Underwood No.5 Typewriter
The Underwood No.5 typewriter
The Underwood No.5 typewriter was first produced in 1901 by the Underwood Typewriter Company of New York. It was designed by a German-American, Franz X. Wagner, and was the first typewriter with a reliable 'front strike' mechanism which allowed the typist to see what was being typed. It was also faster than other designs of the time, operating effectively with a lighter touch, and had shift keys for caps and lower case letters, plus a tabulator key.
Underwood typewriters won many speed typing contests and quickly gained market share from the 'upstrike' models being produced by competitors like Remington, Caligraph, and Hammond. During the next three decades Underwood sold over four million typewriters, the No.5 being by far the most popular.
By its nature, and with so much of its working mechanism exposed to view, the traditional typewriter is not a particulary elegant object. Its appeal perhaps lies in the fact that it is such an outright contraption in obvious contrast to the millions of the fair sex who earned a livelihood by jabbing noisily at its keys for hours on end. It must also be said that in addition to the technical advances of the Underwood typewriter, the No.5 in particular does have a strangely satisfying aesthetic.
Typewriter manufacturers universally adopted Wagner's 'front strike' design and the Underwood can be said to be the forerunner of the modern typewriter. Of course there is no longer such a thing as a 'modern typewriter' since word processors appeared in the 1970s.
A 'writing machine' was patented in England in 1714 by Henry Mill, but no working examples were actually built. In 1808 the Italian Pellegrino Turri built a typing machine of his own design for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzono. The first true typewriter was invented in Milwaukee in the United States by Christopher L. Sholes. It was produced from 1874 as the Sholes & Glidden and marked the first appearance of the QWERTY key layout.
The Sholes & Glidden typewriter was in fact manufactured by the sewing machine department of the Remington arms company and was mounted on a sewing machine treadle table. It wrote capitals only and the paper was advanced by a foot pedal connected to the machine by a cable. The Remington company subsequently developed the design and remained the dominant producers of typewriters, until Underwood came on the scene.
For more about early typewriters, see the Early Office Museum.
[ First published November 20th, 2005 ]