Category Archives: Nostalgia

Vanishing Breed: World’s Last Typewriter Factory Closes its Doors

Hold on to your ribbons and keys: The world’s last typewriter factory, located in Mumbai, India, is closing its doors. As late as 2009, the factory, Godrej and Boyce, was still rolling out 10-12, 000 machines a year (down from 50,000 a year in the 90s). But the ubiquitous computer just proved too much for it.

The concept of impressing ink-coated letters onto paper may date to a 1714 English patent held by Henry Mill. The first working typewriter was said to have been built in 1808 by Italian Pellegrino Turri. Our current typewriters (and computer keyboards) owe the most debt to the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, produced in New York, beginning in 1873, from gunmakers E. Remington & Sons. Some of you may still have Remington manual typewriters.

Sholes, a newspaperman from Wisconsin, created the QWERTY keyboard that we still use today. The first one made only capital letters. There is more early typewriter history on this excellent site. This is another great site featuring lots of pictures and information about different models of early typewriters, from American Visible to World.

U.S. typewriter production was dominated by just four brands — Underwood, Royal, Remington and Smith-Corona — from the 1920s until they stopped production. Remington, then Remington-Rand, moved production to Europe in 1961. The last Smith-Corona and Royal typewriters came out in the 1970s. Underwood merged with Olivetti in 1963 and began diversifying. The last Olivetti portable typewriter was produced in Spain in the 1980s.

Though I typed a “novel” on a manual typewriter in 6th grade ( a tome in which terrible fates befell the fictional denizens of an elementary school, truth be told), and learned manual typing from typing teacher Stella Staley to prepare for high school, for most of high school I typed papers on a series of lovely IBM Selectrics. These were probably the slightly outdated castoffs from my parents’ ad agency office, but still — they were quite sleek, in lovely colors (robins egg blue or gunmetal gray), and they had fascinating metal balls that spun around to find the designated letter. Best? You could change the font by changing out the ball. (I also remember the change-over from white-out to type-out correction paper.) It turns out IBMs had been somewhat stylish (and electric) since the 1930s.

Now, of course, there is a collectors’ market for typewriter ribbons and other accessories, not to mention the typewriters themselves. And while news of this last typewriter rolling off the factory belt may hit some of us with an odd sense of surprise and nostalgia, I note that the same keyboard from almost 150 years ago is still with us, and that some people (even in high schools today) continue to say “typing” rather than the duller-sounding “keyboarding” or, God forbid, “word processing”.

This wistful change brings both and “end of an era” feeling and the notion that I personally can’t imagine how long-form writers ever typed complete novels without the luxury of inserting, deleting, copying and pasting at will — even if I once tried it myself.

Be sure to see: The typewriter dance number.

This just in: Some typewriters are apparently still being made, in the U.S., for the prison market. So, perhaps more accurately, the world’s second to last typewriter factory closed its doors.

Photos: IBM typewriter ads, top to bottom, Model Year 1954, 1930, 1948, 1948, 1959, 1967. These and many more on etypewriters.com. Early writing ball typewriter, 1903 Remington ad and popular 1920s Underwood 5 manual typewriter on this typewriter history site. Later Underwood 5 typewriter on Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk

I’m not sure quite why I can’t resist lingering over a neon roadside sign at dusk. Nor why I find some to be just a bit forlorn. Perhaps it’s the gulf between the sign’s bright promise — in this case evoking our local mountain, given the Native American Miwok name meaning “coastal mountain” — and the reality of a motel, or a bar, or an eatery that’s seen better times. Or maybe it’s just the time of day, the light, the glory and wonder of neon, and the beckoning of the open road, none of which ever grow old.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign

While in New York (site of last week’s Photo Friday), I became completely entranced with “Ghost Signs”, faded advertising signs painted on the sides of brick buildings. Most of these are from decades ago. Some are faded beyond recognition. Many offer goods and services that have seen more popular times: millinery, lithography, shirtwaists, coatfronts, sewing machines, steam heat, furs and skins, paper and twine.

As I walked around Manhattan’s streets, gazing up and peering around corners for ghost signs, I felt like an urban archeologist. Each sign held a clue to past generations. Each felt like a surprise to discover, as well as a fleeting treat. I knew that the next time I might pass this way, the sign could very well be faded completely, lost to memory — or lost to new construction, as glass and steel might completely cover it up, much the way the tearing down of old buildings to make way for new ones may have led to some of these old ghost signs seeing the light of day once more.

I try to photograph ghost signs wherever I go. I have found New York City and Portland, Oregon, to be especially rich places for them, in addition to forgotten main streets and quiet roads where rural barns advertise tobaccos and colas. Look for an upcoming post that will feature more.

In the meantime, keep observing, wandering, and being open to a surprise or two. Last week reader Alice sent a link to this story on Slow Photography, which is more about the joyful process of taking pictures than it is about the finished result. (Thank you Alice. See Alice’s photos on flickr.)

