its machinery worked. Everything was visible. We could observe its ribbons and spools spin and watch the keys hit the ribbon and transfer ink to paper.

I found it fascinating.

The visual aspect of the finished product was paramount.

We crossed out mistakes by typing over them or corrected mistakes with strips of white paper. If the finished product was not good enough, there was no choice but to pull the error-filled paper out and start over. Insert a clean sheet and begin again.

In the sixties when I was in high school, the goal was typing perfection, however one could achieve it and no matter how much practice it took.

The idea, as required by many a high school typing teacher, was to be highly proficient at both speed and accuracy.

By the time I graduated high school, I could type 73 words a minute with no errors. Sixty words a minute was allowable then but would not win a typing award or land a secretarial job.

Today, I cannot type a sentence without an error. I wonder if that is because it is too easy to correct mistakes on a computer and we don’t have to try as hard.

If you are nostalgic for typewriters as I am, there are a couple of online typewriter museums that are easily searchable. There, you will find an in-depth history of the typewriter as well as brands I had not thought of in years, such as Brother, Olivetti, Underwood and Remington.

I enjoyed wandering through these sites and searching until I found my Smith-Corona traveling typewriter, turquoise with white keys, in its very own carrying case. I loved that machine.

Leaving me with nothing else to say but good-bye, R.I.P. to one of the greatest inventions in communication technology of the 19th Century, a glorious piece of machinery—the typewriter.

Or, as my friend Tom might add with a wink if he were still around, “They’ll have to take my typewriter from my cold dead hands.”

I miss Tom. I miss my typewriter.

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