A Type to Build On

Typewriter Production in WWII.

Many may claim that typewriters were massively produced during WWII, or that no typewriter was produced at all during the war on the United States Home-front.  Sadly, both overall statements would be incorrect.  Typewriter manufacturing did slow and stop for some companies, especially mid to late war, however it did not cease immediately.  This article is an assessment of the needs of typewriters during the war alongside the ability to manufacture them with available items.

To start, we need to turn our calendars back to 1941.  A special amendment, called the Barry Amendment, was passed to enforce all manufacturing of food, fabrics and textiles used in defense to be done on United States soil. [1]  What does this have to do with typewriters?  Well, luckily this amendment influenced other items to be manufactured on U.S. soil as well, keeping our production here.  This amendment may have been influenced by WWI, where some of our military produced were produced by Germany before the war.  One can imagine how this created issues during WWI. WWII saw a push for U.S. made, grown and manufactured items, both for Victory and for the economy.  Typewriters were already made in the United States.  In fact, during WWI, over 875,000 typewriters were manufactured.  The chart below shows a breakdown of manufacturers during this time.

  • Underwood — 190,000
  • Remington — 150,000
  • Royal — 100,000
  • Corona — 70,000
  • Oliver — 70,000
  • Hammond — 50,000
  • L.C. Smith — 40,000
  • Woodstock — 20,000
  • Rex and National — 20,000
  • Noiseless — 15,000
  • Blickensderfer, Allen, Victor, Visagraph and others — 50,000 [2]

Some of these names may seem familiar.  I will admit, my favorite manufacturer is Blickensderfer, mostly because it is wildy entertaining to say.  Leading into WWII, some of these manufacturers changed and combined, like that of Corona and L.C. Smith. 

Leading into WWII, typewriters were common.  The shortage that occurred in WWII was not because of any lack of typewriters already in the U.S., it was due to a sudden need to stenographers and typists.  Civilian women were brought on in droves to work in Washington D.C. for a myriad of projects, everything from typing up to reports to deciphering messages. 600,000 typewriters were needed in D.C. alone.[3]  So why couldn’t these manufacturing companies fill the need?  They were requested at the beginning of the way to support the war effort in other ways.  As an example, Underwood and Smith-Corona were requested to make gun part. Royal started making airplane parts. It got to a point that some factories were banned from selling typewriters in 1942, like United Typewriter Co, in an effort to force production of items considered more important.

Original Magazine ad about Royal’s efforts in WWII

So how would the U.S. get the typewriters they needed?  Typewriter drives!  Typewriters were collected and purchased, refurbished, and then shipped to where they needed to go.  Therefore, some of the WWII desks may have a menagerie of standard travel typewriters, from Royal, Underwood to Corona.  Depending if the typewriter needed refurbishment or not, a special plate would be placed on the back of the typewriter, like the Standard 10 LC Smith typewriter shown below.  Ads, posters, fliers, and more were distributed looking for typewriters either to donate or be purchased to send to areas in need.  Women would be present to collect typewriters, with the WAVES helping alongside volunteer civilians, hoping to both support the new women’s branches and influence more donations to be brought out.

LC Smith marking of factory rebuilt from 1943.
Image of typewriter drive with the WAVES. Photo from Library of Congress.

Other office supplies were also rationed, like rubber bands, paper clips.  The image below shows a pamphlet handed out to those in offices to make sure that they didn’t abuse the supplies they had and made them last.

To download this manual on saving office supplies, visit here: https://bhistorical.com/product/qmc-14-2-use-and-care-of-office-equipment-and-supplies/

Some typewriters were made and labeled for the WWII desks early in the war, like the Corona shown below.  Some were marked U.S. Army on them, others just had the label on the case.  This example is from the B.Historical collection.

Corona Wartime Typewriter for the U.S. Army
Typewriter Case and Desk from WWII.

Photographs overseas also show multiple different brands of typewriters, showing that the efforts of the typewriter drives proved successful.  Reports, messages, and other such records were able to keep getting typed. 

Even correspondence needed typewriters.  Time correspondent William Walton jumped onto the beaches of D-Day with a Hermes typewriter, as one example. [4]

Eventually, in 1945, the ban on producing typewriters was lifted and things began to relax.  Companies went back to producing typewriters, although some continued producing other products for a little while just in case.  It could be said that the fancy Army green typewriters may have inspired the 1950s fad with avocado-colored typewriters, but one cannot know for sure.

Imagine if we didn’t have enough typewriters?  Everything from I.D.s to reports to even the orders for D-Day were typed up.  The United States would have found themselves in a Royal mess….or Underwood…or Corona….

Bibliography

Adams, Mark. “WWI’s Impact on Typewriter Manufacturing.” Type, October 4, 2014. https://type-writer.org/?p=3835.

Berry Amendment. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://otexa.trade.gov/Berry_Amendment/Berry_Amendment.htm.

Carter, Elliot. “DC’s World War II Typewriter Shortage.” Architect of the Capital. Architect of the Capital, November 26, 2016. https://architectofthecapital.org/posts/2016/8/11/massive-citywide-typewriter-shortage-during-wwii.

“The Earliest Writing Machines.” Typewriters. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://www.officemuseum.com/typewriters.htm.

Lancaster, Marc. “D-Day: Behind Enemy Lines with a Typewriter.” World War II on Deadline, December 9, 2020. https://ww2ondeadline.com/2020/06/05/d-day-normandy-overlord-paratroopers-gliders-correspondents/.


[1] Berry Amendment, accessed October 18, 2022, https://otexa.trade.gov/Berry_Amendment/Berry_Amendment.htm.

[2] Mark Adams, “WWI’s Impact on Typewriter Manufacturing,” Type, October 4, 2014, https://type-writer.org/?p=3835.

[3] Elliot Carter, “DC’s World War II Typewriter Shortage,” Architect of the Capital (Architect of the Capital, November 26, 2016), https://architectofthecapital.org/posts/2016/8/11/massive-citywide-typewriter-shortage-during-wwii.

[4] Marc Lancaster, “D-Day: Behind Enemy Lines with a Typewriter,” World War II on Deadline, December 9, 2020, https://ww2ondeadline.com/2020/06/05/d-day-normandy-overlord-paratroopers-gliders-correspondents/.

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