Tag Archives: Writing

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 These were probably the slightly outdated castoffs from my parents’ ad agency office, but still — they were quite sleek, in lovely colors (robins egg blue or gunmetal gray), and they had fascinating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.

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Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing


When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she had the most marvelous poetry teacher, who visited the school through a terrific program called California Poets in the Schools, which has been bringing professional poets into K-8 classrooms for 46  years.  The poet, Karen Benke, was extremely special. She had a way of coaxing whimsical language and deep, unconscious connections from children, sometimes with the aid of “word” tickets that would appear from a velvet pouch she carried. When in doubt, the muse could usually be summoned with the help of a word ticket.


Now Karen has published a book, Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing, to help poets young and old summon their muses, with a full range of completely fun poetry exercises and triggers that will work when you’re stuck, or just want to stretch out and have fun. She and a host of well-known poets contribute notes and ideas in a very warm, encouraging and easy-to-read format.

Closer to games than assignments, a lot of the exercises offer ways to slow down and ask oneself questions like, What does that color feel like? What was my favorite age? What’s it really like to be a stone? There are ways to loosen up, such as making lists, creating recipes, using gross-out words, and trying not to make sense. There are encouragements to go deep and write about what hurts, or what you’re grateful for, or something you’ve never told anyone before.

Different forms are played with, such as odes and haiku. Karen shows that words can be visual — They can be piled on top of one another. They can form the shape of an object. They can reach to infinity. Exercises let poets write just for sound, and explore repetition of language. There are illustrations of concepts like similes, spoonerisms, alliteration, juxtaposition, point of view, going beyond cliches, calling on all the senses, and all kinds of tools that poets can use to make their writing more alive and the act of writing more fun.

Rip the Page is definitely fun. It’s about stretching and expressing ones uniqueness with games, prompts and tons of ideas that would encourage even the most reticent writer. Karen’s joy and enthusiasm for writing, children and life are completely contagious. The book unfolds like a series of magic tickets. You could open it anywhere and summon the imagination and courage to do something out of the ordinary like catching a whisper or letting the moon speak.

Karen will be leading a Rip the Page: Poetry Workshop for Kids Saturday, Sept. 25 at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.

She also recently hosted a poetry, music and performance event as a collection drive for Operation Backpack!, a charity she created to send backpacks to children in Colima, Mexico, a mining town in the mountains south of Puerto Vallarta, where her aunt, Barbara Rounds, volunteers and where children cannot afford backpacks for school. Look for a future post about the Operation Backpack! event, which was, like Karen and Rip the Page, warm, inspiring and fun.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman