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01_UnderwoodTags_via snfranciscomemories.com

As many of you know, June 23rd is World Typewriter Day. This is a day in which we celebrate those weighty machines which give us great joy by clicking, clacking, and “ding!”ing. It’s a day to swap out old typewriter ribbons for new ones and oil our carriage levers!

02_postal cancel_PPIE_02

(above message reads: “What do you think of this machine? It is in operation every day. –Al)

Let’s take a step back and look at a larger picture: this year is also the 100 year anniversary of San Francisco’s Pan Pacific International Expo (PPIE, for short.) In 1915, the Expo was a wonderment to behold — San Francisco’s first big “event” after the devastation of 1906’s earthquake and fire. Countries from around the globe (as well as states across the US) sent emissaries, exhibits, and artwork of their best and brightest. Practically speaking, the PPIE commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and celebrated SF’s phoenix-like rebuilding of the city.

03_1915-worlds-fair

I have always been fascinated with the PPIE; in the San Francisco of today, you can still find remnants of the Expo – if you look carefully. The Palace of Fine Arts still stands, but there are also many hidden bits (artwork and architecture) tucked away around the bay area.

05_women on typer_

(typed message reads: “Westward Ho! Over the Rockies we go: on our way to the Golden Gate we will see deserts, prairies,cowboys, ranches, mountains, canyons, and the wonders of the west; the Orient, the Occident, the South Seas, the Arctic — all the world will be there. Meet us in the Palace of Liberal Arts, Court of the Universe, San Francisco.”)

But there’s one mystery that I’ve been working to solve, something that no one ever seems to discuss. It’s a question of the massive Underwood typewriter, which was shown with much fanfare at the PPIE.

04_palace of liberal arts_04

“Writing daily at the Underwood exhibit”, the Underwood Typewriter Company debuted an enormous 14 ton typewriter at the Expo’s Palace of Liberal Arts. At twenty one feet wide and 18 feet high, this particular Underwood was a feat of engineering. A grown adult could sit on one of its keys; photos from the Expo show attendees dwarfed by the gigantic contraption. Plans for the giant machine took a full year to develop; it was another year before the behemoth was constructed.

06_photo via_ foundsf

(typed message reads: “Bulletin by United Press: Liverpool, May 7th — the Cunard liner Lusitania with a heavy passenger list of Americans, was torpedoed and sunk off the Irish coast this afternoon. Small boats rushed from Queenstown to Old Head of Kinsale off which point the liner was torpedoed.”)

Daily news headlines were typed out on a nine-by-twelve-foot piece of paper; the typewriter itself required a 100-foot-long ribbon. “Printer’s Ink” magazine (Volume 91, April 1st, 1915) tells us that “it is run by power generated by three single one horse-power motors.” A regular sized Underwood in front of the larger showpiece was used in the typing of daily newsworthy headlines. A breaking news feature on May 7th, 1915, announced to fair-goers the sinking of the Lusitania by German submarines (as seen in the photo above.)

07_underwood

So here’s the mystery: a 14 ton typewriter with keys the size of car tires and taller than an adult elephant – where does something like that end up? I’ve long wondered. That’s the beauty of the internet: if you search diligently, you can usually piece together clues.

Giant Underwood Typewriter, Underwood Garden Pier Exhibit Atlantic City

After the PPIE wrapped up on December 4th, 1915, many of the Expo’s artifacts were sold at public auction. Parts of buildings were floated downriver to other bay area cities; artwork and furniture found their way into private collections. The Underwood Typewriter Company sold their 14 ton, award-winning typewriter to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. Taken apart and loaded into two boxcars, the colossal machine traveled from one side of the country to the other.

08_atlantic city underwood

The excellent oz Typewriter blog has a first-rate write up of Jack Dempsey’s (that’s right – the boxer!) connection with the enormous typer, once it arrived in Atlantic City. As far as I can tell (via internet sleuthing), the Underwood resided in Atlantic City for twenty-or-so years. (Internet) Rumor has it that hired dancers pranced across the keys, typing out messages for onlookers.

10_NYworlds fair underwood_1939

In 1939, the World’s Fair opened in NYC. It seems that Underwood’s typer found a new home in the “Business Systems and Insurance Building” – a far cry from its glory days at the PPIE. Bill Cotter, in his book “The 1939-1940 World’s Fair” (Arcadia Press) states that “the exhibits inside were unlikely to attract many repeat visitors for they consisted of displays on banking, life insurance companies, calculators, safes, and other office equipment. The most popular displays were a 14 ton typewriter, the largest in the world, and IBM’s Gallery of Art and Science.”

