The first few decades of the 20th century were heady years for the American typewriter industry. The invention of portable typing machines in the late 1800s revolutionized the business world by making clerical work faster, cheaper, and easier. Connecticut was home to several of the world’s most popular and innovative typewriter companies during that time, including Blickensderfer, Noiseless Typewriters, Remington, Royal, and Underwood — although no single brand had as much staying power in the American imagination as Underwood.
In 1900, Underwood launched the durable and affordable “Model 5” typewriter, which sold so quickly that the company decided to move its manufacturing operations from New Jersey to Hartford, where it built a sprawling factory complex on Capitol Avenue. By 1920, over two million units of the Model 5 had been sold, and the Underwood factory in Hartford was churning out one complete typewriter every minute.
Underwood’s popularity was bolstered by its machines’ stellar performance in highly publicized typewriting competitions, where typists the world over competed in hour-long competitions for typing speed and accuracy. For over a decade, Underwood machines dominated these competitions — a fact the company proudly touted in its advertisements. On October 26, 1914, Emil A. Trefzger won the first match of that year’s international typewriting contest, held in New York City, using an Underwood typewriter to type 129 net words per minute. Trefzger — who had ranked highly in previous competitions but had yet to come in first — credited his victory to the superiority of his Underwood machine; the fastest he could ever type on a Remington typewriter (his previous machine of choice) was 86 words per minute.
The following day, Hartford Courant boasted that Trefzger’s win was “another victory for the machine made in this city.” Trefzger would breeze through the subsequent rounds of the 1914 competition to earn the title of World’s Champion Typist, and continued to represent Underwood Typewriters for several years before joining company management, eventually working his way up to Vice President. Another notable and highly-publicized success for Connecticut manufacturing quickly tapped its way into the history books — on this day in Connecticut history.
“A Different ‘Type’ of Connecticut Industry,” connecticuthistory.org
Robert Messenger, “World Champion Typists and Typewriting World Records,” The Wonderful World of Typewriters blog
“Underwood Model 5,” Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Bonus Link: Renowned Connecticut composer Leroy Anderson’s classic instrumental “The Typewriter”