When Manual Meant Labor

Typing the Old-School Way

By Jeff Salter

Not sure why this came to mind, but I was recently thinking about typing speeds. Remember the typing tests with those odd paragraphs you’d have to type as fast as you could with the fewest errors possible?
I remember scoring 90 wpm or higher in my twenties (on an ELECTRIC TW) and was still scoring in the mid 80s wpm when I was in my thirties. By the last few times I tested (probably 18 years ago or so) I was still in the mid 70s wpm.
Nowadays with my arthritic fingers and hands, I’d hate to imagine what my speed is.
**** But here’s the actual point:
Back in the old days, people were accomplishing fantastic speeds using those old upright MANUAL TWs. The kind I trained on in high school in 1964.

This is the kind I trained on

For any youngsters reading this — there’s a lot of difference between the light touch you need to activate a PC or laptop keyboard … and the full inch of depression you needed to pound those keys to thrust the lead letters through some 4-5 inches of an arc to slap the paper against the platen.
The first example (above) is the kind I trained on. There were a few “new” TWs in my typing class, though I rarely got to use them. They were similar to the Royal (shown below).

Newer versions didn’t require as much muscle to strike the keys

The newer models shortened the length of the arc those letters had to travel. Consequently, it took less thrust on the keys to propel those keys. Eventually they also tilted the curved bank of letters so that they were closer to the platen.
****What kind of TW did you learn on?
****What was your fastest official speed in wpm?

[JLS # 551


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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17 Responses to When Manual Meant Labor

  1. Ted Talley says:

    75 on a manual. I learned on a manual in high school. But don’t recall the brand. My typing skills landed me a cushier office job as a barge clerk on an offshore construction barge versus the usual rigger manual labor job most summer male college students got.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Typing speed? Slooooooow as molasses at 42 words per minute, if I remember correctly. I didn’t have to take typing in high school. I’m not sure why but I think it was because I took other classes that exempt me. I DID have to take a computer class for a semester and learn to make a moving picture of pixels along with music. It was saved on a large floppy disk. I remember I created a very boxy dog. It’s tail wagged to that song “How Much is that Doggie in the Window”. It was hideous. Haha!

    I don’t remember the type of TW I learned on. I was probably around 7 or 8 and it belonged to my mother. But it was manual and I used it to type up anthropomorphic animal tales.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never got to take typing and boy, that was a disaster for me for many years in trying to write. (Oddly, JOe-the-Husband took typing and isn’t bad. He also brushed up with a Mavis Beacon course on the PC.)
    I have had a bad thumb from an accident exactly 35 years ago and do I never tried the course. I can, however, go at a good clip when I get in the groove with three fingers on each hand and one thumb, since I have been keyboarding quite a bit for the last 20 years.
    All I can say is, Thank God for wordprocessing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      absolutely — digital files is the only way to go. My dad — an amateur novelist and playwright — had to type and re-type and re-type and re-type his complete manuscripts. Whereas, we can find the problem areas, fix them, and just hit “print”.


    • Ted Talley says:

      I am so glad my older sister insisted I take typing in high school. I took it my freshman year and used that skill continuously from then on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I never got to take typing in HS,although Joe-the-Husband did and even brushed up a few years ago with a Mavis Beacon course and is great at it. I am not only arthritic now but I have had a bad thumb from a kitchen accident 35 years ago.With all of the keyboard time I have put in over the last 20 years or more, I can go a good clip with three fingers on each hand and one thumb on another, soIcango a pretty good clip when I get up a full head of steam.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John Babb says:

    40 wpm on a manual typewriter in high school.  I worked for a community pharmacy for 18 years during and after college – all of the typing was on a manual for the first 10 or 12 years, then an electric for another 6 or 8.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. In high school, I learned on the Underwood also, Jeff. And with my light touch, even setting the machines later to “light touch,” it was a struggle. Plus, the teacher always stood behind me while we were testing. Not too much pressure. LOL Later, when I start using an electric typewriter, my WPM went up to 90 something, and with the computer, it’s well over that now. My biggest problem is a slight case of dyslexia, which I’m sure you noticed in some of my posts on FB. I don’t catch all of them, but thank our good Lord, it’s not that bad. When I’m tired or stressed, it’s worse. LOL

    To me, the computer keyboard is a godsend. Autocorrect? Not so much. LOL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Salter says:

    I really hate the autocorrect feature on my phone texting and on FB. I’ll be typing ordinary words on a FB post and they’ll suddenly insert somebody’s NAME that began with those same letters. If I don’t notice (& correct it), I now have a post that tags somebody instead of using the word I thought I was typing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I learned to type on an old manual typewriter, but I don’t remember the brand or how many words per minute I could type. I used the manual typewriter all the way through my Clemson student days and when I first started teaching. But boy was I glad when the first word processing computers came out. If you made a mistake you could backspace, and the problem went away. Makes things a lot easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      and therein also lies the fatal FLAW with word processing. If you get distracted and hit the wrong key, you can accidentally erase tons of important work!


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