100 Years of Christmas Typewriters

February 01, 2017

100 Years of Christmas Typewriters

By Robert Messenger

This Christmas will mark the 100th anniversary of the term “Christmas Typewriters” to sell small keyboard writing machines. The phrase was first used in the week before Christmas 1916 by the Judd Typewriter Exchange in Indianapolis in the US, and was applied to the Corona 3 folding portable typewriter – “complete in every detail” declared the Judd Exchange. During the next half century, “Christmas Typewriters” became a very widely seen and increasingly effective advertising line at this time of year, a clear indication that gifting a loved one a typewriter for Christmas was a hugely popular idea.

 



Such marketing was aimed mostly at younger people and was concentrated on portables. In this regard, Smith-Corona remained a market leader, but many other brands - notably Underwood, Royal, Olivetti, Hermes and Torpedo - produced Christmas advertisements that were truly works of art. Some of the finest examples of these appeared as full-page, full-colour ads in such leading international publications as LIFE magazine.


Typewriters remain an ideal Christmas gift to this day, especially for younger people keen to experience the unique feel of creating documents on an analogue, manual writing machine.



It was an eight-year-old Pennsylvania schoolgirl who first asked Santa Claus for a typewriter for Christmas – and that was away back in 1900. Anna McMillan wrote to the North Pole via the Pittsburgh Press newspaper. The Press ran her letter under the headline:

“SHE WANTS A TYPEWRITER

“Dear Santa Claus

“Below is a little list of what I want for Christmas: Typewriter, white ruffled apron, story book, a doll, a watch, a box of candy, Christmas tree, typewriter desk, go-cart, piano, needle book and breastpin. Be sure and do not forget any of these things, and do not forget to fill the stocking which I am going to hang up. Your little friend.

“Annie F.McMillan”

“Little” list indeed! But Santa’s little friend Annie had certainly started something, and the next Christmas a Philadelphia company called Spayd’s began to tap into this growing adolescent market. The trend moved to Thorp & Martin in Boston in 1905, then on to Detroit, and by 1907 nine-year-old Alfred Hudson was using his “Christmas typewriter” to promote the Humane Club’s “Kindness to Animals” cause in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Before World War I, many of the “Christmas typewriters” children used were small index machines such as the Simplex, which were very heavily advertised around Yuletide. From 1916, “Christmas typewriters” marketing extended to small, lightweight keyboard machines, such as the Corona and Underwood three-bank portables. An outstanding example was this 1922 Underwood advert: