I've owned at least two typewriters over the years. They were passed down to me from other family members; I think one I discovered in my grandmother's basement and begged her to let me take it home with me. She obliged and I used the thing, banging out random nonsense, until I ran out of tape. There's something about the large, clunky, medieval device that appeals to the aspiring writers among us; they make you feel more connected to your work. When a story is done and has been pulled off the roller, you can still feel it in your fingers.
Because I have a mother that loves to collect antiques -- and drag her children with her to the nearest barn sale -- I've seen hundreds of typewriters. (The Smith-Corona Galaxie DeLuxe, made famous among members of my generation by Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, will always be a favorite.) It never occurred to me that I might not be able to find one whenever the desire hit. Sure, there are thousands collecting dust on thrift store shelves from here to Texarkana, but that will eventually change. Now that Godrej and Boyce, the last company left in the world still manufacturing the devices, has closed its doors, when typewriters make their way to landfills, there won't be any new ones to replace them.
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With only about 200 machines left -- and most of those in Arabic languages -- Godrej and Boyce shut down its plant in Mumbai, India, today. "Although typewriters became obsolete years ago in the west, they were still common in India -- until recently," according to the Daily Mail, which ran a special story this morning about the typewriters demise. "Demand for the machines has sunk in the last ten years as consumers switch to computers." Secretaries, rejoice.
"We are not getting many orders now," Milind Dukle, Godrej and Boyce's general manager, told the paper. "From the early 2000s onwards, computers started dominating. All the manufacturers of office typewriters stopped production, except us. 'Till 2009, we used to produce 10,000 to 12,000 machines a year. But this might be the last chance for typewriter lovers. Now, our primary market is among the defence agencies, courts and government offices."
Godrej and Boyce has been around for about 60 years now, having opened in a time when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru celebrated the typewriter as a "symbol of India's emerging independence and industrialisation." For decades, the company was producing -- and selling -- tens of thousands of units annually. It the early 1990s, the Daily Mail points out, it was still able to sell 50,000 machines. In less than 20 years, though, that number dropped to fewer than 800. There's still a market, albeit a (very) small one. And we're not enough to sustain an industry.
Images: Wikimedia Commons.