The unmistakable sound and image of office workers bashing feverishly away on their typewriters are forever bygones, replaced by its more modern counterpart, the computer. But just how did this trusty workhorse come about in the first place and what was it’s calculating counterpart? An exhibition now on at the Museum of Computing, Swindon reveals all.
The exhibition, ‘Before the Computer’ looks at the office technologies that were superceded by the development of the microchip. It examines the development of the QWERTY keyboard and goes back to a time when machines such as typewriters and mechanical calculators were commonplace in offices.
Today we take for granted the ease with which we can edit a document at the touch of a button, but for the typewriter generation this was not possible.
“Unless you had an eraser, you had to think and commit your thoughts, indelibly!” explained Nick Fisher, typewriter historian and curator of the exhibition.
“A lot of authors love the typewriter for the immediate permanence of what they write. There’s no turning back. The skilled operators would never pile up letters or jam them, as they were often trained to type to music which ensured this was prevented,” he added.
A selection of machines will be on display to illustrate the development of manufacturers’ styling and use of colour, which relied upon top designers such as Marcello Nizzoli employed by Olivetti to produce attractively products. The exhibition will also look at the role of women in the workplace and some of the obstacles and stereotyping that befell them. It will also feature reproductions of period photographs and amusing, sometimes risqué postcards.
There will be an opportunity for visitors to try their hands at using both manual typewriters and comptometers, as well as the chance to compete in a typing competition using the text from the 1925 Typewriting Championships.
Nick Fisher will be giving a talk, during October, details of which are available on the Museum of Computing website www.museum-of-computing.org.uk