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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XI)

MAY 31
Former world heavyweight boxing champion and consummate typewriter promoter, William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey (“The Manassa Mauler”), died in New York City on this day in 1983. He was born in Manassa, Colorado, on June 24, 1895. This Oliver 9, in the Dempsey Museum in Manassa, is claimed to have belonged to the boxer:
But if Dempsey did use an Oliver in his hometown, he had even bigger typewriters to grapple with, elsewhere later in life:
In his time, Dempsey helped publicise Underwood, Corona and Royal typewriters (if not Oliver) – Remington must have been feeling very much left out of Dempsey’s willingness to spread his typewriter-endorsing largesse around.
Less than two years after relieving Jess Willard of the heavyweight title in Toledo, Dempsey was stepping up for Underwood – literally. In a publicity shot with Atlatic City mayor Edward L.Bader, Dempsey jumped on to the carriage of the giant 14-ton Underwood 5 at the Atlantic City Garden Pier (above). A postcard of the event is titled “Two world champions”.
The big typewriter was built for the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 (above).
It took three years to build, was 18ft high and 21ft wide, and was a fully functioning replica of the Underwood (just 1728 times bigger). Each typebar weighed 45lb and the carriage weighed 3500lb. The paper was 9ft wide by 12 1/2ft tall and the typing was done by remote control. The typewriter printed out attendance figures of the fair.
After the fair, the typewriter was moved to Atlantic City in 1916. There, it became part of Underwood's “Products and Progress Pavilion”. Later, it was moved to a Convention Hall store facing the Boardwalk.
Dempsey was in Atlantic City at the time (June 1921) the postcard photograph was taken while, preparing to defend his championship against Frenchman Georges Carpentier, in Jersey City on July 2, 1921 (ticket above). It was boxing's first million dollar gate, and Dempsey won in the fourth.
Dempsey next stepped into the typewriter promoting ring for Corona - on September 14, 1923, when he fought the Argentinian Louis Angel Firpo ("El Toro de las Pampas - The Wild Bull of the Pampas”) at the Polo Grounds in New York (programme cover above).
Jack Lawrence of The New York Herald Tribune was using a Corona 3 at ringside to cover the bout. During a Firpo onslaught at the end of the first round, the Argentinean caught the champion’s chin with a right and Dempsey went out of the ring through the ropes – landing on his neck and shoulder on top of Lawrence’s Corona and cutting the back of his head. Lawrence helped get Dempsey back on to the canvas at the count of nine. Dempsey was able to recover, continue and retained his title in the next round, knocking Firpo down three times before the fight was stopped at the 57-second mark. Lawrence went on using his Corona to describe the action. When the Corona Typewriter Company heard about the incident, it launched an advertising campaign stating, “Dempsey knocked out Firpo, but he couldn’t knock out the Corona 3.” (The Firpo knockdown, by the way, is the subject of a famous George Wesley Bellows painting, above).
It has subsequently been claimed that pioneering female sports writer Jane Dixon, of the New York Telegram, had a part in all this. One account had Dempsey “hurtling toward [Dixon’s] ringside seat … Fortunately for her, she and her typewriter were spared injury when Lawrence caught the champ and, with the help of a Western Union operator, pushed him back into the ring.”
Dempsey entered the typewriter promotion business again on September 22, 1927, when the Royal Typewriter Company – desperate to break into a portable typewriter market then being completely dominated Corona, Underwood and Remington – sponsored the first nationwide radio broadcast of a world title fight.
This was Dempsey’s famous bout with Gene Tunney at Soldier’s Field in Chicago, with a $2.7 million gate and a record live attendance of 104,000. The audience for the Royal-sponsored radio broadcast would have been colossal.
In June 12, 1949, the benevolent Dempsey found himself in Fargo, North Dakota, helping the footballer-turned-wrestler Bronko Nagurski promote a wrestling match (for which Dempsey was referee). They were photographed together at the Fargo Forum and Daily Tribune’s sports department. According to the newspaper, “Nagurski … told the former world heavyweight boxing champion that he must have punched faster in his ring days than he does on a typewriter.”
On this day in 1929 (though there are various other claims, between May 23 by the IMDb and July 31 by other sources), the first talking cartoon of Mickey Mouse, The Karnival Kid, was released. Few characters in history have had as many typewriters named in their honour as Mickey Mouse.

