Thursday, April 11, 2024

On This Day in the Old West: April 12

 Today we’ll celebrate an event that made secretaries happy across the country: the invention of a truly portable typewriter. On April 12, 1892, Patent No. 472,692 was issued to George C. Blickensderfer of Stamford, Connecticut, for a “type writing machine.” The Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company eventually became one of the world’s largest typewriter manufacturers.

The concept of a mechanical typewriter dates back at least to 1714, when Englishman Henry Mill filed a vaguely-worded patent for “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another.” However, the first machine that actually worked was built by Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni de Fivizzano. The details and appearance of this typewriter are unknown, but specimens of letters written by the Countess on it still exist. 

Various inventors in Europe and the United States tried creating typewriters in the 19th Century, but successful commercial production only began with the “writing ball” of Danish Rasmus Malling-Hansen in 1870. This device looked a little like a pincushion. Much more influential, in the long run, was the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, which began production in late 1873 and appeared on the American market in 1874.

The Sholes & Glidden typed only in capital letters, and it introduced the QWERTY keyboard, which is still with us today. This keyboard was designed, so they say, to separate frequently-used pairs of typebars so that the typebars would not clash and get stuck at the printing point. The Sholes & Glidden was a decorative machine, with painted flowers and decals. It looked a bit like a sewing machine, as it was actually manufactured in the sewing machine department of the Remington arms company. It had limited success, but its successor, the Remington, soon became a dominant presence in the typewriting industry.

The Sholes & Glidden, like many early typewriters, is an understroke or “blind” writer, where the typebars are arranged in a circular basket underneath the platen (the printing surface) and type on the bottom of the platen. This means the typewriter (typist) has to lift up the carriage to see her work. It wasn’t until 1891 when the Daugherty Visible became the first frontstroke typewriter to go into production. In this model, the typebars rest below the platen and hit the front of it. With the Underwood of 1895, this style of typewriter began to gain ascendancy.

George Blickensderfer’s typewriter used a radical, minimalist design that reduced the number of moving parts from 2,500 to 250, improving reliability and reducing the weight by one-fourth. It worked on the principle of a revolving type wheel and swapped the QWERTY “universal” keyboard for a proprietary DHIATENSOR keyboard layout. Blickensderfer claimed this layout was the best option for efficient typing, since it clustered the ten most popular letters used in the English language on the first row. This argument, however, didn’t catch on, and in order to remain competitive, Blickensderfer typewriters began offering universal keyboard layouts in the early 20th Century.

The ”Blick” portable typewriter was easier to produce, transport, and operate, and soon became an international bestseller. In order to keep up with demand, Blickensderfer opened a factory on Atlantic Street in Stamford in 1896. Thanks in part to his efforts, Connecticut became an international hub of typewriter manufacturing and home to some of the world’s most prolific typewriter companies, including Underwood and Royal. 

Your characters may not have been typewriters, which is what typists were called at that time, but they would probably have been exposed to typewritten business papers even if they weren’t familiar with the process involved in creating them. 


J.E.S. Hays

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Waiting and Mad, by Charles Marion Russell (1899)


A real look into the internal workings of the mind of Charlie Russell, Cowboy Artist Extraordinaire, with this witty and wonderful picture, Waiting and Mad (1899).

People who have known me for some time have surely heard me say, “I’ve been married for 33 years and I’ve spent 27 of them waiting.”  As someone who regularly waits by the door, waits by the shower and waits in the car while my Much Better Half does whatever it is that he’s doing, the feeling in this picture is very familiar.  And I’m sure the look on my face is much the same.

Just to be upfront about it – I love this picture.   Though Charlie was merely a capable draughtsman of the human form, every detail of this picture speaks volumes.

The story is clear from the surroundings and the look of … sultry disgust on the Indian woman’s face.  Here is a beautiful and sexualized woman – notice the nearly exposed breast and the provocative curve of hip.  Her pallet is ready for company, but the fire in the foreground has grown cold (a witty joke), the dinner bowl is now empty, and the long pipe is cast aside and unused (ditto).  Like the wispy smoke from the dead fire, there is only a dissipating trace of something that was once hot.

Most delicious of all is the look on her face: a mixture of disappointment, fury, resignation and bored familiarity.  One has the distinct impression that this has happened before, and will probably happen again in the future.  And she knows it.

So … why do I like this painting so much?  Mainly because Charlie’s views on humanity were much smarter and commonsensical than the ways we are taught to think today.  Charlie knew many Native Americans in his time in the West, and genuinely liked them.  He was one of nature’s democrats – he judged people as individuals, and knew that, as groups, people are more alike than they are different.

Today, we are taught that our differences matter more than our similarities, and that our cultural peculiarities are some sacred carapace that protect us from being more like one another.  Charlie would’ve thought we were crazy (and I’m with Charlie).  This picture works so well because Charlie was able to capture the look of everyone who has ever waited for their wife or husband to show up.  It would be the same picture if the woman was in an Asian setting, or a Middle-European one, or in a contemporary American home: and that is Charlie’s point.  We’re all people, and we’re all more alike than we are different. 
I love this picture! What do you think of it?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Western Movie Taglines Blog Series - April Movie Taglines #movietaglines #westernmovies

My 2024 blogging series, Western Movie Taglines, began in January when I explained what a tagline is and gave examples of good non-western movie taglines followed by several disappointing taglines from western movies.

In February, I shared 15 western movie taglines that were clever or witty, real groaners, or just plain silly. March through September, I will share 10 movie taglines each month. October through December will be the Top 40 Countdown of Best Western Movie Taglines.

I compiled a list of 250 (plus) westerns and their taglines. From that 250, I plucked out the best 125 to share between February and December. These 125 taglines range from good to outstanding as far as doing justice to their corresponding movies.

The Top 40 taglines are the ones that capture and sum up the heart of the movie in such a fabulous way that we're amazed at how a handful of words can be that powerful or theme-descriptive. Also in December, I will 1) share taglines I've written for two western movies and one early-settling of the American frontier movie that deserved better taglines and, 2) offer a downloadable document of the 250 movies and taglines that I compiled.

Onward to the April Western Movie Taglines—

Joe Kidd (1972)
If you’re looking for trouble – He’s Joe Kidd.

Joe didn’t look for trouble. It just found him.

The Plainsman (1966)
When the land needed law…
When the West needed taming...
When adventure needed a giant…
They sent for the Plainsman!

Five Card Stud (1968)
A card cheat was hung…

Then all hell broke loose!

Rango (2011)
No man can walk out on his own story.

Into the Badlands (1991)
Where the bounty hunter becomes the hunted.

Somewhere between civilization and the Ninth Circle of Hell

Silverado (1985)
Four strangers became friends. Four friends became heroes on the road to… Silverado.

The Tin Star (1957)
"When you wear the tin star you’re either a brave man…or a dead one.”

Monte Walsh (1970)
Monte Walsh is what the West was all about.

Monte Walsh (2003)
A man struggling to hold on to the tradition that made him a legend.

The Sheepman (1958)
They called him the Stranger with a Gun.

See you next time,
Kaye Spencer