April 12: Invention of the “Five-Pound Secretary”

Today in 1892, George Canfield Blickensderfer of Stamford patented the first successful portable typewriter, one of the most transformative examples of Yankee ingenuity ever to come from the Constitution State.

An antique Blickensderfer portable typewriter Model 5, manufactured sometime in the 1890s.

Blickensderfer’s machine used a radical, minimalist design that contained up to 90 percent fewer parts than the heavier, more complicated desk typewriters that came before it. He proceeded to create an impressive catalog of portable typewriter models, which included budget models for home use and international versions whose English keyboards could be easily replaced with other languages. One model, the Blickensderfer Featherweight (popularly known as “the five-pound secretary”), was made from aluminum and remains one of the lightest typewriters ever manufactured.

One of the most unique features of the Blickensderfer typewriter was its keyboard, which swapped the “universal” (or “QWERTY”) keyboard layout popularized in the 1870s for a proprietary “DHIATENSOR” keyboard layout. Blickensderfer claimed his keyboard layout was the best option for efficient typing, since it clustered the ten letters most popular letters used in the English language on the first row of the typewriter. His argument didn’t catch on, however, and to remain competitive, Blickensderfer typewriters started offering universal keyboard layouts in the early 20th century.

This image, taken from George Blickensderfer’s 1892 patent for the portable typewriter, displays the inventor’s proprietary “DHIATENSOR” keyboard layout.

Since the “Blick” portable typewriter was easier to produce, transport, and operate, it became an overnight sensation and international bestseller. To keep up with demand, Blickensderfer opened a spacious factory on Atlantic Street in Stamford in 1896, only a few years after obtaining his revolutionary patent. Thanks in large part to his efforts, Connecticut became an international hub of typewriter manufacturing and home to some of the world’s most prolific typewriter companies, including Underwood and Royal.

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Further Reading

A Different ‘Type’ of Connecticut Industry,” connecticuthistory.org

Blickensderfer Typewriters,” Stamford Historical Society

US Patent 472692A: Type Writing Machine, G. C. Blickensderfer,” via Google Patents

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