Friday, May 5, 2017

Early Typists at Work

Do you know what makes me pause when reading historical fiction? When I'm immersed in a story and they mention a typewriter. I have no idea why I stop reading, except that it's hard to imagine that typewriters were invented one hundred years prior to my first clack of the keys. I taught myself to type on a portable typewriter when I was twelve years old, and it formed a large part of my teen years as I wrote my western stories. I was already a fast typist by the time I graduated to an electric machine, and then oh, the wonder, when I discovered one with a correction ribbon.

Speaking of ribbons, until World War II, typewriter ribbons were made of cotton which was durable and held ink well. They were made to be reused, so that once it had gone through to the end, it could be taken out, reversed, and put back in for another round. Over and over until the ink was faded and dry. Imagine if someone thought they had a buy a new spool of ribbon each time. It would get expensive, wouldn't it?

Man and woman in an unidentified office, 1903. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
Various sources say that 52 mechanical inventions went into the typewriter we're most familiar with today. While researching the fascinating history of typewriters, I found dozens of websites with images and information, but most are protected under copyright laws. Hence, I've taken a different approach and would like to present interesting images of people working at their typewriters. 

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. contains a wealth of great images including this 1891 photograph taken at the Lincoln cabin.

Picture of Mrs. Norah Gridley, cousin of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, and Miss May Coleman, the typewriter, taken outside of and near the corner of the Lincoln Cabin, August 9/91. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Business schools with courses on typing, stenography, and duplicating machines were found in most major cities by the end of the 19th century, providing a respectable alternative to women who needed to work, but had no wish to join the domestic, medical, or educational trades. 

Typewriting department, National Cash Register, Dayton, Ohio, ca. 1902?. Dry Plate negative. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

Since men had their hand in business far earlier than the women, and the above image shows a room full of women, I wonder if business classes were segregated by gender?

The man in this next glass negative would rather be a typewriter salesman in Beluchistan, than sit at a desk typing. We can see they are Remington typewriters, but we don't now which model. What do you hump or two? 

American typewriter salesman in Beluchistan, [between 1909 and 1920], glass negative. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

While on the topic of deliveries, what about a photograph of this young lad who carried his typewriter about half a mile. He looks to be straining a bit, but if he lugged two or three of those heavy beasts around all day, it would have done wonders for his physique. (Ahem, I am a romance writer after all.)

Louis A. Caulfield, 37 Belfort Street, Dorchester. Delivering a heavy type-writer about half a mile. Works for Model Typewriter Inspection Co. Says he is sixteen years old and gets $6 a week. Taken on Boston Common. Location: Boston, Massachusetts / Lewis W. Hine., January 1917. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
I don't know the model of the typewriter in this next 1906 photograph, but a close look at the woman tells me she's using the 2-finger method of typing.

Young woman typing, c1906. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

As mentioned at the start of this post, my interest in typewriters began when I was still a young girl. And then back in the 80's, I bought an old typewriter at an auction and then had to pack it away during a military move. After several moves, it's still packed away. I haven't had the heart to dig it out because I'm worried dampness has turned it into a rusty echo of what it used to be.

Instead, I appeased my recent typewriter craving by writing it into my new novella, Love in Store which is set in 1890 Montana. My heroine is the office worker in the family transport business and uses a Remington 2 typewriter, common in 1890, although I don't identify it as such in my story. It looks similar to the one in the 1892 photograph below and served as a great inspiration for my novella.

A pretty type[writer?] c1892. Photomechanical print. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

There are more images of old typewriters on my Novella: Love in Store Pinterest storyboard.

I would love to hear your experience with a vintage manual typewriter. Care to share? 

To celebrate the release of my novella, Love in Store, which is one of nine novellas found in The Secret Admirer Romance Collection, I'm holding a Love in Store Prize Pack Giveaway on my website. The giveaway contains a print copy of the Collection, as well as other goodies.


Anita Mae Draper writes her historical romances under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Her Christian faith is reflected in her stories of forgiveness and redemption as her characters struggle to find their way to that place we call home. Anita loves to correspond with her readers through any of the social media links found at

Readers can enrich their reading experience by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her published stories at


  1. My mother, who is now 100 years old,was an antique dealer ; so we had a few old typewriters around. I remember one old Royal. It was similar to those pictures.. I think I used it to type a term paper in high school. My mother is also a writer. She and my sister, who has her own marketing agency, published a book of my mother's memoirs of growing up in China as a missionary child. They got it done when she was 99! Very interesting post!

    1. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your mother with us today. She is a lady I could spend hours talking with over a pot of tea or coffee. What knowledge you must have gained from her.

      And bless you and your sister for publishing her memoirs! As a genealogist, I know how precious it is to save our past for the future. I also know the joy of finding a treasure about those who have gone on and who have left an footprint for us to see where they went, especially if there are photographs.

      Thanks again, Paula. :)

  2. These pictures are fascinating!! I usually just read it in my inbox, but this time I wanted to come to the blog to see the pictures better! We have an old typewriter that writes in cursive, and just can't quite get rid of it. I love to work on genealogist, and agree with you that saving our past is so precious! I just found someone who had a picture of my great-great grandmother, and I had been longing to know what she looked like!

    1. Becky, I know what you mean! A newly discovered family member recently sent an image of my Scottish 2 x great-grandfather and my, he was easy on the eyes. My sister looked at him and said she now new where her straight eyebrows came from. That image is like an anchor with Scotland, and my DNA results proved it.

      So excited you took the time to visit HHH today. I'd love to see an image of your typewriter some day - like mine - some day. :D There is an excellent market for old typewriters, so you're wise to hang on.

      Thank you for sharing. :)

  3. Fascinating post and wonderful photos!

    So excited for your release. Congratulations, Anita!

    1. Thanks, Susie. I really appreciate your support.

  4. Enjoyed seeing these historical pictures and learning more about the typewriter. I remember my maternal grandfather had an old typewriter he used to type his church bulletin each week. Antique typewriters are hard to fine any more. Thank you for sharing this great blog post.

    1. Marilyn, that's a great memory. If you don't have a photo of him with his typewriter, you might think of writing that memory down for his descendants, if you haven't already, as it shows a part of his life unique to him.

      Yes, antique typewriters can be hard to find, but like anything, you would need to know where to look. There are also those people who find them and then take them apart to create jewelry, like with the keys. But there are others who say anyone who "recycles" these antiques are ... well, I won't repeat what they call them. But Google and Pinterest are mighty tools when you're looking.

      Thanks for dropping by, Marilyn. I always enjoy your visits. :)

  5. I truly enjoyed reading this post and seeing the pictures. When I was a sophomore in high school I took Typing and I had a terrible time the first six weeks. My fingers were apparently too weak for a manual typewriter and my teacher took me aside and told me that I was going to fail this class and I had always been an A/B student! I had a distant cousin who had a typewriter and she allowed me to borrow it and I practiced, practiced and practiced some more! I improved greatly, left the class with an A-, went on to take another Office Practice class and improved my speed to 70+ words a minute! Since then I've used electric typewriters, word processors, and computers but I attribute the manual typewriter to contributing to my typing skills.

    1. Connie, I sure can relate with you. Thanks for sharing that. :)

  6. Anita - such an interesting post! I like the very first picture in the office setting with all the details. The wall calendar with a horse on it, a tea service, a vase of flowers, and that back room. Hmmm, I'm curious. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Davalyn. Yes, I'd noticed the calendar with the horse pic. :) Not so much the back room, probably because I was shaking my head at the electrical cords. I did a post here on the early stages of electricity in the home and at Christmas, and I don't know how they relaxed with all those cords.

      Thanks for visiting. :)