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Downplay Gift-Giving and Bring up Ritual, Meaning and Fun

I am thrilled to have Amy at Frugal Mama here today with a guest post. I always get tons of practical and inspirational tips from her lovely blog and am honored that she wanted to write something for Slow Family:

“I think the best way to de-commercialize Christmas and other holidays with kids is to have lots of non-gifting traditions,” says Nancy Shohet West, Boston-area essayist, friend and author of the newly-released The Mother-Son Running Streak Club, a memoir about bonding with her son by running a mile with him every day for a year.

I like the way Nancy thinks about giving presents:  as just one of many holiday traditions.  (Clearly dedicated to routine, given she is now on day 1,215 of her daily running streak, I consulted Nancy when I took on writing this article for Suz and Slow Family Online.)

It’s Not that Gifts are Bad…

I’m not saying we should completely give up presents.  But too many can empty our savings, clutter our homes, and pile landfills with more junk. I knew things had gotten excessive in our family when we had to take a lunch break from Christmas present-unwrapping.  Now we have a one-gift-per-person rule.

This year we plan to revive the stockings, but instead of tiny wrapped do-dads, we’ll fill them with exchanged notes for everyone that begin with phrases like “I love how you…” and “I remember when you…”

But I still sometimes worry that fewer presents will be disappointing.

Make Those Traditions Constant and Pleasing

Holiday rituals — as keepers of our values and pleasures — have the power to replace the joy of giving and receiving gifts. As Nancy describes in her blog post A Month of Holiday Festivities, special activities fill all of December:

  • the town tree-lighting
  • a school holiday concert
  • a cookie exchange
  • buying a Christmas tree
  • decorating the house
  • throwing a party
  • making candy (truffles, peanut brittle, white-chocolate candy cane bark, toffee, and peanut-butter buckeyes)
  • a church pageant, evergreens sale, and children’s service
  • an annual holiday photo shoot and
  • composing the family’s customary 12-stanza poem

Breaking with Tradition:  Does This Happen to You Too?

Not everyone is as naturally inclined toward ritual as Nancy, however, and some of us face significant obstacles.

Since having our first daughter who is now eight, we have lived in five different places. (My husband’s medical training keeps us moving.)

Plus, we celebrate Christmas in different places each year:  at my parents’ Ohio farm, in my husband’s native Milan, or wherever we are living at the time. I’m sure people with blended families have an even more complicated geographical itinerary.

Traditions change even at my parents’ country house, which has been in the family since 1868.  Some of my favorite memories used to be singing carols around the fire on Christmas Eve while my uncle played guitar, eating tins of caramel clusters that family friends would send us every year, and taking a tractor ride up to the woods where we’d cut down a Christmas tree, roast hot dogs and make s’mores.

But my parents don’t own that little piece of woods anymore, my uncle doesn’t come these days (he has grandchildren of his own), and those family friends sold their popcorn company.

Then there’s the issue that I’m sure many mothers of young children face:  even if it’s possible to continue the same childhood traditions, do you want to?  Or do you adopt new ones?  If so, which ones?

Finally, piling on more have-to’s onto our loaded holiday plates can risk overwhelming us, instead of delighting us.  (If you have the feeling you need to pare down, Nancy recommends asking your children which traditions mean the most to them.)

So, creating a spectrum of rituals that your family looks forward to every year is not simple, but I think it’s worth working towards.  Especially for the power of tradition to take the pressure off material things.

Holiday Rituals that Captivate

Here are some activity ideas, besides the ones already mentioned, that could populate your holidays.  Presents or no presents, your family will remember this time as one of warmth and magic.

  • Make a gingerbread house (Suz has great suggestions for both hand-made houses and kits, as well as workshops and classes)
  • Attend religious events, such as midnight mass or creche scenes
  • Drive around festive neighborhoods at night or go to a festival of lights (zoos often put these on)
  • Light candles or make a cupcake Menorah
  • Give away toys to the hospital, deliver meals to shut-ins, volunteer at at shelter, or drop off cans at a food bank
  • Read aloud together Twas the Night Before Christmas in holiday pajamas
  • Or read books about the history of Santa Claus and how Christmas Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice is celebrated around the world
  • Make hand-crafted gifts and cards
  • Go sledding, skiiing, tubing, or ice-skating
  • Eat food you only make at this time of year, such as eggnog, roasted chestnuts, rugelach, mulled cider, cut-out sugar cookies, mincemeat, kugel, gingersnaps, peppermint bark, or potato latkes
  • See the Nutcracker, or stay home and play board games
  • Go to the botanical garden for a toy train exhibit, or downtown for a horse and buggy ride
  • Set cookies out for Santa, or deliver plates of goodies to neighbors
  • Every Friday night, watch a classic holiday movie like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Invite an international student over for a holiday meal
  • Take a train ride to a festive old-fashioned town
  • Send care packages to friends or family who need a boost
  • Make snowflakes (create your own or try these beautiful snowflake patterns) and use them as decorations, gifts or ornaments
  • Don’t celebrate Christmas?  Make a tradition of going out for Chinese food and the movies on Christmas day.

