For many people, the sounds of a typewriter are but memories from 30 or more years ago, or something now heard only in movies.
The United States has only a few typewriter repair shops operating today. Yet these stores are doing good business. A new generation is discovering the joy of the feel and sound of old typewriters. And an old generation is showing that it never fell out of love with the machines.
Eighty-year-old Paul Schweitzer is the owner of the Gramercy Typewriter Company in New York City. His father founded the company in 1932. Schweitzer now works at the business with his son, Jay Schweitzer and grandson, Jake.
He said, “What’s surprising to me is that the younger generation is taking a liking to typewriters again.”
Schweitzer says he receives old typewriters needing repair from around the country. Demand is so great that early this year, the family moved to new office space.
Other repair shops include Berkeley Typewriter and California Typewriter, both in Berkeley, California. They were also founded in the 1930s.
Two recent documentaries have helped make typewriters popular among young people. They are “The Typewriter (In The 21st Century)” and “California Typewriter.”
Typewriters and American museums
The American Writers Museum, in Chicago, Illinois, has a popular area with seven manual typewriters and an electric typewriter that visitors can try out.
Carey Cranston is the president of the museum. It is now showing typewriters used by famous writers like Jack London, Ernest Hemingway and Maya Angelou. It even has one from singer John Lennon.
“Typing for the first time is exciting, especially for younger people,” Cranston said.
With pencils or other writing instruments, “you can distract yourself by doodling, and of course on a computer it’s easy to find distractions. But a typewriter was invented specifically for writing. There are no distractions. It’s just you” and the piece of paper, he added.
Ellen Lupton is a senior curator in contemporary design at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. Her museum has many typewriters in its collection.
Lupton explained that working on a typewriter gives “a satisfying sound, a feeling of authentic authorship. No one can spy on you and there are no distractions.”
She noted that the lasting influence of typewriters can be seen in the look of keyboards on smart phones and personal computers.
Lupton said, “We’re still stuck with the … keyboard — even on phones — which was supposedly designed to prevent keys from sticking together when someone is typing quickly.”
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
museum – n. a building or space in which objects of historical, scientists or cultural interest are shown to the public
manual – adj. operated or controlled with the hands or by a person
distract - v. to cause (someone) to stop thinking about or paying attention to someone or something and to think about something else instead
doodle – v. to create an image of something without thinking about what you are doing
curator – n. a keeper of a museum collection
authentic - adj. real; not copied or false
keyboard – n. an area that controls keys on a typewriter or computer