June 23rd is the day to celebrate a thwacking, banging, dinging Steampunky masterpiece of engineering!
This analog computer for old people has contributed to the completion of many Great American Novels. It has made legible the wishes of many people with unreadable handwriting. And, most significantly, it has played a role in many of my fond childhood memories.
I’ve always loved typewriters.
I own two, a 1938 Royal Magic Margin and a 1928 Underwood, both so aggressively heavy I could become a bodybuilder by bench pressing them.
The Underwood originally belonged to my Uncle Jay who had it sitting on a shelf for as long as I can remember. I’d always stare at the thing whenever I visited his house. And, like everyone in the presence of a typewriter, I would absolutely need to press the keys. (They always jammed. Once upon a time someone had dropped it. Dropping an antique Underwood should be a crime, I think.)
That Underwood always stood out among Uncle Jay’s many possessions. Not only because I liked it so much, but also because it was so out of character. Uncle Jay was not a writer or a collector of antiques. Quite the opposite, really. He was a gadget guy. If something new hit the market that was state-of-the-art and/or techy, he would be the first in line to buy it. I believe Uncle Jay was the only person in the world to own a 3-D television—a technological marvel that was as awesome as it was useless.
Uncle Jay sensed I liked his Underwood by the subtle hints I would sometimes drop—like the way I would endlessly shout, “I really like your Underwood! I wish I had an Underwood! I always wanted an Underwood!” So when he and Auntie Susan decided to downsize and move to Florida (the legally mandated nesting place for New Jersey old people) he gave it to me.
I was ecstatic.
Because the keys are damaged, my Underwood is “for display purposes only,” which is regrettable. But old Underwoods are such beautiful machines that I almost don’t mind its lack of functionality. I like looking at it. I like the idea that I own one. And I especially like the idea that I have the option to get the thing refurbished. Which I will. Soon.
My Royal is a different animal entirely. It’s built like a Sherman tank and works like new. I found it in a thrift store and consider it the smartest purchase I’ve ever made. Where else can a $40 investment lead to decades of happy, satisfying, cathartic thwacking?
God, what a fun machine. It’s such a refreshing change of pace from the wimpy, whispery clickitaclickitas of my laptop keyboard. Writing is hard work, dangit! Bangs, whumps, and thumps from a good old fashioned manual typewriter makes it sound like you’re working!
Longtime readers of this blog know that this isn’t the first time I’ve delivered an ode to typewriters. This (typewritten) blog post below is from 2013 and I still agree with it–especially my views on Davy and Goliath. (Click to see larger.)
Long story short, I highly recommend that you peruse the secondhand
shops for a typewriter right now. One THWACK and you’ll be a convert for life.
Are there any typewriter fans out there? Do you prefer another (non-laptoppy) way to write down your ideas? Leave a comment! Let’s chat!
65 Replies to “It’s National Typewriter Day!”
I still have my typewriter from college.. circa 1981. It was a gift to help with term papers etc. I learned how to type on a manual typewriter in high school. There were ~ 25 in the room and about 10 were electric. It was a good day when you got to class early enough to snag one of those. I’m still not the fastest typist in the world but I appreciate the sound of the noise because it brings back memories. I also appreciate the fact I know how to type properly.
Happy Typewriter Day Mike! Your collection is awesome!!! 💙
My middle school typing class only had manuals, which at the time was a slog, because I was only familiar with the Barely-Touch-The-Key action of an electric (see childhood photo in the above post). I was (and still am) a pretty awful typist–both slow and sloppy–but I ain’t here to win any speed contests, I just want my writing to be as fun as possible!
My very first typewriter was a bright orange Tom Thumb — for kids. I remember is sitting under the Christmas tree. I learned to type on manual typewriters in the 60s and owned a Royal. Electric typewriters were just coming on the scene when I was in college and began writing for newspapers. You forgot to mention the carbon paper (which most kids don’t know about) and white-out. And I remember working for large newspapers that still used led type and type setters. I worked on a morning paper, so the paper went to bed before midnight and we’d wait for the first and back page to be printed so we could correct the typos. By the mid-70s the papers transitioned. Fun times.
