Beautiful Machine: 1881 Hammond Typewriter

January 28th, 2011

Today’s guest blogger is Martin Howard, whose amazing collection of late-19th-century typewriters can be seen at antiquetypewriters.com.

James Hammond, one of the great typewriter pioneers, began work on this remarkable machine in the late 1870s. It was patented in 1880 and first manufactured in 1881.

The Hammond typewriter has a truly brilliant mechanical design, and it looks great, too. It was made with the best quality materials, including mahogany (above-left), oak (above-right), or cherry for the case, plus solid ebony keys. It originally sold for $100. In comparison, a horse-drawn carriage sold for between $40 and $70.

Instead of using type-bars, a curved split type-shuttle (below) with hardened rubber characters rotates into position as the keys are pushed. Then, a spring-loaded hammer swings from behind the carriage to the reverse side of the paper, striking the paper and ribbon against the type-shuttle to print. The consistent force of the hammer gives an even impression to each character typed, regardless of how soft or hard the keys are pushed.

The type-shuttle is readily interchangeable, allowing for different fonts and languages; there were hundreds of choices available. “For every nation, for every tongue” was the slogan Hammond used to convey this versatility.

One drawback in the design of the Hammond typewriter is the extra effort required to load a new sheet of paper into the carriage. As the striking hammer is positioned behind the roller and obstructs the normal paper exit, a new sheet of paper is loaded into a cylindrical holder under the roller before typing. Then the paper is fed out, line-by-line, as one advances the page.

The image to the right shows the cover of an 1891 Hammond Typewriter trade catalog. Although it’s just an advertising image, it is an accurate representation of the typewriter and one of the ways it was originally used, in this case at an old slanted writing desk as a replacement for the pen.

By 1891, the women (not the men) who were employed in offices to use typewriters were themselves called “typewriters,” presaging the conception of human beings as simply moving parts in a “progressive” production system.

The Hammond typewriter was the third ‘keyboard’ typewriter to appear after the Remington and the Caligraph—it gave them both a lot of competition for many years. The Hammond had many supporters, won exposition medals, and sold very well. In the end, though, a curved keyboard typewriter without the standard QWERTY layout would not endure.


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