Tag Archive | Business

Object: Typewriter


Date: 1907-1914
Materials: Metal

The Oliver Typewriter Company was active from 1895-1928, but licensed its designs to other international firms. It was one of the first “visible print” typewriters, in other words as the typist hit the typewriter keys; they could see what they were typing on the page.

Fig 2This is an Oliver Model 5, which was in production from 1907 to 1914. It uses a method called down strike, which means the keys strike down instead of from underneath or from the front. This made Oliver typewriters particularly good for carbon copy typing. The “u” shaped bars were larger with each row, swinging down in a unique manner. Eventually down strike and up strike machines would become less popular as more modern front strike machines entered the market.

Fig 6These typewriters are rather durable, and one can still purchase ribbons in order to use them today, over 100 years after they were built. The particular model we have has the standard olive finish and white keys, and has a metal case cover. Based on the model number, it was made before 1911, after the back space button was added but before 1912 when the serial numbers began with 350000. This was one of the more popular models made by Oliver, and there is also one on display in the Clara Barton Historic site. For more images of Oliver typewriters, you can see a gallery here including an example of the typeface.

The following video shows various types of early typewriters and discusses tips for improving typing skills.

There is a strong connection between the typewriter and the introduction of women into office work. By 1880, the typewriter had gained wide acceptance in American businesses. In 1870, before the introduction of a commercially successful typewriter, there were relatively few stenographers and women made up less than 5% of that group in the US. By 1880, the number of stenographers skyrocketed to approximately 5000 and women made up 40% of that number. By 1889, there were over 30,000 stenographers and typists, and more than 60% were female and finally by 1900 women made up nearly 80% of clerical jobs of this nature. This is a remarkable rise in just 30 years.

Fig 7

Photo via: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Wikimedia commons

There are a few contributing factors in the rise of women in clerical positions. The jobs that the typewriter opened up were relatively low-paying, making them less attractive to men. Another key element was the introduction of typing classes at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). Typewriter companies also began their own typing classes, training young women to type. Women would work in offices to type up official documents from either voice recordings or handwritten materials. Early typists were also tasked with make copies of documents, prior to the wides spread availability of copiers and scanners. In larger businesses these workers were part of a typing pool – or a group of typists assigned to mass produce typed documents. These positions emphasized speed and accuracy, and often required typist to type more than 100 words per minute.

Texas was no exception to the trend of women working as typists; and the challenges of using a typewriter inspired one clerical worker in Texas to invent a way to correct the inevitable typos. Since there is no “auto-correct” or “spell-check” on the typewriters, and no “delete” key, mistakes were often obscured with other letters and re-typed. Bette Nesmith Graham of Dallas, TX decided to use tempera paint colored to match the paper to cover her typing errors. By 1967 she had a million dollar business selling Mistake Out, which she later renamed to Liquid Paper.

Though electric word processors and later personal computers edged out the typewriter from home and office use in the 1980s, for 100 years typewriters were a fixture in the business world. Some companies still make typewriters, and recent security concerns have caused some governments to return to typewriters for sensitive documents. [Christine Moscardini-Hall, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Beeching, Wilfred A. 1974. Century of the typewriter. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Davies, Margery W. 1982. Woman’s place is at the typewriter: office work and office workers, 1870-1930. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Gould, Rupert Thomas. 1949. The Story of the typewriter from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. London: Office Control and Management.

Hoke, Donald. “The Woman and the Typewriter: A Case Study in Technological Innovation and Social Change.” Business and Economic History, 2d ser., 8 (1979): 76-88.

Lupton, Ellen. 1993. Mechanical brides: women and machines from home to office. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Museum of Design, Smithsonian Institution.

Rehr, Darryl (February 1989). “The Unknown Oliver” (PDF). ETCetera – Magazine of the Early Typewriter Collectors Association. pp. 1, 4–5.


Object: Calculator

I-0435b scan

United States
Date: 1950
Materials: Metal, plastic


Photo via: International Slide Rule Museum

Some of the first known calculation systems were developed by Sumerians and Egyptians around 3rd millenium B.C. One of the tools that they created to help with the calculation of large numbers was called the abacus. An abacus uses small beads placed on rods inside a rectangular frame. The beads are moved into different positions to represent numbers and have been used for centuries to preform mathematical calculations. In the 17th century, the slide rule was invented. Slide rules usually look somewhat similar to a ruler but include separate sections that will slide back and forth next to one another. Each section of the slide rule is carefully labeled with numeric scales that allow the users to perform a variety of calculations.  Many other devices were developed to help with the calculation of large numbers but, it wasn’t until the 1885 that the now standard push-button style of calculator was introduced. Early push button “mechanical” calculators used a complicated system of gears and levers to operate the machine and print out the results. By the 1970’s mechanical calculators were replaced by electronic calculators, which evolved into the small pocket calculators we know and use today.

The following video demonstrates how to use an abacus.


Photo via: Computer Museum, Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam

This object is an example of an electromechanical calculator, and was manufactured by the Monroe Calculator Company. The Monroe Calculator Company, founded in 1912, was a leading maker of adding machines and calculators. The company is now called Monroe Systems for Businesses and sells a variety of office products. Electromechanical calculators, which used electricity to operate the internal gears that generated the calculations, were phased out by fully electronic calculators in the 1970’s. With the wide-spread introduction of personal computers in the 1980’s, offices abandoned their electromechanical devices.  Today, more electromechanical calculators can be seen in museums than in offices in the United States.

Calculators have played a large role in the lives of many, but calculators have particularly strong ties to Texas. Texas Instruments is located in Dallas, Texas and is the most widely used brands of calculators in education. [Lauren Thompson, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Curley, Robert. Computing: From the Abacus to the Ipad. Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011.

Hodgkin, Luke. A History of Mathematics: From Mesopotamia to Modernity. Oxford: OUP Oxford, 2005.

Pickworth, Charles N. The Slide Rule: a Practical Manual. Manchester: Emmott and Co., and C.N. Pickworth, 1903.

Rojas, Raúl, and Ulf Hashagen. The First Computers: History and Architectures. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2000.

Turck, J. A. V. Origin of Modern Calculating Machines,. New York: Arno, 1972.

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