John E. Molle (1876-1921)
According to newspaper clippings, John E. Molle was born
in Kewaunee, Wisconsin on April 27, 1876. He died at 45 years of age,
in 1921. He and his family had been in the jewelry business since emigrating
from their native Germany.
John Molle joined the family business, probably in the 1890s
and worked as a jeweller and watch maker. He found himself confronted
regularly with clients asking him to repair typewriters. Being the only
repairman for 100 miles around, Molle handled quite a few of them. He
was frustrated by their complicated designs and finally set out to produce
a machine of his own.
On Feb 27, 1906, John E. Molle of Sturgeon Bay, WI, was granted his first
patent on a typewriter. It is a goofy looking machine at first glance,
but (pic 2) on closer inspection it appears as a visible concept only
lacking a traditional platen or movable carriage. (Keep in mind that this
was a patent model.) This would appear to be the machine that some contemporary
sources call the Jundt and list the date of introduction as 1908.
The machine is interesting due to the fact that at this early date (1906)
a visible typebar design was still a cutting-edge idea. Bear in mind that
Remington was still selling "blind machines" as late as 1914. Also, this
first patent drawing shows that the Molle is a repairman's dream. Within
seconds the entire type basket could be lifted out of the machine for
repairs. The machine that would finally be built could be split up in
three pieces (frame, basket and carriage) within a minute.
Molle's next patent (pic 3) was issued on December 16, 1913.
This one was for a "Line spacing mechanism for Type-Writers". It would
seem that Mr. Molle figured out by then that he could sell more typewriters
if they had a platen, a carriage, and a line-space mechanism.
The next available patent is dated Dec 23, 1913 and appears to be the
one for the machine that is now known as the Molle No.3. (No evidence
exists of a Molle 1 or 2 ever having been produced.)
The fourth and final patent was granted Jan. 13, 1914 for
an escapement mechanism. The different patent specifications clearly show
that Molle was concerned about making a machine that was both rugged and
easy to service: "This invention relates to Type-writing machines and
is designed to obtain in a simple and effective manner a prompt and positive
response of the typebars and to effect cushioning of the key-action, so
as to prevent breaking of any of the parts thereof, should the action
become jammed in any matter and at the same time to cushion the depression
of the keys and thereby prevent the sudden jar upon the fingers of the
operator as is usual with ordinary forms of typewriting machines when
the type strikes the platen."
Decline and fall of the Molle empire
Based on contemporary papers (letters, records and clippings) it seems
that Molle tried to set up a typewriter factory in Manitowoc, WI, in 1909.
However, it would take at least six more years until the Molle company
finally came off the ground. But the machine never flew.
The Molle typewriter company was seriously hindered by World War I, when
the US government had other priorities. On Sep 15, 1919, John Molle reported
to his stock holders how he had been in a position to sell 20,000 of his
typewriters to the government in 1918. However, the deal fell through
because the factory wasn't ready to produce yet. And when he finally received
orders for 275 machines, he had to go before the Priorities Committee
to secure the necessary raw materials.
The rest of the story is equally sad. In 1919, production is taken up
in a factory in Oshkosh, WI, and more than 1,000 machines are produced
and delivered. The company goes public and raises more than half a million
dollars in capital, with 5 dollar shares (pic 4).
Production increases to more than 500 machines per month, but sales falter.
John Molle falls ill and dies on Apr 27, 1921 in Oshkosh, at age 45. The
company does not survive much longer and is declared bankrupt in March
1922. Shortly after, production of the Molle is taken up under the name
Liberty by a company in Chicago, but only for a very short while.
In all, less than 10,000 Molle typewriters were built between 1918 and
1922. Only about 50 are known to have survived and are now in different
(This article includes original research done by Phil
Garr for the Typex newsletter - Feb. 2000)