Few typewriter repair shops remain open in the United States. But for those few, business is booming. A younger generation has discovered the joyful sound and feel afforded by the manual typewriter.
First word processors and then computers replaced the clickety-clacking keyboards that pumped out printed pages right on the spot. But what’s old is new once again.
Paul Schweitzer, age 80, owns the Gramercy Typewriter Company. His father founded it in 1932. He now works alongside his son Jay and grandson Jake. Schweitzer never fell out of love with the typewriter—no matter what advanced technology offered. But despite his affection for the mechanical contraption, he pleasantly wonders about the renewed interest: “What’s surprising to me is that the younger generation is taking a liking to typewriters again.”
Schweitzer sells dozens of old typewriters over the holidays, and he still makes “house calls” to repair sticky keys and shredded ribbons in homes and offices around New York City. But he won’t trust all his income to the resurging trend. He also services HP laser printers and other modern office products. Diversifying promises financial stability in case people’s preferences change again.
Two documentaries in the last decade helped boost Millennials’ interest in vintage typewriters. But young adults also have a soft spot for other hands-on, non-digital tech such as vinyl records and fountain pens.
Ellen Lupton is a curator at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The museum displays an array of typewriters from over the years. “There’s an irresistible tactility to typing on a typewriter, a satisfying sound, a feeling of authentic authorship. No one can spy on you, and there are no distractions,” she says of the renewed popularity. That’s distinctly different from the computer, where viruses threaten and myriad internet sites lure writers from work.
Even smartphone keyboards owe their design to the old manual. “Shift,” for instance, literally lifted a typewriter key so that a capital letter struck the paper. The letter arrangement on the manual keyboard put the most-used keys into easiest range of dominant fingers for the average typist—but also spread letters out so that striking the common ones quickly wouldn’t tangle the tiny hammers carrying raised letters to the paper’s surface. That same “QWERTY” arrangement carried over to today’s electronic keyboards. The return key is based on the typewriter’s lever. It moved the carriage into position for the next line—preceded by a warning “ding!”
Students visiting Chicago’s American Writers Museum started their own typewriter club after a field trip. One fifth-grader, upon discovering his first typewriter, exclaimed, “Wow, this is great! It’s an instant printer!”