Boost Your Chances of Success

Don’t worry if you miss one year of a time-honored ritual (or one you wanted to become time-honored).  Nancy was torn about missing her favorite holiday concert last year, but it made her more appreciative when she was able to go again this time.

I think the rituals we are most likely to stick with are the ones that we have strong beliefs about (like fostering a love of nature) or that we get great pleasure from (cookies we think are delicious, not just “what grandma made”).

If some traditions involve more values than pleasure (like visiting Uncle Eggbert for a piece of fruitcake); or the pleasure involves pain (like stringing lights over that stickery bush), follow them with something that’s pure enjoyment:  staying up late watching The Sound of Music, or eating fondue by a blazing fire.
Remember the procrastination-prone thank you notes?  Nancy creates a ritual out of that too, making it fun by taking her kids to a local coffee house, where they get to drink hot chocolate with whipped cream while writing to grandma.


What holiday rituals does your family look forward to year after year?

Amy Suardi loves finding the silver lining to living on less.  Subscribe to her blog Frugal Mama to get free bi-weekly ideas on saving money and making life better.

Stories and photos by Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama

Snapshot: Found Objects

At the risk of outing myself as a complete slob, I recently unearthed my daughter’s decade-old “Little Mermaid” backpack while cleaning a closet. Serendipity struck in the form of a backpack collection drive that my friend Karen Benke was having to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, and off the Little Mermaid pack went.

The body of the backpack had long ago been emptied, but the small front pocket held a surprise collection. Dumping it on the kitchen counter transported me back more than a decade — to a time of baby barrettes, film cameras, and our delightfully worn membership card to the Bay Area Discovery Museum. I was reminded that every purse and backpack from that period contained crayons and crayon markings. I remembered Anna being entranced by a magician’s tricks and adding her writing to his card. I remembered exploring San Francisco Bay on a slow afternoon that probably included pretending to be a captain atop the Discovery Museum’s dry-land boat.

Modern-day Anna was amused that the Mermaid backpack would have within it a guide to the seashore.

What treasures have you unearthed lately?

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

From Treehugger: Frugal Green Living Posters

Canning, victory gardening, carpooling, conserving resources, living frugally — There are a lot of parallels between a whole swath of trends and activities today and those from the 1940s. In both periods, outside forces (war, the economy, the environment) have caused a lot of us to take stock and change some of our homefront habits. In the process, many of us discovered or rediscovered some relatively lost arts on the way to using less.

The always-relevant Treehugger has offered a terrific blog post, Frugal Green Living: Posters for the Movement, which features a collection of 1940s posters that, while making statements urging people to reconsider wasteful habits, are also themselves wonderful examples of message-oriented graphic design at its mid-century zenith.

I love these for their bold graphics and nostalgic style and marvel that they are fairly relevant today – except for the last one, of course. Though Treehugger makes the point that cooking fat is now collected for biodiesel fuel, rather than to make explosives. And that is undoubtedly a good thing.

Posters: Minneapolis Public Library

Happy 50th Avenue of the Giant Redwoods

50 years may be a lot to us, but it’s a mere blip to some redwood trees, the oldest of which live 2,000 years. (Most live 500-700 years.)

Regardless, the Golden birthday is nothing to sneeze at, particularly in regard to the Avenue of the Giants Parkway,  the 32-mile-long road that stretches from Garberville to Scotia, a bit inland from the Northern California coast, that is home to some of the oldest-growth redwoods in the world.

Originally a stagecoach road, the Avenue of the Giants was officially dedicated by CA Governor Edmund G. Brown on August 27, 1960. It seemed that the new,  high-speed Highway 101 allowed the Redwood route to become, in Brown’s words, “a serene drive where kids and families can cross the road at will, where traffic moves at a far slower pace.”

Luckily for us!

I had always wanted to take this drive, which my family did last summer. It was amazing to be in a tunnel of truly majestic redwoods.

We also visited one of the three world-famous drive-through coast redwoods, which I’d seen on postcards most of my life.

We drove through the Leggett Chandelier Tree.

We also got to walk through it.

The whole area is rich with wonderful and strange tourist stops, like the One Log House and Hobbiton, USA, both in Phillipsville, and various redwood-themed amusements and artisan shops along Highway 101.

I highly recommend driving the Avenue of the Giants and Highway 101, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to San Francisco, or the northern CA or southern OR coast.

The Save the Redwoods League offers 50 ways to explore the Avenue of the Giants, including a downloadable audio tour.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman