EDINBURGH, Scotland – A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland is examining the social and technological impact of typewriters during more than 100 years, from early prototypes to stylish mid-century models, which are still in use today.
The Typewriter Revolution will continue through April 17, 2022. It charts the development of these iconic machines and explores their role in society, the arts and popular culture through the personal stories of those who designed, made and used them.
The Typewriter Revolution draws on the National Museums Scotland’s significant typewriter collection, with highlights that include an 1876 Sholes & Glidden typewriter, which was the first to have a QWERTY keyboard; a 1950s electric machine used by Whisky Galore author Sir Compton Mackenzie; and the 1970s design icon, the Olivetti Valentine.
Alison Taubman, Principal Curator of Communications at National Museums Scotland said: “The typewriter is a true icon. It revolutionized the workplace, transformed communications and inspired artists and writers. From the clatter of its keys to its unique aesthetic, the enduring romance surrounding the typewriter has earned it many devoted fans. This charming exhibition takes visitors on a journey from its inception as a curious piece of cutting-edge technology through its role as a crucial mainstay of the workplace right up to the present day, where it enjoys cult appeal.”
Typewriters were first shipped across the Atlantic by American firm E. Remington & Sons in the 1870s. They were luxury devices which cost the equivalent of half the average annual salary. Sewing machine salesman John J. Deas was an early enthusiast. Adverts for his business in Dundee and Aberdeen claimed the typewriter would “do for the ink-bottle and the pen, what the sewing machine has done for the needle”.
The final decade of the 19th century saw a huge boom in the demand for typewriters as organizations began to realize their value, and by 1900 they had revolutionized the world of communications, transforming office work and opening up new employment opportunities, especially for women.
They inspired novelists and artists, with Mark Twain among the first to use what he called a “new-fangled writing machine”. Henry James liked the loud clacking of a Remington typewriter and found that his inspiration dried up when he upgraded to a quieter model. Jack Kerouac typed out On The Road on a 36 metre-long manuscript because he wanted to write continuously.
In the late 1940s the Italian firm Olivetti opened a factory in the east end of Glasgow, later producing stylish models such as the Lexikon 80, and the portable Lettera 22 which were seen as the cutting-edge of design. Typewriter technology advanced to include electric models from the 1920s before the rise in computers saw them gradually phased out of offices. However, the unique experience of writing on a typewriter and the enduring beauty of their design mean there is still a demand for the machines.