Today, with our computers, laptops and multi-application phones, we don’t spend much time thinking about typewriters, and yet they are the basis for most everything we have in personal communication today. It used to be that typing was the one class you had to take in high school.
Going back through the years, it was in 1829 that William A. Burt of Michigan received his patent for a "typeographer," which is claimed by some as the first typewriter. It typed only in capitals. The first manufactured machines came in 1873 and the first portable was patented in 1892.
In 1891, the first Richmond high school typewriting classes were established using the Yost typewriter. There were 43 students in the class of Miss Jean Gibson. By 1898, there had been 84 graduates. In the meantime, the art of stenography was developing. Benjamin P. Owen, Jr. advertised such a service in the Richmond City Directory as early as 1888.
In 1904, Richmond Mayor Carlton McCarthy recommended that an ordinance be created to employ "a thoroughly competent stenographer and type machine operator." In 1905, the Richmond City engineer reported a stenographer had greatly reduced the work of the office and its increasing demand.
In 1908, there was another step forward with the announcement in the Times-Dispatch that the slot machine typewriter was about to be installed in the Jefferson Hotel. This new invention for the traveling public was constructed so a dime in the slot would allow the typist to type as much as they pleased for 20 minutes. The basic idea behind the machine was that as a rule when you were traveling, if you wanted a confidential correspondence, you hired a secretary to do the typing. This way you could have the machine sent to your room where you could type out your message. It was a new type of machine which had just been installed in a few New York hotels. The Jefferson was going to have two just in time for a Hotel Men’s Association of Virginia and North Carolina meeting in the next week. You dropped a dime in the slot and typed for 20 minutes. When time was up another dime gave you another 20 minutes.
The Underwood Typewriter office for the southeast United States was in Richmond in 1912. Large ads for their machines were featured in local papers promoting "The Machine You Will Eventually Buy." You were invited to come by their 12th Street store and give it a try. It was noted that the world’s record was 112 words per minute and it was on an Underwood.
We still type, but the instruments we use are different. FP
Ray Schreiner is a volunteer at the Valentine Richmond History Center and the Virginia Historical Society.