Instrumented Interconnecteds Intelligent
July, 31st 2011

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by Holli Haswell, IBM Corp.
Global Healthcare and Life SciencesIBM 100 Selectric Icon

As you may have seen in Gordon Bruce’s blog post a few days ago, today marks the 50 year anniversary of the IBM Selectric typewriter.   Looking back at the history of the Selectric, it surprises me how this machine evokes emotions in so many people. More often than not, you’ll find someone willing to share a very personal story about their relationship with the Selectric and how it changed the way we interact with the written word.

Here’s mine. When I met my first IBM Selectric typewriter, I fell in love. It was the early 80s, my junior year in high school, and my mother insisted I take a typing class because you never know when typing might come in handy.

I didn’t like the idea of typing, I had tried hunting and pecking on our old sticky typewriter at home, but as the hammers would pound they’d stick and tangle and  frustrate me. Yet when I walked into that industrial-looking high school classroom with row after row of new blue IBM Selectric typewriters, my world changed. Maybe it was the way the keys felt or the way the golf ball danced across the page imprinting each letter so clearly. The clicking sound was rhythmic and musical. In short typing to me became a sensory experience.

Like learning to type, I was also told at a young age that it was a good idea to take piano lessons. So for 10 long years prior, I halfheartedly took piano class every Wednesday afternoon. At the time I didn’t realize that when the dexterity from piano practice met the Selectric typewriter, I would suddenly make an entirely new kind of music. And this music wasn’t cacophonous like my awkward piano skills.

Soon I was typing faster and faster. I would type anything in sight for fun, soon reaching 100 words per minute, even competing in interscholastic typing contests. If you could have lettered in typing in high school, I guess that would have been my sport.

I think it was because of the Selectric that I later went on to journalism school where again I was embraced by a classroom with rows and rows of Selectric typewriters, tapping away in unison as we wrote our stories in the newsroom, proofreading and editing by hand and then retyping to perfection.

Then sadly, after one semester break we return to find that the blue Selectric typewriters disappeared from our familiar newsroom. Replacing each was a personal computer terminal with a dull plastic keyboard and a CRT monitor which glowed green. We were forced to adapt to this new technology and sadly the tactile pleasure of typing was never quite the same – event -despite turning on “sticky keys.”

As we recognize the 50th birthday of the Selectric typewriter along with the 100 year anniversary of IBM, I stop to wonder how this typewriter impacted others. Which of the world’s great novels were penned on a Selectric? What technology changing patents were first typed in triplicate? Which ground-breaking Supreme Court decisions and which leading screenplays were typed on this great machine?

Sadly, I haven’t typed on a Selectric in years, they don’t sell much Liquid Paper anymore, correction tape is a thing of the past, and the typewriter repairman I knew has long since retired. Nonetheless the Selectric still holds a special place in my heart.

Do you have a special memory of the Selectric typewriter ?

Also check out the video ‘IBM Selectric Typewriter & its digital to analogue converter ‘ by Engineer Guy, Bill Hammack.

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January 15, 2013
3:39 pm

In the mid ’70s, my father worked for IBM. He bought a refurbished model so we actually had one at home. I had really bad handwriting even back then, and every since I learned to type, it’s only gotten worse.

Posted by: Brion Lienhart
April 7, 2012
1:12 pm

My father was a manager for one of the major airlines, and I would always remember visiting his office from time to time. IBM Selectric “sound” is one that you’ll never forget… That is, if you are ever lucky enough to tier one in the first place. Truly one of the great keyboards of all time.

Posted by: Robert Johnson Piano
September 2, 2011
5:09 am

It is appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting things or tips. Maybe you can write next articles referring to this article. I want to read even more things about it!

Posted by: singapura
August 15, 2011
6:19 pm

I just always loved the tactile feel of the keyboard while typing as well as the sound it made. It has always been the keyboard that I compare all others to.

Posted by: Michael Thompson
August 3, 2011
9:39 am

Back in the day (1978) I started my first job as a Facilities Engineer at the IBM Lexington plant. This facility manufactured the Selectric typewriters. I bought my parents several of these innovative products and even today my mother uses it to create our ‘Huster Happenings’ family newsletter. Eventually, electronic typewriter competition grew stronger (and became a commodity). In 1981 the IBM PC was announced which, in effect, spelled the doom for manufacturing typewriters. Although the factory started to produce the IBM 4019 mono printer, the seeds were sown such that by 1991 the plant was sold to Clayton, Dubilier, and Rice. This was the genesis for Lexmark which just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Posted by: Mike Huster
August 2, 2011
12:09 pm

The first electric typewriter I used was not a Selectric but when I finally bought one I fell in love with it (still have it.) I bought every new type style they came out with. Not only did it produce great copy it was so comfortable to type on . . . like the rest of the world I have moved on to the comuter but every so often, for a letter to some friend or relative I’ll plug her in . .

Posted by: Ted Robertson
July 31, 2011
7:17 pm

Excellent. I myself used in the past IBM selectric Typewriter and then followed type writers with dicey wheel.

It was indeed a great advancement from manual typewriters,easy to type and print with high clarity.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Posted by: Dr.A.Jagadeesh
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