George C. Blickensderfer (1850-1917)
George Canfield Blickensderfer was born in Erie, Pa.,
in 1850. At the age of 10 he attempted to build a flying machine, which,
had it been successful, would have made him ultimately more famous in
the world than he is today. But as a grown man he invented other mechanical
marvels that did succeed.
The first was a store carrier service that could transport
packages and money from different store counters to a central packing
station and back.
George Blickensderfer spent much time traveling by train while pursuing
his conveyor business. He realized the need for a portable typewriter
so that businessmen could type letters and invoices while traveling on
the train or while in their hotel.
When he was in his 30s, George Blickensderfer, now married
to his wife Katherine, moved to Stamford, Conn., where he built his first
typewriter in a little workshop behind his house on 88 Bedford Street.
George's first patent for a typewriter in 1889 was his basic invention
for a typewheel machine operated from a keyboard. Such a design eliminated
the numerous type-bars and their mechanisms that connected them to each
key. This saved costs and weight. It weighed about a fourth that of typewriters
of the time.
George developed several models of his typewriter before he considerded
it ready for production. No examples of the first four models (images
of the models 1 and 3 are in pics 2 and 3) are known to exist,
but Model 5 (see collection) was built by the thousands.
The machine was presented in public for the first time at
the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, where George's attractive red-headed
secretary May Munson (pic 4) drew large crowds as she typed away
at great speed on this wonderful little machine with its fascinating typewheel.
Other typewriters companies are reported to have closed their booths early,
as George brought in hundreds of orders, including his first export deals.
The export market was important for the Blickensderfer typewriter company
from the very beginning. The machine was sold to England, Germany, France,
New Zealand and Canada to begin with. One of the strong points was the
interchangeable typewheel that was produced for many different languages,
including Slovak, Armenian and Hebrew. By 1896 he was producing some 10,000
machines per year.
In 1900 George invented a breathtaking electric typewriter (pic 5)
that in functionality and speed was not matched until IBM introduced the
famous golf ball model half a century later. Although the machine was
advertised, sales never got off the ground and only three samples of the
Electric are known to exist today.
World War I was a heavy blow for the Blickensderfer export market and
the company almost went under. However, George invented a device to feed
cartridges into machine guns along a belt. Again, he signed a tremendous
export order and sold the device to the French government for several
George Blickensderfer died after several weeks of illness on Aug. 15 1917.
(This article was written with input from Bob Aubert
and Rob Blickensderfer.)