Monday, April 25, 2011

The end of a long, long line

On January 7th, 1714, Queen Anne of England granted a patent (no. 395 in the records of the Patent Office in London), to one Henry Mill:

To all to whom these preseents shall come, greeting: Whereas Our Trusty and welbeloved Henry Mill, gent., hath by his petitcon humbly represented vnto Vs, That he hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and publick recors, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery.

This was the first recorded patent for what we know today as the typewriter. It's been improved out of all recognition since those early days, of course. The Office Museum has interesting descriptions of many models that have appeared.

It was announced today that the last typewriter manufacturer in the world, Godrej & Boyce of Mumbai, India, has shut down its production line for these venerable instruments.

Godrej and Boyce - the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters - has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India with just a few hundred machines left in stock.

Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India - until recently. Demand for the machines has sunk in the last ten years as consumers switch to computers.

The company's general manager, Milind Dukle, told India's Business Standard newspaper: 'We are not getting many orders now.

'From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us.

'Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among the defence agencies, courts and government offices.'

The company is now down to its last 200 machines - the majority of which are Arabic language models.

The firm began production in the 1950s - when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described the typewriter as a symbol of India's emerging independence and industrialisation. It was still selling 50,000 models annually in the early 1990s, but last year it sold less than 800 machines.

There's more at the link.

I learned to touch-type back in the 1970's on Telex machines (which kinda dates me, doesn't it?). Computer keyboards have (mostly) continued with the QWERTY layout of the typewriter (which first appeared in 1873); but now that the machines themselves will no longer be made, I wonder whether a better, more ergonomic keyboard layout will take over in due course?



Matthew said...

Well, there goes our "Why aren't you writing with a quill pen?" comeback. ;)

Anonymous said...

God bless the old 300 baud telex.

(if you don't know what "baud" means...Google it)

We had one installed in the station house when I was a cop back in the 1960's.

At the time we thought it was the greatest thing since the invention of the repeating rifle.

It spewed out a continuous stream of yellow paper at an amazing rate of 4-inches a minute. Most of the messages were regarding B&E's and assaults from the county P.D.

Anonymous said...

Google "Dvorak keyboard."

Anonymous said...

SInce I can out-type Word on a QWERTY keyboard (making the program hang and forcing a full restart), I think it will be a while before the ergonomic keyboard appears in my office.

Dad29 said...

QWERTY will disappear about when the US converts to metric.


Popgun said...

I have been using the Dvorak U.S. keyboard layout for the last ten years or so; it's built into every major operating system, including all versions of Windows since Windows 95, and Apple's OS X, and even Linux.

It took me about a week to make the transition, and I've never seriously considered going back. It's faster, and I don't work as hard.

Dave H said...

Lament no more, boss. Godrej & Boyce might have exaggerated a bit when they said they were the world's last typewriter manufacturer. Swintec is still building typewriters for prisons:

davidc said...

I learned in high school which helped in taking code class in USN Radio School circa 1960. I still have an old Underwood desk model and a newer portable.