11_1939_history by zim_01

(typed message reads: “Hey Folks: Welcome to the World’s Fair of 1940 in New York. –Henry D. Gibso… –> the young lady in photo has her foot at the ready, hovering above the letter “N”.)

At this point in my searching, the trail of the 14 ton typer goes cold. I’ve found vague references to World War II and implications that the Underwood Master Typewriter was sold to the US Army for scrap metal. Is this really truly what happened? Is there any way to ever possibly know?

12_PPIE typer

With all of our collective (internet) knowledge, I have no doubt that the “Whereabouts of the 14 Ton Typewriter” will one day be solved — beyond a question of a doubt. For now, I’ll keep hoping for the day that mankind manages to perfect time travel.  Then I’ll be able to find my way among the promenades and pathways of 1915’s PPIE, heading towards the Palace of Liberal Arts and a typewriter that dreams are made of.

–JH

Some great resources in relation to this write up:

KQED’s “Forum With Michael Krasney” – an interview with PPIE historians and author Laura Ackerly (Jewel City, published by Heyday Books)

Excellent photos of the Underwood exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair (blog: History by Zim)

Learn interesting facts and unusual aspects related to typewriters! oz Typewriter (blog)

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oh look! that's right around the corner!

oh look! that’s right around the corner!

Paper-y people across the country: you have an upcoming reason to celebrate! Our dear friend the typewriter will be celebrating a birthday on June 23rd!

this is where it all began...

this is where it all began…

from wiki: “The Sholes and Glidden typewriter had its origin in a printing machine designed in 1866 by Christopher Latham Sholes to assist in printing page numbers in books, and serial numbers on tickets and other items.Sholes, a Wisconsin printer, formed a partnership with Samuel W. Soule, also a printer, and together they began development work in Charles F. Kleinsteuber’s machine shop, a converted mill in northern Milwaukee. Carlos S. Glidden, an inventor who frequented the machine shop, became interested in the device and suggested that it might be adapted to print alphabetical characters as well.”

ah, the glamorous life...

ah, the glamorous life…

Thus, the typewriter (as we would come to know it) was born!

will you be mine? i promise i'll do all the chores, everyday...

will you be mine? i promise i’ll do all the chores, everyday…

Fast forward, 1956: Jack Kerouac was fast at typing; it frustrated him to have to change paper so often. Allen Ginsberg went on record stating that Kerouac was an incredibly fast typist, averaging 110-120 words per minute. When writing “On the Road” Kerouac improvised, taking long sheets of drawing paper and trimming them to fit into his typewriter (a Hermes 3000), then typing out what would become known as “On the Road”. When taped together, the manuscript was/is 120 feet long. (side note: here is an amazing website devoted to the Kerouac scroll’s travels)

christmas in june!...

christmas in june!…

So how will you celebrate the typewriter’s birthday? I’m going to start by sending out a handful of goodies that are –of course!– typed, as opposed to handwritten. But I’d love to hear whether or not you will be creating a special mailing to commemorate our trustworthy friend’s 146 birthday!
–JH

PS: a fun additional fact — the YWCA set up the first typing school in 1881! Following in their footsteps, typewriter manufacturers established schools of their own which also included lessons in shorthand.

PPS: the above photo of the Hermes 3000 was taken from the website machinesoflovinggrace.com. If you like that, Alan’s got another blog called Stapler Fetish and oh-my-god-I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven: it’s pretty swoon-worthy.

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he wants YOU to write a letter...

he wants YOU to write a letter...

The newspaper article was pretty clear: “Post Office Needs Help Answering Kids Letters to Santa”. This year in the bay area, there’s been a large influx of letters to the jolly guy, and the post office needs all hands on deck to help answer santa mail. The article quoted SF Postal District spokesman James Wigdel as saying that an average of 300 – 400 letters come in each year. So who gets to write all those responses?

this is the mail room at the North Pole...

this is the mail room at the North Pole...

We all know that writing a letter (no matter what time of year it is) can make a huge difference, whether sharing important news, telling a loved one “I was thinking of you”, or just wishing someone well. How to pass on this idea on to kids, that receiving a handwritten letter is a meaningful gesture?  Writing a letter to Santa via the USPS “Letters to Santa” program is a great way to start!

you are here...

you are here...

