Looking Back

The days of typewriters and mimeographs

Oh, how life has changed over the years! You don’t give it much thought until you stop and think about the “then and now.”

As I sit at my computer I recall the days of my high school typing class. We rolled the paper into a manual typewriter and typed such phrases as, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” This sentence contains almost all the letters of the alphabet and if you can type it without looking at the keys, then you have mastered that alphabetical part of the keyboard.

Back in the 60s, college prep students didn’t take typing as part of their regular school year. We had to take a summer course if we wanted to learn how to type our college term papers with more two fingers.

The summer typing course at Mount St. Joseph Academy was taught by Sister Julia Marie. It was a crash course to say the least! It lasted six weeks and during most of that time the keyboard was “capped.” There were a couple of ways to correct a mistake. One was correction tape which allowed you to type your error onto the tape, which lifted off your mistake. Another option was a round abrasive eraser with a brush on the end. That could easily tear the paper if you pressed too hard. Although liquid correction fluid had been invented by the 60s I don’t ever remember using it to correct a mistake.

If you wanted a copy of what you had typed you inserted a piece of carbon paper between two sheets of paper and that was your copy.

I had a small Smith Corona portable typewriter for my high school essay assignments. I remember dreading a typing mistake because it was noticeable no matter how hard you tried to correct it. You wanted to be pretty darn sure of your wording because a revision was an even worse nightmare than a typo.

My portable typewriter was used throughout college but it was not adequate enough for my teaching days. I paid a visit to Francis Howard who owned Howard Office Equipment. His business was located at his home on Bellevue Avenue in Rutland. I explained that I needed a typewriter with keys that made a sharp impression as my test papers would be run through a mimeograph machine. I came home with a rather large and heavy full-size typewriter designed for my professional needs.

As I recall, tests were typed on paper with a waxy surface. There was ink in the paper and when the impression made by the typewriter keys went through the mimeograph machine the ink got pressed onto the paper by the roller. The pages were cranked out by hand and came out a purplish color. With one machine and about a dozen teachers there was often a waiting line.

I remember an aroma coming out of the machine and onto the paper. If I made my copies just before class, the students got quite a whiff. I researched the cause of the aroma and learned it was a mix of methanol and isopropanol. Apparently it is safe to inhale and is definitely an aroma that is remembered by students in that era.

Electric typewriters were a big step up. They had a correcting cassette that could correct several words at a time. Life got a whole lot better for those of us who were not the world’s best typists.

Fortunately for me, after I left teaching I worked in a job where someone typed my letters for me. Eventually, as the computer world came into being everyone became typists. Even those who typed with two fingers got along quite well. It became easy to correct mistakes as they disappeared before our eyes on the “magic monitor.” Extra copies needed? Not a problem! They fly out of a copier at a rapid speed.

Computers were but a dream for homes and offices back in the 1960s. Sometimes when I look back the “good old days” seem better than today. But would I want to trade my computer for a typewriter? Absolutely not!

This is one case where “looking back” produces memories that I do not care to recreate.

One comment on “The days of typewriters and mimeographs

  1. Enjoying this walk down memory lane. As a student in the ’70s and 80’s I loved the smell of the mimeograph. Also did some of my work on a manual typewriter. Though by college age, the word processor was always there. Still the memory is strong enough to lead to the Type Bar project where I enlist people to write letters on manual typewriters. It’s a lot of fun. And one of these days, once I get a studio to keep it in, I definitely plan to get a mimeograph machine. Just don’t want my apartment to smell like that! Thanks for the article. Let me know if I can hand type a letter for you!

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