THE FIRST FRONTSTROKE
AND WITH IT THE FIRST
FEMALE TYPEWRITER INVENTOR
Olive Serene Tiffany HynesOn this day in 1888, the Reverend Enoch Dye Prouty and his wife Olive Serene Prouty were issued with a patent for the first frontstroke typewriter.
Olive, born Olive Courtney Bowsher Tiffany in Tiffin, Ohio, on November 9, 1848, thus became the first female to be credited as a typewriter inventor.
Olive and Enoch Prouty (above) were not yet married when their typewriter was patented in England on November 15, 1886, which may explain why Olive appears as Olive S. Hynes on the US patent application.
The couple were married in Chicago a little more than five weeks later, on Christmas Day 1886. The US patent was applied for less than two weeks after that, on January 5, 1887.
Enoch Prouty is perhaps best remembered in typewriter history for a machine he allegedly manufactured but didn’t design, rather than one he did design – with his wife - but didn’t manufacture.
There is even some confusion about the typewriter Prouty did apparently manufacture – one variation of the Pearl. Historian Michael Adler says this was “a substantial linear index machine … mechanically similar to the Sun and manufactured by Enoch Prouty in Chicago in 1887”.
Paul Lippman in American Typewriters (1991) wrote, “The massive size and weight of [this] Pearl may be attributed to Prouty – he manufactured printing presses”. In references to the People’s typewriter, Lippman adds that earlier historian George Carl Mares “incorrectly attributes [it] to Enoch Prouty.”
Adler, however, is clear about the proper place in history of the Prouty-Hynes typewriter. “Full credit rarely given to Enoch Prouty and Olive Hynes … It was the first frontstroke typebar example of what was destined to become the conventional upright. Four-row keyboard, with ribbon (but the ribbon spools were located in the middle of the machine and the ribbon travelled not from side to side but front to back), the typebars located horizontally in a segment in front of the platen.”
In reference to the Grundy typewriter (above and below), for which Arthur Grundy, of Whitestone, New York, applied for a patent on January 18, 1887 (it was granted on June 11, 1889), Adler adds, “The inventor was just 13 days too late to claim the honour of the first such design in the US, pipped at the post by Prouty and Hynes of Chicago, whose invention had already been granted a British patent late the previous year.”
Enoch and Olive were just as clear in stating their objective in their patent application specifications: It was, they said, “to produce an improved typewriter of the kind in which the work done shall be visible to the operator while working”.
In A Condensed History of the Writing Machine (1923), the Grundy was mentioned, but the entry said, “A firm of Prouty & Hynes [firm? More like a partnership, since it was a marriage!] also took patents for a similar machine, differing in the typebar immediate actuating mechanism. The Prouty & Hynes had a push link connection between the key lever and the typebar, whereas the Grundy ... had an immediate bell crank lever and two links to effect the same purpose.”
Earlier, Mares (The History of the Typewriter, 1909) claimed of the Prouty, “This machine was invented in 1886, by Messrs E. Prouty & Company [Messrs! Olive was the ‘Mrs’, not the Messrs!] of Chicago Lawn, Illinois ... It forms the root of origin of the present series of writing machines, although the Daugherty machine was conceived at least two years earlier.
“The Prouty was not a commercial success, and its very name is now forgotten.
“These points are, however, of little importance compared with the novel arrangement of the typebars, which for the first time are made to lie on their backs, with type upward, and herein lay the important feature which was, after many years, to be seized upon as the great advance in modern ideas.”
And in 1917, Charles Vonley Oden wrote in Evolution of the Typewriter, “In response to the requirements of a universal demand many efforts were made to invent a machine that could produce and continue visible writing from the first to the last word. In 1888, E. Prouty, of Chicago, Illinois, invented as frontstroke machine to which he gave his name.
"Mr Prouty [no mention of Mrs Prouty here] more nearly accomplished the desired result than any former inventor, but he failed in that the writing was hidden to the extent of the width of the ribbon. This machine, therefore, contained nothing more than an idea, which, having been sown in the fertile mind of genius, took root and produced an abundantly satisfactory harvest, as future developments show. The machine embodied the first frontstroke principle, and the writing was visible except at the immediate writing point …”
Because of its modest price, weight and ready source of power (hand), the Prouty printer was adopted by country printers and small town newspapers. The cylinder picked up the sheet from the feed-board, travelled the length of the bed, released the sheet and returned to the feed-board, similar to the action of a modern proof press. The throw-off is in the bed, which descends before the return of the cylinder. Impression is effected by wheels locked underneath the bearers.
