Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Not the Worst Typewriter Ever

The typewriter is a tool. Much like every tool, the product that is created with its aid is shaped by the tool itself. The Typosphere would agree with this statement. It's one of the tenants that keeps us writing with typewriters; the tool transforms the work. For most of the denizens of the Typosphere, this mean manual typewriters.

Manual typewriters have more going for them than electric typewriters. You can use a manual typewriter anywhere. All you need is a sturdy desk. That's it. A desk and an idea. Nothing more. If a desk isn't to your liking you can use a bookcase. You can sit on a park bench. By the seaside.

These qualities are hard to come by with an electric typewriter. Instead of freedom, you are attached by an umbilical. The power that impels the imprint of your ideas comes from electrons sent to your wall by a smoke-belching or radiation-hot generator. But even in this grim view there are some really exceptional electric typewriters.


The IBM Selectric is an example of an exceptional electric typewriter. I know that I am not the only one who feels so. The type ball is a really interesting evolution of the single type element. The simple analog to digital conversion is really something quite unique. For every good thing about the IBM Selectric, there is a terrible electric typewriter waiting in the wings.
The IBM Wheelwriter is one of those terrible things. OK, maybe I am a little harsh. There are some really great things about the Wheelwriter and there are some things that will lead to a future filled with really trashy typewriters.

What is good about the Wheelwriter? Even though this typewriter is 100% electric there is still a fairly satisfying touch to the keyboard. You can thank the buckling spring key switches for that. The technology that makes these keyboards so enjoyable to use is the same technology that is in the IBM Model M keyboard. I am a devotee of these keyboards and they are often cited as the finest typing keyboard in the history of computer input devices. The keyboard on the Wheelwriter, though, is decidedly louder and snappier.

There are also a few features that make special typing much easier. You can center text easily. It even can remember up to two pages of text and type them back at a mere command of your fingers.

It has interchangeable typefaces.


And a very cool auto-load feature.



There are lots of keys to press.

It can be a printer if hooked up to a computer. (Everyone knows that a computer is a great big thing that sits in a lab. Why would you ever need a computer in your home?)

And it has this handy guide to various features.


With so many cool features it is understandable why it’s a popular typewriter with…


Sedaris used to have a request for a Wheelwriter in his contract. “And then I would show up and it would be some ancient Canon typewriter,” Sedaris said in a recent telephone interview. “And then you would type three words and the ribbon would snap. And then you’re at some hotel out on the highway and there’s nowhere to get a new ribbon.” Says Sedaris.

But Sedaris isn’t alone in his Wheel Writer love.

Ray Bradbury used one and


Elmore Leonard uses one.


And I admit that I have been guilty of typewriter snobbery in the past. I thought just because it was electric and modern that it cannot be as good as a manual typewriter. For me this is true, but it is not necessarily true for others. Tools can be very personal. What feels right for one might be all wrong for others. The Typosphere is a big enough place to let all typewriters have their place. This little attitude adjustment makes me appreciate this tool more than I have in the past.


Oh, By-the-way The IBM Wheelwriter is not the first typewriter to have a print wheel. This machine (From the collection of Martin Howard) is a Victor and it had a daisy wheel.


 


8 comments:

  1. As a devote Wheelwriter user I can really appreciate the features and capacities of that authentic workhorse. To this day I use my machines (yes, I'm guilty of owning THREE IBM Wheelwriters!) for correspondence, general purpose writing, but also for serious, business-related work; they are great for filling in multicopy forms like parcel guides and such. And I agree, the typing action and feel is very good!

    Glad to see I'm not an heretic typospherian anymore for liking, collecting and using this kind of machines XD

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  2. I too prefer manuals, but I have several electrics pretty dear to my heart including a Smith Corona word processor. I was thinking about bringing up the electric discussion with my blog but you beat me to it ;)

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  3. I had a Wheelwriter. It was a great writer and did anything I could ask of a typewriter. The only downside was the space it took up on my desk. As I started to get more manual typewriters, I sold it to a local business.

    I imagine the Wheelwriter is happy working in forms and business letters!

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  4. "The Typosphere is a big enough place to let all typewriters have their place."

    Very true words, indeed!

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  5. It takes all types. Gee, kind of a dumb pun. That is a neat looking machine. I actually forgot IBM made a wheelwriter word processor.

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  6. If you live anywhere near Albany, New York here is an ebay bargain: http://www.ebay.com/itm/251115709747?_trksid=p5197.c0.m619#ht_2354wt_932 You can get 20 of them!

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    Replies
    1. What a deal! You could outfit a whole office with Wheelwriters.

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  7. Thanks for taking the time to introduce me to this machine. It deserves respect, although it's not my kind of typewriter.

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