An exhibition of American-made typewriters (with a focus on models built in Connecticut) will be on view at Connecticut’s New Britain Museum of American Art, Mar. 8–June 1, 2014. One of the highlights is a Sholes and Glidden (dated 1876), by the company that produced the first commercially successful typewriter. Like all new technology, the first Sholes and Glidden rolled out into the market with a number of bugs. Most notably, it printed only in upper case letters. Recipients of these typewritten messages found the all upper-case writing to be quite impersonal — even insulting. Sort of like that CAPS LOCK email you just got from your mother-in-law.
The Sholes and Glidden later became the famous Remington 1, the arms manufacturer E. Remington and Sons having bought the technology in 1873 (though it kept the name at first). Remington made room in its Ilion, New York factory (they made sewing machines there too), to manufacture 1,000 new and improved typewriters. In the design of the 1876 model (see photo), one can see characteristics of sewing machines in the design, including a “japanned” case with floral ornamentation and a stand with a treadle to operate the carriage return. With communications technologies on the rise (ahoy, Alexander Graham Bell!), the demand to produce text quickly exploded. Still typewriters remained expensive, and style was employed as a selling point. (At $125, the cost of a Sholes and Glidden equaled the average annual income of an American at the time.) Remington understood that typewriters needed to be attractive, because anything that cost that much would be right out front at the home or office. 140 years later, they’re still worthy of display.