My Grandma worked in a sugar factory that stood at the end of my village. Part of the year was always filled with the constant noise of tractors hauling beet from the fields to be transformed into refined sugar cubes that would later be served with tea or coffee in nice porcelain cups.
Her office had an electrical typewriter and a phone with a switchboard. There was a lot of plastic and lights. However, at home, in a large wooden wardrobe, below hanging coats and perfumed dresses, she kept a real typewriter. It was a black, iron mechanical machine, quite heavy for me to lift and carry to a desk. (Actually, everything was sturdier and properly built in those days.)
Its keys were beautiful circles with nice lettering and silver rims, that you needed to push hard a long way to be rewarded with a ‘clack’ sound as the letter got printed through an ink ribbon which slowly moved as you typed. I liked replacing the ribbon and setting the typewriter’s bell to ring as I approached the edge of the paper. I typed away slowly enough to know beforehand that the next key would produce the bright ring, announcing that I could finish the word and push the cylinder back — with great satisfaction — using a lever which would also advance the paper to the next line.
The typewriter had a label ‘Remington,’ which sounded rather extraordinarily in the Haná region of Moravia (the intriguing shape of letter “g” appears rarely in Czech), and little did I know that this corporation was partially responsible — besides gun production — for thrusting a very poor standard of the keyboard on the whole world. When I was a kid, “typing productivity” and “repetitive stress injuries” did not mean a thing; but that machine was the best toy I’ve ever had.
This is the first article in the series Of Keyboards and Men, in the Life category. The second, The Inventors deals with the history, and the final one, Dvorak vs. Colemak concentrates on the technology.