The Blickensderfer Typewriter was designed by George Canfield Blickensderfer (1850–1917) in 1892. It was originally intended to compete with Remington desk typewriters, but ended up being known for its portability.
Instead of the common mechanism with letters on the end of individual bars connected to the keys, the Blickensderfer used a cylindrical wheel with letters embossed on it. Pressing a key caused the cylinder to turn so the correct letter was positioned over the paper, and continuing caused it to be inked by a roller as it moved to press down on the paper. The mechanism is very similar to the IBM Selectric design introduced decades later, with the only major change being the shape of the striker. Like the Selectric, one could easily change the typeface on a Blickensderfer simply by changing the type cylinder.
The Blickensderfer system dramatically reduced complexity of the design. A typical example contained only 250 parts, compared to the 2,500 parts of a standard typewriter. It was much smaller, lighter, and cheaper than other typewriters. The first known aluminum typewriter (marketed as the Blickensderfer 6 or the "Featherweight Blick") was made by Blickensderfer, as was the first electric typewriter.
Early Blickensderfers were also notable for their keyboard layout. The home row of keys contained the most commonly used letters, DHIATENSOR, allowing the keyboardist to keep their hands on the home row as much as possible, minimizing extraneous hand movement and increasing efficiency. Since the Blickensderfer used the letter wheel, the "scientific" keyboard layout could be used for maximum typing efficiency.
The model 4 was a capitals-only brother of the model 5, probably intended for use by telegraphers. It used a two-row typewheel and a single shift (for figures). Today it is very rare.
The first widely successful production model was the Blickensderfer 5, introduced at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Production of the 5 did not get seriously underway until 1895-96. The 5 was one of the first truly portable typewriters with a full keyboard; it came with the DHIATENSOR keyboard as standard, with a QWERTY keyboard available on request. A sample of the earliest Blick 5s were sold in France as the Dactyle.
In 1906 Blickensderfer introduced the Blickensderfer 6, which was in fact a Blick 5 with an aluminum frame. The aluminum version also appeared as the Blick Featherweight and as a regular Blickensderfer 5.
The Model 7, first offered in 1897, became the deluxe version of the basic design. Some were assembled in the United Kingdom for sale there.
The Blick Electric was a revolutionary machine when it was first introduced in 1902. It had all the familiar characteristics of the manual models, plus a QWERTY keyboard as standard and all the advantages of later electric typewriters including a light key touch, even typing and automatic carriage return and line spacing. The machine was powered by an Emerson electric motor mounted on the rear and switched on by turning a Yale key on the side. The motor ran on 104 Volt 60 Hz AC electric current, which was not yet widely standard at the time. (See War of Currents)
The machine is not believed to have been widely marketed and only three are known to survive.
The Blickensderfer 8 of 1908 was the first Blick to boast a tabulator system (see Tab stop), even though tabulators had been around for some time. The tabulator used large nickel-plated levers placed on top of the machine, making it easy to operate. The typewheel head had also been altered, and was now made from two castings instead of one, which allowed easier access for repair and adjusting of the mechanism.
The Model 9 was similar to the Model 8, but featured a folding ink roller arm.
The type cylinder, like the later typeball of the IBM Selectric typewriter, was easily removed, allowing users to select among fonts. Striking a key turned the cylinder to the appropriate orientation while inking the type as it tipped downward to strike the paper. Holding the Cap or Fig keys shifted the cylinder along its axis to use either the middle row, for capital letters, or the upper row, for special characters.
The DHIATENSOR layout is shown below (with alphanumeric characters only):
The Dvorak letter layout has most of the consonants of its home row in DHIATENSOR order: D H T N S. The Dvorak R is in the neighboring far row, between T and N.
- Milton, Richard (2004). "Portable Typewriters - Blickensderfer". Archived from the original on 2006-03-29. (via Internet Archive)
- Blickensderfer, Robert; Paul Robert (2003). The Five-Pound Secretary An illustrated history of the Blickensderfer Typewriter. The Virtual Typewriter Museum. ISBN 90-74999-05-0.