Sunday, October 7, 2012

No Magic Margin for You!

The drab grey exterior is not exactly charming. It's pretty institutional, but from Remington's advertising department it was nothing short of revolutionary.


This particular model is the Super-Riter. Being the grown-up version of the entire Remington line it had all the gadgets you would expect from a typewriter of this caliber; full tabulator, touch select, snappy response, and even a type bar un-jammer. There is one thing missing. The margin set is not automatic. You must reach behind the paper table and use the margin set tabs. Not a terrible inconvenience, but certainly not one you would expect to see in a full-featured desktop typewriter. I looked around at American machines from the 50s and found that the automatic set margin was pretty common.

Obviously, there's Royal:


and Smith-Corona:


Underwood was a little different with their font-set marginal stops, so they don't count.

This begs the question; Why do Royal and Smith-Corona typewriters have fancy margin sets while the Remington is left out in the cold. Well, the answer has a little to do with a lawsuit.

It was October 3, 1947 when Royal filed suit in the District Court of Connecticut. Royal claimed that Remington Rand violated Royal's patent with the creation of the KMC or Keyboard Margin Control. This feature was prevalent on Remington desktop typewriters before the 1950s. Like Royal's Magic Margin it was a novel way to set margins on a typewriter. Unlike Royal's Magic Margin the KMG was on the body of the typewriter to the right.


Under the hood, both MM and KMC used an actuated arm to press a spring loaded marginal stop. If you are familiar with MM, then the KCM would make total sense. The KMC procedure was very similar to Royal's. Interestingly enough, the entire lawsuit centered around a patent created not by Hart, but a man named William Woodfine. William Woodfine is the grandfather of the Magic Margin.

Woodfine was a Canadian living in Verdun near Montreal when he applied for a U.S. patent for a "Margin Regulator for Typewriters." He wanted to improve margin system so "that rearwarly disposed margin stops may be caused to assume position in correspondence with a selected setting of the carriage through... forwardly projecting control keys." The patent was filed on November 1st, 1932 and issued on July 4, 1933. 



The most interesting part of the whole case against Remington was the revelation that Royal had purchased the Woodfile patent ten years before Smith's judgement. That would be around 1937-1938. The Hart Magic Margin patent was filed in 1938. It seems that Royal stumbled on this novel method for setting a margin and, before they issued their own improvement patent, wanted to secure the rights to Woodfine. 

Remington Rand appealed the ruling and the case came before Learned Hand. Hand was a well-known and well-respected judge and legal philosopher. In his time on the bench he heard many cases including several free speech appeals during World War I. Hand was particularly interested in patent law.

L. Hand's eyebrows frequently wrote their own opinions.

Hand affirmed Smith's earlier judgment in 1948. One of the most interesting outcomes of this case was the number of times that Hand is quoted from the Royal opinion.

Ultimately, Royal's ownership of this patent was upheld and we can see the repercussions of this in Remington's typewriter technology. Nowhere in the 1950s will you see an automatic margin on a Remington. 

The Woodfine patent was also brought up in another margin lawsuit with SCM in the 1960s. I have not looked too closely at the particulars, but I imagine that the outcome was similar. 

Even with all the legal harangue, Remington still made a very high quality typewriter that was used by large sectors of the U.S. Government.

I have another Remington desktop. It's nice as well.



I guess that if you take the body panels off, you can "unroll" the whole typewriter to work on it. I'll have to give that a try.


So, if you happen to see one of these typers out in the wild, give one a try. Even without the fancy margin set you'll still enjoy it.


9 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. I never gave thought to an office style typewriter not having any kind of semi-automatic margin setting before.

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  2. L. Hand's eyebrows frequently wrote their own opinions. HA! He did indeed have some eyebrows. And quite the name, too!

    Very informative! Loved all the ephemera, too.

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  3. Interesting! I picked up a KMC this summer, my first Remi standard. I had no idea that the margin-set technology took a step backwards. Remington vs. Royal, Apple vs. Samsung... the more things change...

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  4. Olympia SGs have no automatic margin settings to speak of. In fact, the only auto margins I have is a Royal QDL (technically, it's just one side that is auto) and the Hermes 3000 (not intuitive, but once you see how it works, it's pretty easy).

    Not even any for the Selectrics I have owned had an auto margin!

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    1. I really think it was a popular thing for American typewriter manufacturers. Although, I would venture a guess that the Hermes method, while similar, was created after the patent expired on Woodfine. I believe terms of patent on devices in the 1930s was 17 years. So, Hermes would have been pretty safe from Royal-McBee filing suit.

      I have the feeling there was a sense in typewriter manufacturing that if you weren't adding features you were falling behind. By the 50s, the technology was pretty advanced and any addition to the art was extra.

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  5. Nice history writeup, Ryan - shades of Robert Messenger there! (:

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    1. Why thank you, Ted. That is among the highest praise.

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  6. What Ted said -- this is a Messenger-style post, and that's saying something. I certainly learned from it.

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  7. Late to the party on this, Ryan, but I love this machine. I have one myself. And, as I learned from Robert Messenger (IIRC?) the Super Riter is the chosen machine of Clark Kent and - I believe - also of the Man of Steel himself.

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