The Springfield Museums are dedicated to offering experiences that help visitors understand the world a little bit better—especially through hands-on discovery. We were intrigued when we saw a video of modern-day kids introduced to manual typewriters—they wondered where the power cord was, how to load the paper, and how to hit send. We thought: what a wonderful opportunity to share an interactive exhibit that might allow elders to teach youngers—promoting intergenerational learning. And we loved the idea of welcoming all visitors to explore an old “cutting-edge” technology by actually giving typing a try.
Manual typewriters seem to be experiencing resurgence. Dick Burkill, the owner of Mohawk Office Equipment Co., Inc., in Greenfield, MA, said that he sold more typewriters in this year than he has in the past five years. He refurbished the Royal typewriters for the Springfield Museums and even found a Smith Corona, which was Dr. Seuss’s preferred machine, which we are using in the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. Explaining the typewriter’s new-found popularity, some would point to the hipster generation who seem to love old technologies like vinyl records. Some would point to the documentary by avid typewriter collector Tom Hanks, California Typewriter (2017), and his book of short stories Uncommon Types (2017). Typing on a Royal typewriter in a special about the movie, Hanks said: “That’s a dense, dense, solid machine!”
Recently, Anita Walker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, visited the Museums to announce a $200,000 grant awarded to the Springfield Museum of Science. She chose to create her speech as a Seussian rhyme and she typed it all on a Smith Corona. She sent us a typewritten note explaining why she loves manual typewriters. In part she typed: “Whenever I have something really important I want to say I write it on my manual typewriter. . . . I’m typing this on my Smith Corona Silent Super. It still sings as I type, but in a more muted, less clackety voice. This is the same model typewriter Dr. Seuss wrote on. Only mine is pink.” Walker agreed that the Royal typewriter is a gem. “Historian David McCullogh is also a fan of the Royal,” she said. “He told me he’s typed all of his books on the same Royal typewriter for decades and he’s only had to change the ribbon once.”
For those who want to try their hand on a dense, dense, solid Royal machine—or a Smith Corona machine like the one that Dr. Seuss preferred—the Springfield Museums proudly present The Typewriter Trail!
The Typewriter Trail
A typewriter is a machine dedicated to one thing—smacking metal letters against an inked ribbon to form words on paper. A typewriter does not play music, call friends, or take pictures. Using a typewriter takes muscle power—try typing, you’ll know what I mean. It also takes serious brain power. You want to think your message through before you start typing, because erasing is a big deal involving white out, correction paper, or strike-through. The message from a typewriter has to go through a bunch of steps before it gets to another person—which is helpful for preventing us from blurting something we might later regret. In an increasingly instantaneous world, typing on a typewriter presents each of us with the opportunity to reflect and carefully consider our words.
Test your muscle and brain power and give a typewriter a try. There are three Typewriter Trail Offices throughout the Museums. Please stop at each one to learn something new using a machine that is very, very old.
We are encouraging folks to snap selfies while on the trail and post using hashtags #AtTheMuseums, #TypewriterTrail.
The 1946 painting titled New England Editor depicts New Bedford, Massachusetts, newspaper editor George A. Hough, portrayed as an embodiment of fair and honest journalism. Artist Thomas Hart Benton painted his friend penning the word “unless,” because Hough loved to say “Unless you have exhausted all resources, your story is not ready to print.” No “Fake News” for Hough! Take a seat at the editor’s desk and give his typewriter a try by answering some of the prompts you find there.
This interactive is made possible by Terra-Art Bridges, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art and Art Bridges, Inc.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was famous for using a Smith Corona Portable. When he was inspired to write a rhyme or map out a storyline, he would reach for his trusty typing machine. Ted said he learned all about rhythm and rhyme from his mother Nettie. She used to sing her children to sleep with the “Pie Song,” among others, which filled Ted’s head with a cadence he would repeat often in his children’s books. The anapest meter—two short syllables followed by a long one—has a rollicking movement. For instance ““I know it is wet, and the sun is not sunny. But we can have lots of good fun that is funny!”
Typing with Ted can be fun! Go ahead and sit down beside Ted and give this machine a try. Can you write a Seussian rhyme?
Turn of the twentieth century scientists loved to classify objects they found in the natural world. Their task was to examine the object and type out a description of all they observed and discovered (saw, felt, measured, and deduced) about it. These observations typed neatly for reference helped other researchers add to what had already been learned. The typewriter itself was not a “Eureka!” invention. It took inventors more than fifty years to create a machine that was easy to use and fit the needs of the public.
In the Curator’s Office, you will find a bunch of specimens in the desk that need classification. How would you describe them?
Go ahead and roll in a piece of letterhead and type out your own collection record. Then take it home or leave it for the next curator.
Those who like the Typewriter Trail might also like:
In coordination with the Typewriter Trail, the Springfield Museums are presenting a series of lectures and a day-long event that includes a panel discussion titled Fake News?: Finding the Truth. A discussion examining responsibility, art, and the ever challenging search for truth. Please see Thomas Hart Benton’s World.
Friday, October 12, 12:15 pm: BENTON, POLLOCK, AND MARTHA’S VINEYARD. Art history professor Henry Adams traces Thomas Hart Benton’s evolution from an obscure struggling artist to the most famous American painter of the 1930s. Of particular focus will be the summers Benton spent with his most famous student, Jackson Pollock. Free with museum admission.
All Day Event
Sunday, November 4, noon–4:30 pm: PAINTING, POLITICS, AND PERFORMANCE: THOMAS HART BENTON’S AMERICA: A day-long exploration of Benton, featuring a panel discussion of themes surrounding his work New England Editor, now on view at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts; screenings of the PBS American Stories documentary on Benton; a musical presentation of Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s: Mid Century Folk Song as Art; docent gallery talks; and a performance by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra. Free with museum admission. Part of the series Thomas Hart Benton’s World. Learn more at SpringfieldMuseums.org/Benton. Thomas Hart Benton’s World is generously supported by Art Bridges.
- Noon – 3 pm: Docent Tour exploring The New England Editor, Early 20th Century Gallery
- Noon and 1:30 pm: Screening Ken Burns Documentary on Thomas Hart Benton
- 12:30-2:30 Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s: Mid-Century Folk Music and light refreshments, Blake Court
- 2 pm: Boston Typewriter Orchestra Performance, Modern and Contemporary Gallery
- 3-4:30 pm: Fake News?: Finding the Truth. A discussion examining responsibility, art, and the ever challenging search for truth. Featuring moderator Brooke Hauser, first woman editor of The Daily Hampshire Gazette, the oldest newspaper owned by the same family in continuous operation, published under the same name in the same city, in the United States.