In the office area in the Buffalo Island Museum is an antique Underwood typewriter. While conducting a tour of elementary students, I was showing the different items that were used in an early Buffalo Island office, and one student pointed to the typewriter and said he knew what it was: an old computer, but where was the screen? Of the group of second graders, none had seen a typewriter before. We certainly live in a computer age!
I learned to type on a typewriter almost like the one at the museum. We learned to type on one that had all black keys, no letters. There was a poster on the wall that had the keys with the letters and we had to look at the poster and type. Our teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, believed that all good typists never looked down at the keyboard!
In 1714, Henry Mill obtained a patent for a machine similar to the typewriter. Many inventors improved on this idea of a way to put words on paper, mostly as a way to help the blind.
Have you wondered why the letters aren't in alphabetical order? The QWERTY Keyboard was first introduced in 1874 and is still used today. Christopher L. Sholes invented this arrangement so the most common letters were not so close together and the type bars would come from different directions so they wouldn't clash together and jam the machine. This was the first successful typewriter.
The original Underwood typewriter was invented by Franz X. Wagner. He sold his company to John Thomas Underwood in the late 1890s. He started with the Underwood No. 1. In 1900, Underwood launched what had been described as "the first truly modern typewriter," the Underwood No. 5. It became very popular and the factory was turning out typewriters at the rate of one each minute.
By 1920 almost every brand of typewriter was imitating the Underwood No. 5. The company became very successful but was eventually bought by Olivetti in the early 1960s and the name "Underwood" was no longer in the typewriter world.
The typewriter at the museum was made in early 1940, according to its serial number. It was donated to the museum by Kenneth Heard.
It is black, very heavy and is made of cold-rolled steel. This typewriter is only one of several antique office machines at the museum.
The Buffalo Island Museum is free for all visitors. The museum is open from 12:30-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and this summer we will also be open from 1-3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, please visit the museum's Facebook page.
The Buffalo Island Museum is having its annual bake sale Saturday, June 15, starting at 8:30. Please support the museum by buying your Father's Day dessert at our bake sale.