Today a marvelous machine for transcribing thoughts to words has almost disappeared. I’m speaking, of course, about the venerable typewriter. Recently I got rid of my last IBM Selectric which was one of the finest typewriters I ever used.
As near as I can recall, I was about eleven years old when I received my first typewriter as a Christmas present. It was constructed in the nature of a toy but it was actually functional in that it had a ribbon and a wheel that was mounted facing the typist. On that wheel were most of the characters that you find on a full size electric typewriter. You could also insert a piece of paper and roll it up by hand. The real challenge of this miniature marvel was that you had to turn that wheel by hand to the letter you wanted to type and then strike a single key. To add letters and form a word you had to repeat the manual process. It wasn’t likely that you were going to write more than a sentence or two in a sitting.
At that particular time, World War II was hot and heavy and when you got home from school there were all sorts of news flashes on the radio. For kicks, and a few cents, I would note the major flashes on a pad and then laboriously crank out four or five copies on my little machine. Walking through the neighborhood I would be able to sell my little news flashes for a few pennies each – good enough to buy almost a week’s worth of candy in those days.
The next time I got in front of a typewriter was in high school when it was a mandatory class – though none of us athletes thought was very necessary. In those days you worked on a very stiff upright machine that had no correcting tape; you used a lot of paper before you could turn in an error-free typing exercise.
As it was to turn out much later, it was the most important high school class I ever took. The reason being that in the dead of winter, in snow-covered Pusan, Korea, where I had been walking guard duty and performing other menial assignments, one morning at mail call the sergeant asked, “Is there any man in the company who can type?” Despite having learned that in the Army you never raise your hand to volunteer, both my hands went up simultaneously. Since I was the only one volunteering, I got the job of company clerk which meant I spent my time in a cozy office. Later one of the grizzled vets who was being discharged came in and noted that he could find no one else in the battalion who could type, so he had sought me out to replace him as intelligence sergeant at headquarters. The typing duties associated with that job occurred on a weekly basis and were occasioned by taking an intelligence gathering, all day outing to small villages in the area that was later to become Pusan Perimeter during the Korean conflict. With the aid of two interpreters, I would interview the mayors of those towns and then type up the reports that would later make their way up the chain of command and eventually to MacArthur’s quarters in Japan. A week or so later the information we sent in would come back, along with that of other intelligence gathering Army entities.
On the troop ship coming back to the US, typing once again came in handy as I got to produce the daily poop sheet (a mimeographed affair) for all on board.
Typing became an integral part of my college career while studying for a Journalism degree at the University of Nevada (no “Reno” in the name). During those years I also was a stringer for the Nevada State Journal and would often study the typing techniques of others in the newsroom; from the hunt-and-peckers to the fluid “no look at the keyboard” types.
As I moved into working for a living I managed to become an editor, a publisher and eventually an ad agency owner. In all of those pursuits my typewriter was beside my desk.
Now, as a columnist for the Senior Spectrum, I feel I have run the complete gamut of the journalist field including print, radio and television copy writing.
My best advice to young students in this field is to learn to type as fast as you think.