Monday, April 6, 2015

Remington Typewriters: "To Save Time is to Lengthen Life"

by Erin Doane, curator

There is a lot of history in old typewriters. CCHS has a collection of nearly a dozen Remington typewriters spanning nearly three-quarters of a century of history. Remington produced the first commercial typewriter in the 1870s. Mark Twain is said to have been the first American novelist to produce a manuscript on a typewriter. That typewriter happened to be a Remington. For over 35 years, the Remington Rand plant produced typewriters and office machines on Elmira’s south side.

Remington Rand employees having lunch at the plant
Christopher Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin began developing the first practical typewriter in 1866. For seven years, he and two friends, Samuel W. Soule and Carlos Glidden, built and tested various designs until they finally had a working model – the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. In 1873, Sholes and his financial backer, James Densmore, contracted with E. Remington & Sons to produce the typewriter. In September of that year, the Remington No. 1 became the first ever commercially produced typewriter. The Remington No. 1 was also the first to have the QWERTY keyboard that is still used today rather than an alphabetically arranged keyboard. Sholes developed the new layout to keep the type bars from colliding so one could type faster.


Remington Standard Typewriter No. 6, produced from 1894 to 1914
In 1886, the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company bought the typewriter business from Remington. Standard Typewriter also bought the rights to continue using the Remington name, which by that time had developed a solid reputation. In 1902, Standard Typewriter changed its name to Remington Typewriter Company. The company merged with Rand Kardex Bureau in 1927 to form Remington Rand.


Remington Portable Typewriter, produced from 1920-1925
In the 1920s Remington adopted “To Save Time is to
Lengthen Life” as the advertising slogan for its typewriters.
In 1935, the idle Willys Morrow plant on South Main Street in Elmira went up for auction. Elmira Industries, Inc. bought the factory for $350,000 and offered it for free to Remington Rand if the company would relocate there. In 1936, Elmira Precision Tool Co. started making typewriter parts at the factory on contract for Remington Rand and a year later Remington Rand purchased the plant. During World War II, Remington Rand switched from manufacturing typewriters and business machines to wartime production. The top secret Norden bombsight was produced by Remington Rand in Elmira.


Remington Rand Model No. 17 was widely used
in government offices during World War II
Remington Rand had a huge backlog of civilian orders to fill when the war came to an end. In 1945, the Elmira plant produced 2,500 typewriters and 700 adding machines a week to try to catch up on the orders. Each typewriter had 2,893 parts and every one of them (except for the electric motor) were made at the plant. In the 1950s, the plant in Elmira was one of the largest office equipment factories in the world. At its peak, it employed over 6,500 employees. Remington Rand was acquired by Sperry Corporation in 1955. Sperry-Rand Corp. continued to use Remington Rand as a brand name.


Remington Standard Typewriter, c. 1950s.
The plant underwent an extensive redesign and modernization program in 1963 but business was beginning to slow following the post-war boom of the 1950s. The 119-day strike at the plant in 1969 had a considerable impact on Remington Rand and on the local economy as well. Workers lost pay during the strike and the plant fell behind in orders. The company threatened to shut down the plant and lay off the 1,850 workers but eventually both sides came to an agreement and the plant reopened. In 1972, however, the Remington Rand plant in Elmira closed for good. It just could not compete with cheaper machines being manufactured overseas. 


Elmira’s Remington Rand plant, April 1965
Remington Typewriter, c. 1960s



6 comments:

  1. Very informative article about typewriters from our past .... i remember the old Remingtons , Sperry and such, i was taught on an IBM selectronic .. thanks for a great article

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  2. I used a Royal Portable myself, but my impression was that most offices had Remingtons - a great old firm. Thanks for reminding us.

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  3. I think I recognize my mom in one of the pictures. Is it possible to order prints of the originals? Mark Cole

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    1. Yes it is! Please contact our archivist Rachel Dworkin at archivist@chemungvalleymuseum.org or 607-734-4167 ext 207 to do so.

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  4. Thanks for the photographs and they brought back many memories of my father and the time he spend in Elmira at the Remington plant. He worked for Remington Rand from 1942-1972, first as a typewriter repairman and then advanced to Director of World Wide Service for Remington Rand. His name was Jack Burton

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