Thursday, December 29, 2011

100 years ago today: The tale of the typewriter

One hundred years ago typewriters were expensive and still comparatively rare. People who had mastered the skill of using these machines were often themselves referred to as "typewriters." In some cases (as mentioned in passing in E. F. Benson's An Autumn Sowing, published in 1917) the person who was being hired to type brought their machine with them. It was a tool of their trade and one which required an investment in order to yield returns.

One hundred years ago today one could buy a yearly subscription to The Tensas Gazette (St. Joseph's, LA) for $1.50. A "Standard Sewing Machine" (non electric) with all attachments included could be bought for $15.00. A very nice automobile could be bought, new, for $700.00 and a "young man's" suit for $15-30.00. One might pay between $2.50 to $4.00 for a pair of shoes.

A Royal Standard Typewriter cost $75.00. It is hard to realize now that the typewriter was in many ways as revolutionary a device as were word processors in their day. They were not cheap yet they were not so expensive that only a member of the upper middle class could afford one. Of course members of the upper middle class did not use typewriting machines, they employed human beings to do so for them. Almost from the first days of typewriters invention expert users were predominantly women. Indeed it has been convincingly argued that typewriters played an important role making the office a safe and acceptable place for women to work. (see The Woman and the Typewriter: A Case Study in Technological Innovation and Social Change, Donald Hoke, Milwaukee Public Museaum)

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me somewhat of the development of aviation. At first, before it had found its place in society, lots of women were involved (modulo the financial requirements). As it became an Important Job, the women got frozen out - and as typewriting became an Unimportant Job, the men got out and left it to the women...


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