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A vintage Bell telephone and Underwood typewriter, once the latest in communication devices, now sit idle at the railroad depot in Jackson, Tennessee. One wonders . . . how many telegrams passed this way?
The Underwood Typewriter Company was a manufacturer of typewriters headquartered in New York City, New York. Underwood produced what is considered the first widely successful, modern typewriter. By 1939, Underwood had produced five million machines.
From 1874 the Underwood family made typewriter ribbon and carbon paper, and were among a number of firms who produced these goods for Remington. When Remington decided to start producing ribbons themselves, the Underwoods decided to get into the business of manufacturing typewriters.
The original Underwood typewriter was invented by German-American Franz Xaver Wagner, who showed it to entrepreneur John Thomas Underwood. Underwood supported Wagner and bought the company, recognising the importance of the machine. Underwood No. 1 and No. 2s, made between 1896 and 1900, had "Wagner Typewriter Co." printed on the back.
The Underwood No. 5 launched in 1900 has been described as "the first truly modern typewriter". Two million had been sold by the early 1920s, and its sales “were equal in quantity to all of the other firms in the typewriter industry combined”. When the company was in its heyday as the world's largest typewriter manufacturer, its factory at Hartford, Connecticut was turning out typewriters at the rate of one each minute.
Underwood started adding addition and subtraction devices to their typewriters in about 1910.
In the years before World War II, Underwood built the world's largest type writer in an attempt to promote itself. The typewriter was on display at Garden Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey for several years and attracted large crowds. Often, Underwood would have a young woman sitting on each of the large keys. The enormous typewriter was scrapped for metal when the war started. In December 1927 the Underwood Typewriter Co. merged with the Elliott-Fischer Co. to Underwood-Elliott-Fischer Co.
During World War II Underwood produced M1 carbines for the war effort.
Olivetti bought a controlling interest in Underwood in 1959, and completed the merger in October 1963, becoming known in the US as Olivetti-Underwood with headquarters in New York City, and entering the electromechanical calculator business. The Underwood name last appeared on Olivetti portable typewriters produced in Spain in the 80s.
August 2nd, 2012
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