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What is an Electric Typewriter?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

An electric typewriter is a machine that is used to produce type-written materials. Like a printer that is connected to a computer, an electric typewriter requires a power source, paper, and ink. Computers and printers, however, have become more popular than electric typewriters, a trend that is not likely to change.

Manual typewriters have keys that are connected to typebars. When a key is pressed, the typebar with the corresponding letter or symbol is forced up and into an inked ribbon. An impression of the letter or symbol of the key that was pressed then is left on the page. This process generally required the user to strike a key with notable force.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

Generally, the advent of electric typewriters substantially improved upon the era of manual typewriters. The first electric typewriters, however, were not as sophisticated as those that still can be found in use. Instead of the electric typewriter relying on the force of a person’s keystroke, it relies on the motor. A person can strike a key and the motor will provide the power needed to move the typebars. This generally allows for easier and faster typing.

Typebars eventually were removed from the electric typewriter and replaced by typeballs. These objects are rotated by the electric motors. When a person strikes a key, the typeball is spun and lifted into contact with the ribbon so that the corresponding letter or symbol can be imprinted on the paper. One typeball can be removed and another put in its place if it is necessary to change the typeface or if letters are needed from another language.

As electric typewriters improved, it became popular for the printing mechanism to move from one side to the other while the paper only moved vertically. Before, the paper was held to a cylinder that moved horizontally as the user typed. When she got to the opposite end of the page, the cylinder would need to be returned to the right and another horizontal row was typed. At first this was accomplished by pushing the cylinder back, but eventually electric power was used.

Typeballs later were replaced with flat, spool-like typewheels. These are made of plastic and contain all the letters and symbols in a vertical row around the outside. As with the typeball, this object is manipulated by the motor. In addition to this, other drastic improvements came about. Multi-color ribbons were invented and correction ribbons were added, which eliminated the need for the manual whiting-out of errors.

The electric typewriter became increasingly easier to use and more sophisticated. Many of the latest versions have features such as electronic display screens and spelling assistance provided by programmed dictionaries. Despite all of the advancements, however, the electric typewriter simply cannot compete with the computer, which has far more capabilities than word processing and printing.

Discussion Comments


@Logicfest -- true if you buy a cheap printer. Do some research and find a good one that will handle envelopes and you'll probably be fine.

Besides, how many pieces of antiquated office equipment do you want hanging around, anyway?


Computers and printers might have all but made the typewriter obsolete, but there is still at least one thing typewriters can do better -- envelopes. Oddly, advances in technology that have greatly improved laser and inkjet printers over the years have not yet yielded a good way to keep envelopes from jamming far too often.

There's no jamming with a typewriter and, in fact, you'll find you can address envelopes quicker when you're not dealing with a finicky printer that tends to wad them up and go nuts.

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