Some time ago, when visiting the Design museum in Holland Park, London, I saw the following picture of the first typewriter with a rotary head, from 1961:

This made me think of the electric typewriter that I used to type out my thesis, and how, although it was an improvement over the old Remington on which started my initial typing lessons, it was still hard work when compared with later word processors. I’m reasonably OK when it comes to typing speed, but accuracy has never been my forte, so the Tip-ex strip and the reverse ball movement were my friend there.

Also, arranging the text so as to fit in graphs required some planning, and to be honest, I can’t quite remember how I managed it. It definitely meant I could only type up the index with the relevant page numbers at the end, with the possibility that the insertion of a paragraph or graph could throw out the numbering, and you had to make sure that you adjusted the modified page numbers wherever they were referred to in the text. It also meant the addition of an errata, to be added once the final copy was complete, and your final proofread highlighted errors that could no longer be changed in the original text.

The last time I used a typewriter rather than a word processor was in Iscor for the second part of my hydrogen embrittlement report, where I wrote up on the various experimental results. The first part, the literature survey, had been sent to the typing pool, and I found that any mention of “hydrogen embrittlement” had been typed out as “hydrogen embittlement”. Also, I wanted to get the report out sharpish, and the typing pool route would have taken too long. Still, at one point Ferdie Lemmen poked his head around the corner as I was typing away and declared that I must be the highest paid typist in the whole of Iscor.

Fortunately by the time I joined Allied Steel & Wire they had just ditched Samna as their word processor (which, by all accounts was a pain to come to grips with) and had just adopted Corel’s WordPerfect, which to me was everything a word processor should be, and miles ahead of anything a typewriter could achieve. No wonder that when everyone could become their own typist, secretaries became a thing of the past, or became restricted to senior managers, where they became a bit more than merely glorified typists.


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