The Blickensderfer Typewriter was invented by George Canfield Blickensderfer (1850–1917) and patented on August 4, 1891. Two models were initially unveiled to the public at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Model 1 and the Model 5. His machines were originally intended to compete with larger Remington, Hammond and Yost typewriters, and were the first truly portable, full keyboard typewriters. The design also enabled the typist to see the typed work at a time when most typewriters were understrike machines that concealed the writing. When Blickensderfer unveiled his small Model 5 at the 1893 World's Fair, a stripped down version his larger more complex Model 1 machine, these revolutionary features attracted huge crowds and a full order-book – many of them from Britain, Germany and France whose business machine markets were more highly developed than the US.
The Blickensderfer typewriters were initially manufactured in a rented factory on Garden Street in Stamford, Connecticut, USA. By 1896, due to strong foreign demand in particular for his machines, Blickensderfer opened a new and modern factory on Atlantic Street in Stamford. According to an article published by the Stamford Historical Society " Blickensferfer's typewriter...became the world's best seller, and the company became one of the world's largest typewriter manufacturers". The factory employed about 200 people and produced approximately 10,000 typewriters per year at its peak (1903-1907) until the factory closed in 1919. The first commercially successful model was the No.5 which sold for $35 compared to the benchmark machines of the day which cost $100 or more. Each new model 5 came in a simple wooden carrying case with an extra typewheel, a dozen ink rolls, and a tool kit.
George Blickensderfer's invention dramatically reduced the complexity of the typewriter design. A typical Blick contained only 250 parts, compared to the 2,500 parts of a standard typewriter. It was much smaller, lighter, and cheaper than other typewriters. Some of the first aluminum typewriters, marketed as the Blickensderfer 6 and the Blick Featherweight, were made by Blickensderfer, as was the worlds first fully electric typewriter, the Blickensderfer Electric.
Instead of the common mechanism with letters on the end of individual type bars connected to the keys, the first Blickensderfer prototype used a cylindrical typewheel with four rows of characters; lower case, upper case, italics and short words embossed on it. It was later modified to three rows of characters: lower case, upper case and a row of numbers and symbols. Depressing a key caused the typewheel to turn so the correct letter was positioned over the paper. As the wheel turned it moved downwards contacting an ink roller prior to striking the paper. This allowed for greater speed in typing as there were no keys to become jammed or stuck together. The interchangeable typewheel principle is very similar to the IBM Selectric design introduced almost 70 years later in 1961. Like the Selectric, one could easily change the typeface or the font style on a Blickensderfer simply by changing the typewheel.
Blickensderfers were also notable for their unique keyboard layout developed by George Blickensderfer after careful analysis of the English language. The home, or lowest row of keys contained the most commonly used letters. Blickensderfer determined that 70% of the most commonly used letters and 85% of words contained the letters DHIATENSOR. This positioning allowed the typist to keep their hands on the home row as much as possible, minimizing extraneous hand movement and increasing efficiency. The QWERTY keyboard introduced on the Sholes & Glidden typewriter in 1874 was designed for purely mechanical reasons and the chances of the keys striking each other and jamming was more limited with this configuration. Since the Blickensderfer used the typewheel, the "scientific" keyboard layout could be used for maximum typing efficiency.
Blickensderfer typewriters were sold in France under the Dactyle name. The machines were sold in Canada by the Creelman Brothers Company of Georgetown, Ontario. They were also sold and marketed in Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand and Russia. The keyboards and type wheels were available in numerous languages including French, Spanish, German, and Polish. Some machines, called the Oriental, were adapted so the carriage moved from left to right which accommodated Hebrew and Arabic languages.
The company saw much of their European business decline with the onset of WW I and production and sales were particularly hard hit when the United States joined the war in 1917. As part of the war effort Blickensderfer converted much of his factory to produce munitions for WW I including a machine gun belt feed for the French government and 50 caliber machine gun mounts for WW I aircraft. In the same year a fatal blow was delivered to the company when George Blickensderfer died on August 15, 1917 after a short illness. With the brilliant chief engineer and designer gone the Blickensderfer company could not continue and the heirs sold the company in 1919. After several unsuccessful years under different ownership the Remington Typewriter Company acquired the assets including tools, parts, drawings and intellectual rights from the bankrupt L.R. Roberts Company in 1926. Remington attempted to introduce a modified Blick 5 called the Rem-Blick to the market but by the end of 1928 the model was discontinued.
Blickensderfer Typewriter Models
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The first widely successful production model was the Blickensderfer 5, introduced at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago were. Production of the model 5 did not seriously get underway until 1895-1896. The 5 was the first portable, full keyboard, typewriter and came with the DHIATENSOR keyboard as standard or with a QWERTY keyboard available on request. Some of the earliest Blick 5's were sold in France as the Dactyle . The Blick 5 was the simplest of all Blickensderfer models and more were produced than any other Blickensderfer machine. About 74,000 or 37% of the 200,000 Blick typewriters produced were No. 5's and their production continued until 1913 when other models became more popular.
Model 6 and Featherweight
In 1910 George Blickensderfer introduced the Blickensderfer 6, which was cast in aluminum and was essentially a lighter version of the Blickensderfer 5 which used cast iron. The aluminum version also appeared as the Blick Featherweight which was an improved Model 6 with a backspace mechanism and the ink arm support was modified to an attractive curved folding design. These typewriters weighed only 5 pounds and were widely marketed as The Five-Pound Secretary.
