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Object obituary: Farewell the typewriter

Object obituary: Farewell the typewriter
Click clack click clack TING: The typewriter is dead

The mechanical typewriter factory has received a final fatal blow from the computer, a decade after much of the rest of the world heard the final page-edge bell.

While famous users such as author Cormac McCarthy still type the old-fashioned way, he’s one of only 800 customers who kept the life support going at Godrej and Boyce last year. Still, while the original writing machine has had its final carriage return, we must not forget it lived a full life. The typewriter was born in 1870, to a Milwaukee printer named Christopher Sholes who promptly sold his baby to a prominent gunmaker, Remington.

Seeing the value in this less deadly clicking machine, Remington started manufacturing typewriters with the QWERTY keyboards we still swear at today. This seemingly nonsensical letter layout was officially designed to keep typing speeds down, so the letter ‘hammers’ wouldn’t stick, but some say the real reason was so ‘typewriter’ could be typed out with great speed using only the top line, thus enabling Sholes to impress his mates.

But it is Remington, not Sholes, who must take responsibility for the overwhelming number of female typists—80 percent in the 1910 US Census—as the company deliberately enticed the fairer sex into secretary-hood by printing feminine flowers on the casing of every early model.

That said, a few prominent men managed to see past the floral decos to the typewriter’s true value. Mark Twain submitted the first typed manuscript in the form of Life on the Mississippi in 1883, and typed the way for many other notable click-clacking men.

Ernest Hemingway, for example, wrote his books standing up in front of a Royal typewriter placed on a tall bookshelf, and Hunter S Thompson kept a typewriter in his kitchen on which he used to bash out columns till his suicide in 2005.

And the typewriter’s own death knell was first heard in 1966, when Leonard Cohen finished his novel Beautiful Losers on one, before hurling it into the Aegean Sea.

But 45 years on, having now been officially laid to rest, the typewriter will be most remembered for the fun noises it made—proven by the failure of the ‘noiseless’ typewriter in the ’20s.

This industrious clickety-clack made everyone feel like Someone; and every letter to your gran feel like Important Business. But don’t feel too nostalgic—the Typewriter Keyboard Sound app is still alive and well.

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