I arrived at SF’s main post office on a gloomy Tuesday – the last day to pick up letters. The premise of the program is straightforward: children write letters to Santa, you drop by the PO and choose a few, then write your “santa reply” by a certain date. There is some simple paperwork to fill out, and your reply has to be returned by a certain date, in order to ensure delivery by Christmas.

it's fun to watch left-handers write...

it's fun to watch left-handers write...

The scene at the PO was quiet, although a TV crew was asking questions and shooting footage (hi Mom!). There were only two other “santa’s helpers” flipping thru the letters from children…

decisions, decisions...

decisions, decisions...

It was hard to decide which letters to respond to – there was a variety of wants and needs. Some of the letters were intense (“I would like my cocker spaniel back”), others were flat out hilarious (“I want a Costco Pony” — huh?!).  I had no idea what many of the toys/items were that the kids had listed – I guess I need to hang out with my niece and nephew a bit more…

and I had some mail of my own to put in the box...

and I had some mail of my own to put in the box...

Arriving home, I developed a plan of attack; thank goodness the PO gave me four different “reply from Santa” templates to choose from, so I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel. I decided on a response that sounded festive (mention Rudolph and cookies), yet didn’t make any promises in regards to specific toys (“I’ll look in my bag for something special, just for you!”). Then I busted out the Torpedo typewriter. Clickety, clickety, clickety – eight replies went by pretty darn fast…

look at that Torpedo go!

look at that Torpedo go!

Onwards to the decoration! I wanted to create something that looked like an old school Victorian document, with sealing wax and faux illuminated lettering. As for Santa’s signature, what sort of typeface would it be? He seems like a “Middle Saxony Text” guy to me. Once that important decision was made, I got down to work…

DIY lightbox: my living room window!

DIY lightbox: my living room window!

Once the typing and tracing were complete, I headed for the colored pens and pencils. My illuminated lettering skills aren’t the best (not winning any calligraphy prizes any time soon), but I figured the person who receives my letter will get the main idea.

ho ho ho, indeed!

ho ho ho, indeed!

The icing on the cake? A wax seal with ribbon, of course! I was going for that “Santa Claus-meets-a-crazy-pirate” look. A bit of gold colored gouche on the flourishes added to that effect…

by royal order of S. Claus, North Pole...

by royal order of S. Claus, North Pole...

And then I put each letter into an envelope, said “goodbye”, and took the stack back to the post office.

That was that.

I’ve shared postal/mail art experiences with kids and teens and I always wonder what they think about writing letters. In this case, will they take one look at the santa letter I created and think “that’s weird”?  Or will it be the kind of thing that Mom or Dad put into a box and carry around from year to year? It’s a similar feeling when reaching out to a new mail art/Networking correspondent – will the two of  you have anything in common? What kind of person are they “in the mail” as compared to “in person”?  Of course, I’ll never meet the children that I send these santa letters to, but I still wonder what they’re like.  Will they grow up to enjoy mail just like me?

every day should be like Christmas...

every day should be like Christmas...

I can only hope so.

Don’t forget to put out cookies for the Big Guy. I hear he likes peanut butter chocolate chip…

–JH

12.16.10 edit: here are some snaps of the “santa-lopes”; a few among the RLD readership have been asking to see ’em. The always-generous-with-his-time-and-a-camera Von Span took a few photos before I returned the whole kaboodle to the PO…

 

two fronts, one back...

two fronts, one back...

 

closeup; each envelope was a wee bit different from the other...

closeup; each envelope was a wee bit different from the other...

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TAD: 02.01.10

Today’s the first day of “Thing A Day”, so as per the “rules” of the game, I did something quick.

I’ve decided that I’m going to implement some guidelines of my own, just to keep me from going crazy, spending too much time over-thinking, or getting overwhelmed.

–I’ll be doing my month’s worth of work in a day-by-day Moleskin; easier to carry around in my bag. I’m sort of working in reverse in my book, so I’ll be date-stamping at the top corner of each page, just to keep track of each day’s work.

–each week will be themed, to keep some sort of consistency going.

  • wk 1: text
  • wk 2: color
  • wk 3: narrative
  • wk 4: form and/or shape

I’ll keep everyone posted!

–JH

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