The typewriter’s death is imminent, but QWERTY lives on


Clackety-clackety-clack, clackety-clack, TING!

Depending on your age, the line above may or may not hold some meaning for you. Actually, looking at it again, it may not mean anything to anyone. We’re trying to convey the sound of the good old-fashioned typewriter, with its heavy keys, inky ribbons and typebars that used to jam together if you got carried away and hit the keys too quickly.

Well, for the nostalgic types who enjoyed giving their left arm a workout at the end of every line when they had to shove the carriage back into position, some rather sad news has come through. It looks like the pre-computer typing device is about to be consigned to the same dusty room as the Polaroid camera and the record player. According to a report in Business Standard, Godrej & Boyce, the last typewriter manufacturer in the world, ceased producing the machines in 2009 and now has only 500 machines left in stock. The company, based in Mumbai, will be selling its final batch for 12,000 rupees ($270) each.

“From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating,” said Milind Dukle, the company’s general manager of operations. “All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us. Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year.” Happily, it’s not TING! for Dukle’s company quite yet. They’ve now moved on to making something which which they believe is unlikely to be superseded anytime soon by something starkly different: refrigerators.

Of course, for many office workers around the world, due to great technological advancements over the years, the typewriter has been long gone, replaced by flickering screens and keyboards. No longer do we have to deal with the issue of blue ribbons getting tangled up in the works. Blue screens perhaps, but not blue ribbons.

Typewriters are bound to become even more of a collectors item now that production appears to have finally ended. Tom Hanks will probably shed a tear; the movie star is an avid collector. The typewriter’s legacy, however, is secure. The QWERTY-style layout of the letters that we see on every English-language keyboard around the world, a layout created by American Christopher Sholes more than 130 years ago, is here to stay.

Let’s finish on a piece of typewriter trivia which is, in its own way, a rather fitting tribute to the humble typewriter: What’s the longest English word you can make using only the letters found on the top row of a keyboard? Answer: typewriter.

Photo credit: Tom Burke