Oh, Brother, where art those stories once typed on here?

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

Can you imagine typing your articles out on a typewriter, asked a friend recently. Yes, I can, because I used to do it a very long time ago.

We were talking about the days when computers didn’t play a large role in our daily lives, when we listened to transistor radios and watched only three television networks. Back in those days, we used typewriters to write if we didn’t want to write by longhand.

I typed out a lot of articles for my college newspaper, where I was the sports editor. I worked my way up to that position. I started as a writer. My first assignment was to find out why the front door to a college building was locked and write a story.

It was locked because it was broken. Students had to use another door nearby. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein material, but you have to start somewhere.

I typed that story out on a portable Brother manual typewriter. Each time I changed my mind and reworded a sentence, I would use correction fluid, or just start all over. After a few hours, I held in my hands the final version of the story, my first college paper masterpiece. That broken door was explained to the last detail.

The next day, the editor filled up that nice sheet of paper with editing marks and asked me to do another rewrite with her corrections so that the typesetter would not have to muddle through all the scribblings. I used one of the electric typewriters in the newsroom, and in a few minutes, the last version was finally done.

I still have that Brother typewriter. I’ve bought others since then, but they all broke. The Brother has its share of dings, but it still works. Some of the keys stick, and it needs a good cleaning and new ribbon.

That Brother turned out many reports, term papers and articles back in its heyday in the 1970s, and never did let me down. Ironically, I bought it because I needed a portable typewriter, and it was the cheapest I could find.

The Brother took its place on the closet shelf after college and remained there patiently until I took it out every now and then to show it to friends. But, for all practical purposes, its useful life was over.

I didn’t have the heart to part with it. There were just too many memories of sleepless nights when I banged out those final versions of school projects or college articles.

When I started getting paid for writing, I switched to word processors with floppy discs, which worked well most of the time, but every now and then decided to zap an article into oblivion on deadline.

It’s amazing how fast the mind can recreate the previously written word with only minutes left before editors start yelling for the story.

One thing about the typewriter – it never killed out an article. But that feature was not enough to keep writers like myself from abandoning them in favor of the digital world, however risky and crude that was at the time.

I would never switch back to writing with a typewriter, but it is fun to be nostalgic. It took way too long to get to the final rewrite of an article.

It is also a lot of fun showing the kids how we used to write before computers. They’re amazed that you have to thread into it a sheet of paper instead of just pushing the print button.

Then I have to explain how it works before I let them type something on it.

Well, it’s about time to restore this old Brother a little. I just ordered a new black and red ribbon for it. Then, when the kids come over, I can show them how to change colors (as long as it’s red or black) by pushing a lever on the right-hand side of the machine.

Now, let’s see. I have to find out how to clean and adjust these keys. I better Google it.

Publisher John’s high school and college typewriter before he started to restore it. It told a lot of stories before being replaced by computers.


• On June 23, 1868, Carlos Glidden and Christopher Latham Sholes received a patent for their invention of the first commercially successful typewriter.

• The QWERTY keyboard was designed in 1873 to put common letter pairs far apart to reduce the chance of keys jamming and raise typing speed.