It is believed the press built by the Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville, was patterned after a Prouty "Grasshopper".
Given Enoch Prouty and his wife Olive were responsible for the “root of origin” of typebar frontstrike typewriters, that “great advance in modern ideas”, let us take a look of their lives. Ladies (especially since she the First Lady in typewriter designing) first …
A Condensed History of the Writing Machine (1923)Olive Courtney Bowsher Tiffany was born to 21-year-old Palmer Tiffany and his then 17-year-old wife Jemima Bowsher Tiffany, exactly seven months after they were married. Jemima had already been previously married, to a J.C. Stokes.
Olive grew up in Crane, Wyandot, Ohio. In about 1869, aged 21, she married Irish-born Henry Hynes and had three daughters, Celila, Jennie and Lulu. Jennie and Lulu subsequently became Enoch Prouty’s step-daughters and, indeed, Enoch lived his final days with Jennie (Holloway) and her family. Lulu, as Mary Louise Durkee, died in Chicago in 1918.
When Olive married Prouty, she did do as Olive Serene Hynes. When she died, on June 15, 1922, in Arcadia, DeSoto, Florida, aged 73, her death certificate showed her name as Oliver Courtney Prouty. She was buried at Highland Park, Wayne, Michigan, on June 21.
The Reverend (yes, yet another one!) Enoch Dye Prouty was born on May 1, 1844, at Richland, Ohio, the son of Barnabas Prouty and Rebecca Trumbo Prouty. The family moved to Wisconsin and settled in Bear Lake, Sauk County, in 1854.
Oden (1917)Enoch first married Charlotte Woodman Weller in 1865, and they had four children: Lodema Ellen (1866-1945, later Gorham), Minerva Elma (1867-1934, later Welsh), Pearl Winnie (1875-1935, later Lambert, later Cumming) and Harry Leland (1884-1960, married Marie Sobish). Enoch and Charlotte divorced; she remarried and died in Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1933.
Enoch Prouty was ordained February 14, 1870, and was pastor of Baptist churches at Spring Green, Boscobel and Mazomanie, all in Wisconsin. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Missionaries. While pastor at Boscobel, in 1881, he invented what is known as the Prouty Power Printing Press, “which became celebrated as the cheapest and one of the best printing presses manufactured”. He published a paper called the Temperance Watchman, using one of his own presses.
While living in Beloit, Wisconsin, in 1884, Prouty further developed his printing press. By 1886 he had given up church work to concentrate on his printing presses, basing his own company in Chicago.
Starting in 1895, until 1911, Prouty devoted most his inventing efforts on motor vehicles. He patented car power transmitters (1892, 1893, 1896, 1906), a steam condenser (1892), emergency rail and car brakes (1895), fuel-feed gasoline or vapour engines (1896-1904), clutch (1900), “sill skeleton for car frames” (1906), car truck (1907) and shock absorbers (1910-11). Many of his patents were assigned, wholly or partly, to Olive, including his final printing press, in 1892.
In 1910 Enoch and Olive were living in Geary, Kansas, and by 1920 Prouty had taken up farming at Arcadia, DeSoto, Florida. After Olive died there, Enoch moved in with his step-daughter and her family in Highland Park, Wayne, Michigan.
Enoch Prouty died on September 1, 1935, at Oakland, Michigan, aged 91.
The first woman to patent a typewriter invention alone was Leonie Welspiel, of San Francisco, with a design for which the patent was issued on March 13, 1894. Leonie was born Leonie Jacobina (or Jacqueline) Welspiel in Boston on November 4, 1869, the daughter of Wilhelm and Clementine Limberger Welspiel, both German, or Austrian-German. The family had moved to Oakland, California, by 1880.
Leonie married a Petaluma, California, German-born farmer called Frank Lamberger, who later managed a restaurant in Alameda, California. They had a son called Ludwick.