I came into newspaper writing in the 1990s, right around the time all the pasteup guys at my job were getting laid off.
I went to school for Graphic Design and, to earn my degree, I had to take classes that painstakingly explained the traditional methods of pasteup. This knowledge was completely impractical as everything was switching to computers, and my fellow students grumbled about it being a waste of time, but I found it fascinating and fun. My time at the paper was the only (all too brief) instance I ever saw those techniques being used in the real world.
I learned to type on a Royal typewriter in high school in the early 60s. I was terrible at it, because my little fingers weren’t strong enough to depress the keys that they were meant to depress, and I’d have to stop and hit those keys with my index finger. How happy I was years later when I first sat down in front of an IBM Selectric, where the keys depressed easy as pie, and instead of a fixed set of them, you had the Magic Font Ball. You could own two or three different ones and swap them out for a change of typeface. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Now, I actually am thrilled with all I can do on a computer, and my typing skills have improved drastically over the decades. But having said all of that, I’d love to have a beautiful antique Underwood like yours. I’d definitely display it prominently and respectfully, with appropriate lighting to bring out the full glory!
Fun post, Mike, and a nice trip down Memory Lane, too! Thanks! 😊
I had problems when I first used manual typewriters, too. I was too familiar with the electric Smith Corona Coronet I grew up with. But I grew to appreciate (and prefer!) the manuals. I have a weird fondness for complex machines that one can still use during a power outage. They’re delightfully impractical in this day and age, but I just don’t care.
Do what makes you happy, I always say! Type on, my friend!! 😊
Learn in the 70s.
I learned to (sort of) type in the 80s. Good times! (Bad typing skills!)
You and Tom Hanks are both typewriterphiles. Have you seen the documentary California Typewriters? Click. Clack. Moo by Doreen Cronin is right up your alley as well, Mike.
Tom Hanks is a National Treasure so OF COURSE he’s a typewriter fan.
Did you hear the story about how Hanks gave a bullied kid a pristine vintage Corona typewriter? As I said, National Treasure.
A human of merit, indeed.
I had a sherman tank Royal for years when my high school got rid of the old ones in the 80s. When you were frustrated you could bang on it with your fists.
They are indestructible! It’s as if the fine folks at Royal knew *exactly* how damn frustrating writing can be.
That’s so cool about you and typewriters. I’d get into it too, but it does take up a chunk of money. My writing implement of choice is pen and paper. But of course, drafting on the computer is always easier. There, I have mechanical keyboards to satiate my desires. One day, I’ll get a typewriter!
A new or restored typewriter can cost an arm and a leg, that’s for sure. But if you peruse thrift stores, you might get lucky.
Good luck on your quest, Stuart! Thanks for writing!
You can become a card carrying member of the Boston Typewriter Orchestra…
That was delightful. I would pay good money to watch a typewriters-based, STOMP-inspired concert.
Apparently they did a recent show in New Jersey. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the next one.
I remember the old typewriter that sat on my dad’s desk. I had to push hard on those clacking keys, but what fun. I’m so glad you received your uncle’s Underwood and love it that you display it. A writer at heart. 🙂
Just gotta get the thing up and running…
I used my parents’ 1960s Smith Corona that had its own hinged cover. The THWACK was quite satisfying, but I do recall the striking keys getting tangled if you accidentally hit more than one key at once. Now, I do love the sound of my laptop keys when I’m in full-on speed-typing mode. I cold never type that fast on a manual. Never. But perhaps this is the reason that agents and editors are now overwhelmed by manuscripts. Typing fast is so much easier. Probably why agents and editors are overwhelmed with MSS. That, and electronic submissions that avoid paper altogether. My other question is this (based on your affinity for spic-n-spanness): how do you dust that typewriter, since it doesn’t appear to have a cover?
Good question! I polish the exterior of the typewriter with a rag, and vacuum the guts with the brush attachment.
I find your theory about why editors are overwhelmed intriguing, but I’m not sure I buy it. If you recall, I posited a theory of my own a few year back: https://mikeallegra.com/join-h-a-c-k-s/
Oh yes! I recall that theory. I and my son participated in the resistance 😂
I don’t even remember that typewriter…..I guess I was too focused on the bar. Clearly it found the right home!
