Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Oliver

by Shanna Hatfield

A while back, my cousin mentioned his mom had an old typewriter she wanted to get rid of and asked if I'd be interested.

Since I love all sorts of antiques and think old typewriters are especially fun, I told him I'd love to have it.

I had no idea then what I would receive is a wonderful, unique treasure.

I am now the proud owner of an Oliver No. 5 typewriter (circa 1907). 

The concept of typewriters dates back to the early 1700s.  Englishman Henry Mill filed a vaguely-worded patent for "an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another." 

The first typewriter proven to have worked was built by an Italian in 1808 for his blind friend. There is no record of what the machine looked like, but there are specimens of the letters written on it.  

Through the next decades, many would try their hand at improving the typewriter. Unfortunately, most of them were designed so that the person typing could not see what they had typed without lifting up the carriage. 

The effort to create a visible rather than "blind" machine led to many creative methods of getting the typebars to the platen. The  Underwood of 1895 began to gain popularity until nearly all typewriters followed its style with frontstroke, QWERTY, typebar with a ribbon, using one shift key and four banks of keys. 

 In a marketplace of look-alikes, one typewriter stood out: the Oliver.

Headquartered in Chicago, the Oliver Typewriter was the first effective "visible print" typewriter. 

Thomas Oliver was born in Canada but moved to Iowa after the death of his mother to serve as a Methodist minister. In the late 1880s, he began to develop his first typewriter, made from strips of tin cans, as a means of producing more legible sermons. He received his first patent in April 1891. After four years of development, he had a "crude working model." He resigned his ministry, rounded up investors, leased a building, and began manufacturing his machines. He encountered an investor in Chicago who became interested in the typewriter and bought the stock held by the Iowa investors. 

In 1895, the manufacturing plant moved to Chicago. And in 1899, the company established sales networks by encouraging customers to become distributors. This method relied on word of mouth and door-to-door sales. They also began offering sales on credit in 1906. At the peak of business, the company's labor force of 875 workers produced 375 machines daily. 

Eager to improve on what worked (and fine tune what didn't work as well as it should), new models were introduced.

In 1907, the Oliver Typewriter Company dubbed it's Oliver No. 5 as "Typewriter Perfection." This was the same year the company moved into the brand new Oliver Building on Dearborn Street in Chicago. 

Sadly, Thomas Oliver died not long after of heart disease, although the company continued.

What set Oliver typewriters apart (other than the fact they set the bar for visible print) was the unique bat wing design of their typewriters. Oliver typewriters were "down strike" meaning the typebars strike the platen (or roller) from above than from below or the front. The "down strike" method meant the full page was visible to the typist as the text was being entered. Also, the greater striking power of this method made the typewriter popular for specialty uses such as stencil cutting. 

Oliver typewriters were finished in olive green paint with nickel-plating and white or black keyboards, depending on customer preference. 

Eventually, competition and financial troubles resulted in the company's liquidation in 1928. The assets were purchased by investors who formed The British Oliver Typewriter Company which remained in business in 1959, when the last Oliver typewriters was produced. 

I don't foresee myself typing any stories on the Oliver, but it is fun to have around. 

A hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure, Shanna Hatfield is a USA Today best-selling author of sweet romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. In addition to blogging and eating too much chocolate, this former farm girl is completely smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.

Shanna creates character-driven romances with realistic heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.

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  1. What a wonderful gift. It came to the right person. So happy for you, Shanna. Doris

    1. Oh, thank you so much, Doris! It is such a fun treasure!

  2. I just love the sound of old typewriters--even the old electric ones with the hum and the bell whenever the "return" key or lever was used. I took typing class in summer-school the summer before 8th grade, never really thinking I would use it much! LOL -- I couldn't get by without typing now! (And it shows in my squiggly penmanship!)