Sunday, June 23, 2024

Did You Ever Use a Typewriter?

IBM Selectric II
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I discovered that June 23 is celebrated as National Typewriter Day (or sometimes just as Typewriter Day).  June 23 was chosen apparently because a patent was granted to Christopher Latham Sholes on that day in 1868.  His Wikipedia page says that he invented the QWERTY keyboard (which was designed to slow typists down), but the patent awarded in 1868 doesn't seem to be for that version, but rather an earlier model.

I learned to touch type (typing without looking at your fingers) on a typewriter in high school in a semester-long class offered for that specific purpose.  My mother had suggested I learn to use a typewriter because it would be a useful skill.

During the semester, I got up to 54 words per minute overall and 51 per minute with no errors.  This was with the older style of typewriter that had the carriage you had to manually push back at the end of every line.  I don't remember the name of my teacher, but she was so excited by my speed that she wanted me to to secretarial school.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had higher aspirations than being a secretary, but I did figure out that my rate was better than average.

My mother was right:  I was able to apply my touch typing skills almost right away in college.  Before desktop computers became the norm, I typed lots of papers for people and made money doing so, which was really helpful, because I went to the University of Southern California on scholarships, not on my family's money.

After I graduated, desktop computers began to be introduced to many of the departments at USC, and my typing skills gave me a leg up on keyboarding.  Every time I applied for a job in a new department I was timed again.  The fastest rate I remember was 108 words per minute; I think that was with no errors.

For a long time I owned and maintained a typewriter, before I could afford a computer.  I favored the IBM Selectric (I think I owned a blue Selectric II), and I had a decent collection of elements, which were how you changed your typeface in the old days.  I remember I stored them in plastic cases specially designed for them (I think I had four cases!).  You had to change the element each time you wanted to change your font, say from regular to Italic.  I loved that typewriter!  But eventually I was able to afford a computer, and the need for the typewriter diminished to the point that I couldn't justify keeping it anymore.  I don't even remember if I was able to find someone who wanted it or I just had to dump it.

IBM Selectric elements in storage case
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  1. I remember my typing teacher, Mr. Strehlow. He also taught health and driver's ed. It took a lot to get him to smile. It wasn't until I was in college and typing papers for others that I could touch type. I worked for a man in Rossmoor typing his letters and he paid well. That helped me pay my way through CSUH. At BART one day, I was keyboarding lesson plans and my co-worker in the next cubicle couldn't believe how fast I was typing. I think he used two fingers to write his lesson plans.

    1. My father used to call typing with two fingers the "Biblical method": Seek and ye shall find. One of my best friends typed with two fingers, but I was amazed at how fast he got with it. I always wondered how well he would have done if he had learned to touch type.

  2. Your post brings back memories of earning extra cash by typing mimeograph stencils of exam questions for college teachers! And hearing the little bell ring at the end of the typing row. I wonder whether today's kids know why the "return" key is called that on the keyboard?

    1. They probably don't know, because it doesn't seem to be discussed in the several pages I read about National Typewriter Day. Aha! We have secret knowledge!


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