Typewriters After the Apocalypse

By Robert Messenger

One of the weekend colour magazines carries a regular item called “Road Test”, in which it describes a rather obscure item for which someone might one day find a use. One of the latest objects was the Gerber Apocalypse Survival Kit, which the manufacturer called “an insurance policy, of sorts, for the imminent Apocalypse”. “Fat lot of use paperwork will be,” the reviewer said in response to the manufacturer’s claim. “Ahh, but this ‘insurance policy’ comprises a grab-bag of sharpened steel tools-weapons that you’ll need when the End Times begin …” The kit includes a tomahawk, two fixed-blade sheath knives, a foldable knife and three machetes. And that’s it.
But wait, you ask, no manual portable typewriter? Well, one thing we do know for certain about Armageddon is that computers, laptops and printers will most definitely be a fat lot of use. No one will be able to operate them, and communications between survivors of Doomsday, or written records of the End Times, would be impossible without a manual typewriter.
So what’s your weapon of choice for the post-Apocalyptic period? Mine would be a Blickensderfer 5, which is exceedingly compact, lightweight, basic, and needs no typewriter ribbon. But you may prefer an Empire Aristocrat, a Hermes Baby, a Gossen Tippa or a Groma Kolibri – all good picks, I hasten to add, and a lot more readily available than a Blick. Whatever your selection, you will at least be able to write something as the dust settles a la On the Beach (as Nevil Shute once predicted). Also, bear in the mind that the last time this world went through a “war to end all wars”, people had to lay their hands on whatever working typewriters they could find, so a heavy standard-size machine might have to suffice, as difficult as it may be to lug it through the rumble.
In March this year, 54 Greek artists put on an exhibition in Athens inspired by “The Walking Dead”, and presented their own perspective of the post-Apocalyptic and dystopian world. Naturally, as the image here shows, at least one work featured a typewriter, as dishevelled as it may look.

So, are typewriters proven to be capable of withstanding the next Big Bang? Well, here’s one bit of evidence – from August 23, 1973, when a letter bomb went off in the offices of the Stock Exchange in London. Similarly, when the USS Shaw was hit during the attack on Pearl Harbor, its typewriter was still in good working order.

A while ago I was asked about typewriters by American writer Jenessa Gayheart, author of a young adult series that takes place in a post-apocalyptic town. This town that has found a cache of information from the time the world “ended”, including plans for a simple typewriter. Gayheart put this challenge to me: “If you knew the world was going to have to start-over with possibly very little at-hand for mechanical means, how would you write and diagram the plans to build a rudimentary typing machine? Maybe you already have post-apocalyptic plans for a typewriter in your trove somewhere and this'll be a piece of cake.”

Maybe I do. Or maybe I have faith in the survive-ability of the typewriters I already own. But is anyone else at there prepared to take up Gayheart’s challenge?