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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Humble Typewriter

by Alton Gansky @AltonGansky

There’s been a new addition to our family.

No, not THAT kind of addition. I have become the proud owner of a typewriter. Remember those? Big. Boat anchor heavy. Clunky. Noisy. In short: wonderful.

I’ve been wanting an old typewriter. It’s an affliction that strikes many writers. I don’t know how many business cards from authors I’ve received over the years that included a photo of some old typewriter.

Writers often develop an interest in the way writing used to be done, and although most of us would not want to return to those days when everyone in your family and several of your closest neighbors knew when you were writing. How could they not? The rhythmic clacking of the type bar as letters were pounded into the paper have been known to travel great distances.

My new typewriter is from 1950 (so I use the word new ironically). Technically, it is a Royal KMG made in 1950. The KMG model debuted in 1949 although it is pretty much the same as KMM models that had been made for much longer. The big difference is that the KMG is gray, hence the G in KMG.

I suspect that most people will look at the picture above and see only obsolete technology. Let me tell you what I see. I see the same model of typewriter Ray Bradbury used to write Fahrenheit 451. He didn’t own it. He paid ten cents an hour to use the one in his local library.

I see the same kind of machine that helped Saul Bellow, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, the National Medal of Arts, and the only author to receive the National Book Award for Fiction three times, do his work.

It’s a long list of famous names including William Faulkner, playwright Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker, Rod Serling, and many others.
Each writer approaches a project in his or her own way. David McCullough still writes using a secondhand Royal KMM he picked up over forty years ago. That’s right.

Every book the biographer has written (he’s won two Pulitzers and a couple of National Book Awards) he has composed on that one typewriter. His reason? The typewriter slows him down. He has pounded out all of his books the old fashion way. Sure he had no choice in 1964 when he bought the typewriter, but he does have a choice today and he chooses his old Royal.

I’m not sure I could do what Mr. McCullough does, but I admire him for being able to create such wonderful books the old fashion way.

As you can tell, I love my new old typewriter and I hope to collect more. I don’t plan to abandon my computer. I don’t think I could sever the invisible chords that connect us, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate the beauty, mechanical complexity, and history of the good ol’ typewriter.

By the way, the term “typewriter” used to apply as much to the typist as to the device the typist used. That’s right, a person can be a typewriter.

So, do you have an old typewriter hanging around your house? Does it inspire you?

Alton Gansky is the author of over forty books, novels and nonfiction. 

He is also the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.


  1. I love the ease of current technology, but like many writers, I have a special place in my heart for the typewriter. I have one that is in its case, waiting for me to find a spot of honor for it. Thanks for reminding me Alton!

  2. Hubs bought me an old 1921 Model 3 Underwood Standard Typewriter and a stone pedestal to stand it on. :-) I love it and yes, it does inspire me. I remember using my dad's old 1940s portable typewriter and how hard you had to much the keys. That's probably why I bang away on my Macbook.

  3. I do have an old Underwood typewriter sitting around the house. And I love that it's a beautiful relic of days gone by. The thought of using it is NOT comforting however. Mistakes required re-dos or white-outs and, boy, did it get tedious. Above all else, the simple ability to backspace to correct a mistake or cut and paste or delete are the greatest things about my computer and its keyboard. ;)

  4. David McCullough is fortunate his publisher accepts typewritten manuscripts. I think if I had to use a typewriter, I'd give up in defeat over the difficulty of correcting mistakes or moving parts around, or missing the ease of Find.

  5. Thanks for the comments guys. Ane and Nicole, Underwoods changed everything. I learned to type on an Underwood when I was in junior high. I hated typing. Guess what I spend most of my day doing now. I'm looking for the model of Underwood I used in school. Terri, I don't know what McCullough does with his typewritten manuscript. I imagine someone types it into a doc. file. I agree, I wouldn't want to do my next book on a typewriter but they're still fun to own.


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