The Model 7, first introduced in 1897, became the deluxe version of the basic No.5 and was designed to please a greater cross section of the market. The biggest and most obvious difference was the wrap around space bar which gave the machine a more solid and distinctive look. Blickensderfer also improved the paper scale, added black composite carriage knobs at both ends of the palten, added adjustable margin stops, and a bell mechanism designed to be struck by a clapper attached to the inker arm indicating when the carriage was approaching the end of the typed line. The Blick 7 was also mounted on an oak base fitted with an attractive bentwood laminated oak case. Approximately 63,000 Blick No.7's were produced from 1897 until 1916.
The Blick Electric was a revolutionary machine and was far ahead of its time when it was first introduced at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo in 1901 following its patent in Aug 1900 (patent no.656,085). It had all the familiar characteristics of the manual models, plus a QWERTY or a DHIATENSOR keyboard 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)
It is believed that the Blick Electric was produced from 1901 to 1919. Although a technological and engineering success it was a commercial failure as at the time many homes and businesses were not wired for electricity. Electricity was primarily used for lighting and therefore not widely available during the daytime.
The Blick Electrics were advertised and marketed in both France and Britain although it is not known how many machines were ultimately sold. Very few machines are known to exist today, and they are found with both straight fronts and QWERTY keyboards or curved fronts and DHIATENSOR keyboards.
The Blickensderfer 8 introduced in 1908 was the first Blick to boast a tabulator system (see Tab stop), even though tabulators had been around for some time. This model was a considerable success and more were sold in 1908 than any other model. This machine was more massive and sturdier looking than the 7 with a two piece typehead casting and a popular backspace mechanism. The tabulator used large nickel-plated levers placed on top of the machine, making it easy to operate. Production peaked in 1910 and declined until production ended in 1917. About 20,000 Blick 8's were produced, accounting for about 10% of all Blick models sold.
The Model 9, believed to be introduced in mid 1910, was similar in appearance to the Model 8, but lacked the nickel plated tabulator keys and also featured a folding ink roller arm support similar to the Blick Featherweight. Only about 10,000 machines were produced, ending in 1919.
Innovation and Technology
On August 4, 1891, after several prototypes, Blickensderfer patented The Blickensderfer Type Writing Machine. The central component was the use of the cylindrical shaped interchangeable type element which he initially patented on July 15, 1890. An earlier variation to Blickensderfer's typewheel was introduced on the Crandall 1 typewriter in 1883 but Blickensderfer's genius was in the use of the typewheel combined with the simplicity and the small size of his machine. This invention was unlike anything else on the market and was considered a mechanical marvel that took typewriter engineering to a new level. Striking a key turned the wheel to the appropriate orientation while inking the typeface as it tipped downward past the ink roller to strike the paper. Holding the Cap or Fig keys shifted the typewheel along its axis to use either the middle row, for capital letters, or the lower row, for special characters and numbers.
Industrial production in the 1890's was not highly automated and assembly was done completely by hand. This allowed for easy design changes and improvements to the production process. Blickenderfer continued to improve his machines and a number of new patents were filed for the Blick 5 up to June 1 1897 when the machine largely remained the same for the balance of its production life. Blickensderfer continued to invent new machines until his death, including the Blick Electric and various standard machines with the Blick 9 being his last major new model.
The typewheel, like the later typeball of the IBM Selectric typewriter, was the central component of all the Blick machines. It could be easily removed, allowing users to select a large variety of fonts and typeface. Later in the companies production history the basic machines keyboards could easily be adapted to other languages at the Blickensderfer factory simply by changing the removable keytop covers and adding the corresponding language typewheel.
The Scientific Keyboard
One unique feature of the Blickensderfer typewriter was the scientific or DHIATENSOR keyboard. The DHIATENSOR layout is shown below (with alphanumeric characters only): Blickensderfer analyzed the English language and proposed a unique and more efficient keyboard based on his research. He determined that the ten most frequently used letter were A,D E,H,I,N,O,R,S and T and were used in about 70% of written text and in about 85% of all words. The middle row contained letters that occurred 24% of the time and the top row about 6%. Blickensderfer offered the scientific keyboard in the hopes that his more efficient system would replace the clumsy but widely used QWERTY or universal keyboard de developed by Sholes and Glidden in 1874. Unfortunately for Blickenderfer, no other typewriter manufacturer adopted the scientific keyboard and Blickensderfer had no choice but to offer the universal keyboard on all his machines as a option. Towards the end of the company's existence most machines were sold with the universal keyboard.
In 1936 Prof August Dvorak proposed a similar keyboard layout with a more logical design to the QWERTY keyboard. His theory was similar to Blickenderfers as he tried to minimize the distance then typists fingers travelled. He proposed the same common letters as Blickensderfer in the middle row of his keyboard with the exception of the R which he replaced with a punctuation key. The Dvorak keyboard continues to have a small but loyal following to this day and is available on most major operating systems.
- "Instructions for Using the Blickensderfer Typewriter". Retrieved 2014-01-03.
- 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.