Although The Karnival Kid was Mickey's ninth short, it was the first in which he actually spoke (saying, “Hot dogs, Hot dogs!”). Walt Disney himself voiced Mickey.
On this day in 1910, typewriter inventor Walter E.Barnard, of Hartford, Connecticut, assigned to the Underwood Typewriter Company a patent for an improvement for the ribbon mechanism. It was an attempt to “silence” the ribbon vibrator when writing stencils. You will note the attorney counter-signing this patent is Burnham Coos Stickney, himself a typewriter inventor and a co-signee to some of Lee Burridge’s patents.

Monday, 30 May 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (X)

I wouldn't normally highlight a non-manual typewriter. As the late Tilman Elster so forcefully put it in an interview with ETCetera magazine in 2006, "For me the electric typewriters and electronic typewriters are not of interest, because you cannot repair anything ... put it in the dustbin!" And someone actually gave me one of the IBMs pictured above only the other day - not sure yet what to do with it (but thanks for the suggestion, Tilman!)
In Harry Bernstein's admirable case, I'll make an exception. Harry, you see, turns 101 today! And since he didn't have his first book published until he was 96, he's an inspiration to us all. Indeed, there's hope for me yet (I've still got more than 30 years up my sleeve, if I can last that long).
After an earlier post (on International Women's Day), about American-born Dora Armitage introducing typing schools to Australia, a fellow blogger, one based in the US (Michael McGettigan, "phillytyper"), commented about having read Albert Facey's 1981 book A Fortunate Life, published nine months before he died. Harry Bernstein beats Albert, however, since Albert was 87 when his first (and only) book came out. I had not long been back in Australia and was living near Albert, in Fremantle, Western Australia, when his book was published, and got to meet him. He was a lovely, humble, self-effacing old man, a memorable character. If Harry Bernstein is anything like Albert, long may he live and long may he continue to write.
Harry Bernstein was born in Stockport, England, on this day in 1910. His first book, The Invisible Wall, deals with his abusive, alcoholic father, the anti-Semitism he encountered growing up in a Lancashire milltown in north-west England, and the Romeo and Juliet romance of his sister and her Christian lover. The book was started when he was 93 and published in 2007. The loneliness he encountered following the death of his wife, Ruby, in 2002, after 67 years of marriage, was the catalyst for Harry to begin work on his book. His second book, The Dream, centres on his family’s move to the US when he was 12. It was published in 2008. In 2009, he published his third book, The Golden Willow, which is the third memoir of his series involving his married life and later years.
Before his retirement at age 62, Bernstein worked for various movie production companies reading scripts and working as a magazine editor for trade magazines, and also wrote freelance articles for such publications as Popular Mechanics and Newsweek.
Harry now lives in Brick Township, New Jersey.
Another US writer born on this day was Hal Clement (above; real name Harry Clement Stubbs), who was born in 1922 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and died in Milton, Massachusetts, on October 29, 2003, aged 81. His forte was science fiction writing, in which he followed the example set by the great typewriter inventor Byron A.Brooks (see earlier post).
One of Clement’s collections of stories was published as Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter (1999). I’m not sure that it contained much about typewriters, but one reviewer wrote, “The title Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter also reminds us of how much old-fashioned skull sweat necessarily went into the writing, with no electronic assistance to ease the meticulous calculations of every little point of physics. Like a teacher guiding pupils through tangled thickets of detail to some luminous general principle, Clement courteously worked hard to make the path seem easy.”
Enough said …
One man who used some skull sweat and tried to guide himself through a tangled thicket was William A.Phillips, a second lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry US Army based at Fort Keogh, Custer, Montana.
On this day in 1893, Phillip was granted a patent for his suggested improvements to the Hall typewriter (above), namely to correct “defective printed or typewritten matter or making a subsequent impression …”

