Friday, August 28, 2009

The Quick Brown Fox….

At one time offices resounded with the clicking of the keys of typewriters and the pleasant sound of the bell as the typewriter carriage approached the end of the paper. Not any more, with computers replacing almost all of them in offices. At least, it has in ours.

As students, our projects and assignments had to be neatly typed before submission . And most trooped in to typewriting institutes to seek the services of a typist. I was lucky, since my grandfather’s typewriter - the Underwood Champion - was available at home and weeks of practice every summer had ensured that I had not totally forgotten how to type. To save on money, I painstakingly typed the first draft of my thesis ( for my postgraduate requirement). It was an effort considering that those days we had no whitener solution to mask the errors. All we had was a typewriter eraser that was made with hard rubber, that invariably smudged the paper. And one had to master the art of typing with just the right amount of pressure, so as not to puncture a hole in the paper. Well, when I went to my advisor with the draft, she had one look at it and asked me to change the typist!

I continued to use the typewriter for many years ( and had subsequently improved my typing skills!) till a problem cropped up with the space bar of the machine. And the guy who came in to repair the more recent typewriters ( this is about 15 years ago) had no clue on how to set it right. And there it was laid to rest…. Until I read this blog of note.

Homes with a typewriter , almost always had a Pitman manual to help you learn to use one. There was even an illustration in the first few pages to show how to be seated while typing. Feet together, back erect, placement of fingers on the keyboard and so on...

Those who did not own a typewriter had to go to the institute, and there was one in almost every locality, to learn. And it was important since typing was at one time considered an added qualification for any job!

Who ever imagined that one day the machine would be obsolete and taken over by the computer. I was in for a surprise when I tried to date my typewriter. I have not really succeeded in doing so, but it seems to have been introduced in the 1930s.

I gather that the typewriter is made of 1800 movable parts! And that factories that made typewriters used the same equipment and methods as factories that made guns, and so, when US entered the Second World War, most of the manufacturers changed to making rifle barrels as there was more need for arms.

The first typewriter was made commercially by Remington & Sons in 1873. And 550 were made in the first year. Initially people did not think that it would replace the written word, but it did. And its introduction contributed greatly to the emancipation of women. They entered the work force in great numbers.

There are now only two companies that manufacture typewriters and the largest manufacturer is Godrej and Boyce in Mumbai, India, who still make at least 12,000 units each year (the other company being Olympia). A major number is exported to countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Angola, Mozambique, Morrocco, and the UAE . The remaining is sold in India in 15 Indian languages The company expects the demand to last only for another 3-5 years before they fade into history .

The typewriter may disappear, but the QWERTY keyboard has remained the universal keyboard right from the experimental machines to the present day computers. Nobody really knows why the letters were arranged in this manner. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog – is the panagram ( that contains all the 26 letters of the alphabet) used to test the typewriter and computer keyboard

So, what does one do with their old typewriters. Suddenly, it appears that they have become valuable and are sold on eBay. And what about the one I own? Well, it shall remain with me for a long, long time. For all the memories associated with it.


  1. I enjoyed this post, Radha! Information presented in a very interesting way.

    Brought back memories, too. In the early days of our marriage, when my husband was starting out in his profession, I used to do office work for him.

    My typing was not very good, and I remember painstakingly typing letters, and them typing them over again because of the mistakes I made!

    No wonder you want to keep your tpewriter,for the memories associated with it, and not sell it!

  2. Very nice. My father had a small type writer which he used to keep in a suitcase like box that came along with it.

    One mistake while typing you are not forgiven. And you have to start from the first.

  3. Awwww...I love this post Radha! What a great memory....and what a beautiful typewriter. How sad, in a way, that we have moved away from more tangible means of recording life, history, and office works. I can't imagine living without this..the computer. But it is rather sacred isn't it...the typewriter. Just this past July, when visiting my 90 year old father, I witnessed his joy when my BIL found a typewriter ribbon for his very old typewriter. He had wanted to record his memories in a 'speedier' fashion than handwriting...grin....his old typewriter and friend. Great post, brought back memories.

  4. Rhadha
    I still have the Remington portable that I bought with my first few pay packets at the age of 15. Unused but still loved.
    The typewriters at newspapers where I worked through the years were much the same as your father's - requiring lots of pressure on the keys.
    I liked them because they would keep up with the speed of my typing, but my workmates hated the noise.
    Now I remember them because I have arthritis in both hands, brought on by repetitive strain syndrome ...
    June in Oz

  5. I never used a type writer ion my life :| . My dad used to tell me about his job days when typing was mandatory. Interesting post :) Very well written :)

  6. that was a very interesting post radha. we had a typewriter at home when i was a kid :), similar to the picture here :D

  7. Its hard to imagine isnt it now? All I know is I must have made far less typos in those days because they were far harder to correct weren't they? How fast things change. I gave my old typewrter away only the other day. Memories, thanks for such a well written and interesting post.

  8. Do you know that old Hindi song "Typewriter tip tip tip tip karta hain, Jindagi ki har kahani likhta hain..." an old Kishor's song. Today when my daughters see me enjoy that song they think... I don't know what and I don't care.
    Kishore is gone and so are the typewriters!
    Wonderful post Radha.

    The You tube link:

  9. such an informative post. I wish I had known this when I wrote my post, I will link to yours now.

    there is a reason for the qwerty being so. I remember reading it somewhere, so I just googled it. this is the most satisfying answer I have found.

    they had jamming issues. so they wanted all the more commonly used letters as far away from the inner parts.

    now people are so used to it, they find it hard to change.


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