Dead media: The Blickensderfer Typewriter; the Scientific keyboard

From: [email protected] (Darryl Rehr)
Source: *Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles* by Darryl Rehr (forthcoming)


In response to the recent posting on the IBM Selectric, I offer the following. As a future collector of antique typewriters, I was blissfully oblivious to the release of the Selectric on my eleventh birthday. Now, these many years later, I have become aware that the electric, single-element typewriter dates back MUCH further.

This excerpt is from the Blickensderfer section of my upcoming book *Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles* (due out in June).


There are few old typewriters with as much charm and as much history as the Blickensderfer Typewriter. People never cease to be amazed when they see its little type wheel spin into action at the press of a key, whirring into position before brushing past the ink roller on its way to deposit each letter upon the paper.

Invented by George C. Blickensderfer, it was introduced to the public in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It created quite a stir at the time, and it’s said that other major manufacturers dropped out of a planned typewriter competition when the Blickensderfer appeared.

Although company literature mentions Models 1, 2 and 3, apparently the first model actually manufactured for the public was the Blickensderfer No. 5, a diminutive typewriter with a spacebar that folded inward so the machine would fit inside its oak case. It was produced at the company factory in Stamford, Connecticut, but did not appear in substantial numbers until 1895.

The dazzling star of the Blickensderfer lineup is the Blickensderfer Electric, which first appeared around 1902, but died a quick death. The Blick Electric essentially did everything that the IBM Selectric did more than 50 years later; everything except succeed in the marketplace, that is.

Very few of these machines survive, and if you find one, don’t plug it in. The insulation may fail and damage the motor. It’s thought that most Blickensderfer Electrics ran on DC current, but at least one example has an AC motor.

Hundreds of different Blickensderfer type elements were available in every imaginable type style and language. Extra type elements, in fact, are often found with surviving Blicks today.

Most Blickensderfers are found with what the company called its Scientific keyboard. The most often-used letters (DHIATENSOR) were placed on the bottom row, closest to the user. The company did offer the Universal (QWERTY) keyboard upon request, but it strongly advised against it.

Darryl Rehr ([email protected])

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