Mr Swellhead Hires a Typist -Turn of the Century Typewriter Humour

Buying Typewriters, London-style, 1906

We've all read the story about how Mark Twain claimed to have been "hoodwinked" into buying a Sholes & Glidden - in his case, if I recall rightly, the rapidly repeated phrase was "The boy stood on the burning deck". Twain later, apparently, tried to exchange the S & G with William Dean Howells for a horsewhip, but did swap it with Frank Bliss for a $12 saddle. And there are similar stories about how May Estelle Munson mesmerised potential buyers by typing the same words over and over when demonstrating the Blickensderfer 5 at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Anyway, in the same vein, but from across the Atlantic ...

Wow! What a Typewriter! The L.C.Smith No 1 No 1

If this L.C.Smith and Brothers Model 1 Serial No 1 typewriter has survived somewhere, somehow, these past 107 years, it should at least have its own highlighted spot in the Smithsonian, if a Typewriter Hall of Fame can't be created just in its honour.
Read what the Smith-Corona News special 50th anniversary magazine wrote about it in January 1953:

Chicago's Norman Saksvig

Image of the No 1 from Thomas A.Russo's Mechanical Typewriters: Their History, Value, and Legacy (2002).

Here is the story of the No 1's development, from the same publication:
Swedish-born Carl Gabrielson

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cats and Typewriters: Dedicated to the late Tilman Elster

 (October 7, 1933-August 2010)
It's now nine months since the typewriter collecting and treasuring world lost one of its heroes, Tilman Elster. But he is still sorely missed by all those fellow collectors who were fortunate enough to know him or to have had any contact with him.
The Christmas before he passed away, Tilman sent cards to his many friends around the world, wishing them the compliments of the season. On the front of the card was this wonderful photograph, taken at Tilman's late 18th century farmhouse at Herford in the North Rhine-Westpahlia in Germany. The photo was taken on October 27, 2009, of Tilman's cat cleaning itself in front of his [Underwood] Elliott-Fisher T12.
If you look very hard at the image at the bottom of this post, of just one part of Tilman's massive collection of more than 1400 typewriters, you will see the T12 in front of the back shelves, at ground level - and you may well suspect you see a cat resting on the top right. I do. (The images of Tilman, above, and of his collection are, by the way, scanned from the June 2006 issue of ETCetera, the journal of the Early Typewriter Collectors' Association, edited by Richard Polt).
What is it about typewriters and cats? I think I can work out why there so many images of women with typewriters, but cats? Maybe the attraction is explained by American writer Barbara Holland, who shared a birthday (April 5) with me (though she was 15 years my senior) and who died just a couple of weeks after Tilman, on September 7 last year.
Holland wrote the popular book The Name of the Cat (1988), which was updated and reissued as Secrets of the Cat: Its Lore, Legends and Live (1994, 2002, 2010).
In it she said:
A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It's a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys.
So here are some cats and some typewriters - let's start with Hemingway's cats, then and now:

Marlon Brando apparently liked cats around when he was typing, too
This image was on a 60th birthday email sent to me by Richard Polt (who is my mentor!):
This is our Australian representative cat, apparently called Ginger
The fascination with cats and typewriters is such that many people have posted such images on blogs, and on Flickr:
And cats have appeared with typewriters on calendars and in art, too:
Well blow me down, after all this I turn to the back page of the same issue of ETCetera - and what do I find? A photograph of a cat with a typewriter! Of all things ... (I think it was cat fate; now I'll have to go look for the Martin Howard article):

And two more cute shots I overlooked when I first published this post: