Saturday, August 25, 2007

Microsoft Word? WordPerfect? Who needs 'em?

A vintage Underwood typewriter

This afternoon I was walking in downtown Greeley, Colorado, and came upon a business machines store. In the main windows of this shop were some displays of vintage technology that once ran America's businesses. There was an old dictaphone machine similar to the one in featured in one of my favorite film noir movies, Double Indemnity. There were many old cash registers (that's a point of sale device to you kids out there). There were also many antique typewriters on display. Some were older than the one pictured here, but this one caught my eye.

Why? Because my dad had one almost exactly like this that he purchased used while attending college in the early 1950s. I believe this model was produced in the 1920s, so that says something about the reliability of these vintage pieces of office equipment. I don't know if he still has it or not, but my school papers in high school and early college years in the late 1960s and early 1970s were also produced on this heavy piece of machinery.

How well I remember buying a package of "Typing Paper", rolling a fresh sheet onto the platen of the typewriter, and begin typing words onto paper. You didn't want to make a mistake, as there was no such thing as correction tape. The ribbons were either all black ink, or half red and half black. There was not a key for the numeral "1"; instead you used a lower-case letter "L". To make an exclamation mark, you typed a vertical single quote and backspaced to put a period underneath it. Still, for the most part, the QWERTY keyboard arrangement is the same as this laptop computer I am writing this post on. I also recall the loud bell as you reached the end of each line, telling you to perform a manual carriage return at the end of the next word. Did you want boldface type? Type over your words again. Want to change the typeface or get italicized text? Tough luck on that! And whatever you do, don't type too fast...the type arms would get tangled and you'd have to stop and unmesh them.

Still, with all the shortcomings compared to a modern computer with word processing software, you have to wonder just how many pages of business reports, school papers, and books were produced on machines such as these.

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