is american typewriter. is built like tractor.

Today I felt like pounding away on some glass-top keys, so I dragged out the Royal KHM to bang out Chapter the Latest.


That machine was made in 1935, when my grandfather was eighteen, and nine years before my father was born. And the damn thing still works. Sure, the rubber on the platen is hard as a rock after seventy-seven years, but that’s about the only thing wrong with it. And it still feeds and holds paper, so it’s not a fatal defect. I suppose I should have the platen re-covered with new rubber, because this thing is so solid that it will probably last another 77 years with a minimum of care and maintenance.

On occasion, people will ask me why I bother writing on typewriters, or longhand for that matter. Writing on the computer is faster and easier, you can’t take the typewriter to a coffee shop, you have to type everything up again when you plug it into the computer, etc. etc.

I don’t claim that my writing is any better when I use retro tech. In the last few years, I’ve written stuff directly on the PC or Mac, on the typewriter, and longhand with a fountain pen, and I can’t tell a qualitative difference between any of the end products. I suspect it wouldn’t read any different if I punched my next short story into the iPhone, or wrote it on linen paper with a dip pen. But I like the older, tactile methods more than I do the tippy-typing on the computer keyboard. I use those things because I enjoy using them. If the end product doesn’t suffer in quality, I prefer to create it in the way that gives me the most pleasure. (Incidentally, my first pro sale short story was written with a fountain pen.)

Having to retype the output of the typewriter or the pen is a feature, not a bug. It forces a word-for-word revision, so what ends up on the PC is actually the second draft already. Also, it’s kind of neat to have a tangible, verifiable hardcopy of the first draft.

Final bonus of retro tech: no distractions. No Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, or Angry Birds to steer you away from your work. And it works just fine in a power outage. I’ve written quite a few pages by oil lamp light that way.


9 thoughts on “is american typewriter. is built like tractor.

  1. Old Windways says:

    For some completely irrational reason I want the oil lamp in that last paragraph to be whale oil.

    On an unrelated note, do you own any Smith Corona typewriters? I enjoy typing on my Underwood portable and shooting my Underwood M1 Carbine, and I recently acquired a Smith Corona 1903A3, so now I have a desire to learn more about their typewriters from the first half of the 20th century.

    • Marko Kloos says:

      I don’t have any SC typewriters right now, but I’ve owned a Smith-Corona Sterling from the late 1950s and a Galaxie Twelve from the 1960s. Smith-Coronas of any vintage are great machines, very easy to type on.

  2. Gnarly Sheen says:

    “Writing on the computer is faster and easier, you can’t take the typewriter to a coffee shop, you have to type everything up again when you plug it into the computer, etc. etc.”

    If I ever write a book on how to become a horrible person (since I’m an expert on being one), it’s going to include taking your typewriter with you to a coffee shop and using it. I wonder how long it would take before they ask you to leave?

    • Old Windways says:

      Well, they did make “portable” typewriters for a reason…

      Honestly, I would put the odds at 50-50 that instead of asking you to leave, they would think it was the next cool retro/hipster trend. The only thing more “cutting edge” would be if you had an adapter so you could use the typewriter as an input device for your iPhone. I can’t decide if selling such a device wold be genius or the peak of stupidity (possibly both).

  3. Jeff The Bear says:

    You nailed the reasons. I prefer to use desk top machines at home. My Royal KMM is from 1939. The youngest is from 1955 and they all work flawlessly.

    I do have several excellent portables and sometimes use them in public: waiting while my car is worked on, at a local Panera, etc. The reactions have always been positive: curiosity from the youngsters (those under 35), nostalgia, fascination. Don’t get much serious production, but I’ve had some great conversations.

  4. Rob Bowker says:

    My KHM was a recent gift and apart from its ribbon shredding habit (needs a fresh one) it works like you’d imagine a new one would. Will we ever know how soft and yielding the platens were new?

  5. Bing says:

    I wish I had kept my SC portable. Gave it away about seven years ago. Duh!!!

  6. Steve Anderson says:

    After the zombie/nuclear/pandemic/apocalypse end of times scenario of your choice, you can still use your typewriter, when all electronic means of communication are gone. On a side note, you have inspired me to get a fountain pen. My friends think I’m nuts for spending $130+ on a Pilot Vanishing Point, but I like it. I write slower, and therefore neater, with it, and it will still work as long as ink can be made. If we forget old technology, we will be up a creek in an emergency.

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