I don’t remember seeing the Underwood at the house in Ringwood, but it was prominently displayed after your folks moved to Toms River. It was on the shelves in the basement next to the puzzle boxes, close–but apparently not close enough–to the bar.
Apparently so….I have no memory of this!
It may be time to acknowledge that you have a drinking problem.
That brings back memories!
Good memories, I hope!
Thanks for the reblog!
Feeling ya with this love of typewriters and am sorry to have r missed the yearly recognition day!!
It’s okay if you missed it, Jaya. Any day can be National Typewriter Day!
Speaking of typewriters, this is one heck of a story. It happened at the height of the Coronavirus outbreak. It involves Tom Hanks who proves again he’s a real nice guy.
I knew about this story! In fact, I just told one of my other bloggy pals about it after this post went live.
Hanks is a National Treasure.
And a great actor to boot 😉
He sure is!
Wow ! I learnt typewriting. I think I was the last generation to learn and attend exams. My son still is awestuck how fast i can type and I can say the abcd in reverse. Thank you for reminding me about typewriters. 😃
I envy people who can type quickly. I’ve always been a slowpoke in that regard, but that has not diminished my love for the machines.
I had to use a typewriter in college. I gained newfound respect for folks who had to use them every day. Unfortunately I never got really fast at typing on one and my writing always seemed to have mistakes. I’m much more partial to a laptop now, but definitely understand the typewriter fascination! Nice post!
As the typewritten portion of my post shows, I’m no stranger to typos.
Thanks for stopping by, Brian! Don’t be a stranger!
I have an old Remington in my writing room! It’s display-only, but I intend to fix it up for writing purposes 🦄
Oh, some of those Remingtons are gorgeous! Good luck with the restoration, Luna!
Thank you! It was my mom’s. Like you, i have great memories of playing with it as a child. It is really gorgeous 🤩 i have so many photos of it!
Well, now I gotta see a photo!
I have various pics of us together on my website, but the best close-up of the typewriter is on my LinkedIn header: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-steinheimer-writer/
…and now you know my real name 😉
What gorgeous machine! I’m a little envious, I gotta admit. (And as for your name, your secret is safe with me!)
Haha, thanks! Ain’t she a beaut? She needs a name.
Hm…my typewriters are similarly nameless. I’m gonna have to give this some thought.
Haven’t used a typewriter since. college days. My daughter developed a love of antiques at the age of six. She bought a 1930’s Royal which still sort of works. She also found a typing manual used in high school or maybe secretarial schools. The actor Tom Hanks is an avid collector of old typewriters. BTW: Thank you for following my blog. Nice to meet you and your happy books.
An antique enthusiast at the age of six! Your daughter is an old soul and you’re all the luckier for it.
Take care, my new bloggy friend!
Thank you. She continues to furnish our home with her treasures. This weekend we went antiquing in Newburyport, MA. Old postcards, a sterioscope, vintage clothing, and a children’s magazine from 1967 were some of the finds.
I always liked those stereoscopes. Great-grandma’s Viewmaster!
It seems everyone has already beaten me to the key stroke. But I have watched California Typewriter several times and never tire of it. Fascinating stuff. https://youtu.be/w2tQ-5MZWkE
Aaaaand now I really need to see this. Thanks, Michelle!
My mom has/had a typewriter that got a ton of use when I was a kid. She did her work on it and sometimes typed up our handwritten reports for us with super speed because we didn’t own a computer. I enjoyed banging away on it as a kid too. I think it’s super cool you own two. I wonder if my parents still have that old thing…
I wish I still have the electric Smith Corona I played with as a kid, but, boy, do I love my old manuals!
That’s cool. 🙂
I apologize for taking so long to get to this post. I was out of town and am still playing catch up.
Goodness! No apology is ever needed for you! You can come and go from this blog as you please! 🙂
You’re just afraid I might hurt you if you’re not nice to me, aren’t you, Mike? 😉 Kidding! 😛
I’m afraid you’ll hurt both of us!
My arm hurt in class last night. Thought of you and, “I shouldn’t have said anything to Mike about being due.” And yet, no visible bruises today!