An Ode to My Typewriter

Sitting here typing away on my laptop has become second nature. There are moments, however, when I fondly recall my old Smith-Corona typewriter. What a treat it was to carry it to college in its snazzy case — my first electric typewriter. Toggle the on button, listen for the whir, insert bright white paper, roll down to an inch from the top margin. And type.

The force needed to push the keys on my old manual typewriter gave way to easier tapping. But alas, errors had to be either carefully erased with a clean eraser or whited out with the ever-present bottle of appropriately named Wite-Out or with Liquid Paper. (Fun fact: Did you know Liquid Paper was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Mike Nesmith — member of 1960s band The Monkees?) I loved to use “onion-skin” paper because it was so much easier to erase — the surface just didn’t hold the ink as well. Teachers hated it because it also made the papers extremely difficult to read. (As a college prof now always reading printed papers, I publicly apologize to all my own college profs who suffered through such papers from me!)

Ribbons would run out and need to be replaced, causing your paper to appear in two tones. Not paying attention could cause you to type for several words with nothing appearing on the page. Not paying attention might also cause you to type right off the bottom of the sheet of paper, which meant either retyping the page or slathering Wite-Out across the entire bottom of the sheet of paper and blowing on it until it would (eventually) dry. Same thing with making sure you heard the ding at the right margin and reached up to push the carriage back to start the next line.

Some days, when I’m writing and backspacing with ease on my laptop (no clumsy erasers or Wite-Out bottles in sight), when I’m moving paragraphs around and changing my mind only to move them somewhere else, I think how different my college papers would have been with this amazing machine instead of my clunky Smith-Corona. Would I have done a final revision, knowing I should move a new paragraph to the beginning but also knowing that would mean retyping the entire paper? I’m sure, too often, the pages were just left as they were because it would have been far too much trouble and too time-consuming to retype.

Ernest-Hemingway-1929-Underwood-Standard FAKE
What might have been Hemingway’s typewriter, as seen at The Atlantic, “The Hidden World of Typewriters.”

Which also gives me awe for the likes of Hemingway and, indeed, those classic writers, who worked by hand and on manual typewriters. Hemingway once told The Paris Review that he rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times. Whether he did this on a notepad or on a trusty typewriter, I honestly am amazed at picturing him yanking the paper out of the typewriter, scrolling in a new piece, taking a drag on a cigarette, and trying again and again and again until he was satisfied.

All of this makes me happy to report that typewriters are apparently making a comeback. Young people have always had screens and easy-to-push keys. I wonder if they are finding some kind of tangible joy in the feel of a typewriter and getting one that “fits” them individually — has the right angles, the right tension, even the right lines and color.

I have a couple of old typewriters that merely decorate my office, although my 11-year-old grandson is fascinated and attempts to type against the ancient ribbon each time he visits.

Now I’m thinking I need to clean it up, try to find a usable ribbon, and work my hand and wrist muscles a bit.

Nah. Writing is hard enough. But I still admire Hemingway.

Those of you readers who typed on typewriters, what do you miss (or not)?


7 thoughts on “An Ode to My Typewriter

  1. In some ways, yies, I miss the typewriter (though I don’t miss having to use Wite-out). My dad had an old Remington. I typed his thesis on that thing!

  2. I started out with my grandpa’s gigantic Royal. How I wish I had kept it! I had been so excited to get my *own* manual typewriter (it was green, for heaven’s sake) for Christmas one year when I was in high school that the Royal lost its allure. The green one went to college with me and produced every paper I wrote. I did not like electric typewriters because I felt a little out of control with them. My typing teacher in high school had to force me to join the rotation to use electrics in my typing class (which had a total of four electrics, and the rest manuals). She eventually won me over, and that same year I won a county-wide typing contest – and a $50 savings bond, which I held onto until it matured 10 years later! (My picture was even in the paper!)

  3. I have that same blue Smith-Corona Corsair in my collection. I have actually just purchased a second Corsair because they are so nice to type on, which cannot be said for most ultra portable typewriters. As a young woman being a collector of these amazing machines, it makes me appreciate writing that much more. The clicking of the keys, the ding of the bell, and the sound of the paper feed ratcheting, all prove that I am making progress. Typewriters give you instant gratifying, telling you with every line that something is happening. I feel it is my duty to share my love of typewriters with others. Those who are rediscovering them, and those who have never even touched a typewriter before. I strongly believe that there is a typewriter out there for everyone, they just need to find the one that will work for their individual needs.

  4. Your article touched my heart.
    I am thankful to have lived 86 glorious years and still have THE TYPEWRITER that my Daddy bought for me when I was 15 years old…in 1950n an UNDERWOOD Portable in blue zippered case..
    Still has a good ribbon on it. A cloth ribbon……and have not typed on it since my sons were teens…It looks Brand New…..a prized poasession..

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