|Victor No. 3; Davis Bros. collection|
The Victor is one of those typewriter brands which collectors today view somewhat as an oddity, or else as an "off brand" or "also-ran" make. The Victor lasted in production from 1907 through perhaps 1925, giving it a short life when compared with big makes such as Remington or Underwood. Yet the Victor has a special place for some collectors, and for that reason we've decided to give a complete history of this machine as we did previously on this blog with the Harris - Rex - Demountable line of machines, the Reliance, and the Burroughs. This material supersedes that on my old website.
THE VICTOR'S BEGINNINGS
The Victor did not appear from a vacuum; it had its roots in persons involved with an established manufacturer of typewriters. The Franklin Typewriter Company was that entity from which the Victor developed.
In 1902, the Franklin Typewriter Company of New York, which was manufacturing a machine of that name and which had been invented originally by Wellington Parker Kidder, was declared bankrupt. The Franklin was a workable typewriter, but was not exceedingly modern and not particularly competitive - but still, it was better in ways than a number of other machines holding out on the market. The company was sold on October 18, 1902 to one Robert J. Edwards for a sum of $12,222. The company's tooling had been valued, by assessor, at between six and seven thousand dollars and its factory equipment at about fifteen hundred.
In 1904, the newly reorganized company brought the No. 10 Franklin to market; this would be the final model of this series. In 1905, the company - perhaps spurred by the then-recent (1904) introduction of the visible-writing L.C. Smith machine, and its direct competitor the Monarch at the same time - began to work on a true $100 front strike standard machine. The timing of this move is notable, as at this time the Remington, Smith Premier, Yost, and Fox standard machines were all still understrike or "blind writer" designs. These plans were not announced to the industry.
The new Victor (taking the name of an index style predecessor of the Franklin) was brought to market in May 1907. One month before this move and concurrent with injection of new capital, the Victor Typewriter Company had been incorporated and had taken over all interests of the older Franklin concern. The Franklin design was dropped.
VICTOR NO. 1
The Victor No. 1 as introduced to the market in the second quarter of 1907 was a four bank, front strike machine of the general $100 class in all measures such as weight, size and capability. The keyboard incorporated 42 keys typing 84 characters, with a single (carriage) shift. The machine had several features which were notable in comparison with other new visibles such as the L.C. Smith or Monarch; for example, every Victor came out of the factory with a decimal tabulator as standard equipment but at no added cost. The Victor had an outstanding and unique mounting design for its type bars wherein each had two legs attached to the mounting bar one inch apart - a feature intended to absolutely prevent bearing wear from working the machine out of alignment. The bearings were also adjustable to take up for wear. Oddities with the machine were its ribbon vibrator, which ran the ribbon vertically at the print point (it being fed by spools under the top deck and having two colors) and the machine's physical setup that ensured the printing was done above the horizontal on the platen. This latter feature was intended to assist with visibility of the typing in areas not exceedingly well lit; not all typists had desks by the window, and not all offices were well lit in those days.
In the interest of comparison with other standard makes available at the time, it should be pointed out that the Victor was never available as separate concurrent models; other makes, such as L. C. Smith, Monarch and Underwood had two or more models available concurrently with differing numbers of keys and/or wide carriages. Also, the Victor was unavailable without the decimal tabulator - in keeping with the "single model" concept. Indeed, throughout its entire life the Victor would never have more than one model offered at one time.
The machine was manufactured in a factory at 812-814 Greenwich Street, New York City as seen below in an illustration from Business Equipment Topics.
This factory building still stands today, in wonderful condition at 812-814 Greenwich St., New York City. Click here to see it on Bing Maps. It is now refurbished as high end housing.
As mentioned, the Victor entered the market at a time that the Underwood was moving toward dominance of all other $100 machines, but into which the new and "visible" L. C. Smith and the Monarch had appeared. Within a year or so of the introduction of the Victor, however, the big Union makes changed over to visibles -- the Remington and Smith Premier machines being the most well known. Right before the Victor's introduction, the Fox had also changed to a visible writer .. and there were numerous other lesser machines around as well as a flood of rebuilt blind-writers with which to compete.
The Victor No. 1 was actively marketed mainly in the United States, although it did appear in Europe where it was marketed as the DIKTATOR. This early marketing of the machine overseas was however inconsequential when compared to the efforts undertaken later in the life of the machine's descendants.
|DIKTATOR, in the Thomas Fuertig collection. Note refitting of horizontal path ribbon guide.|
As with all new machines of any sort, time discloses deficiencies or weaknesses and responsively the company introduced a number of changes with a new model after having sold roughly 3000 examples of its first model.
VICTOR NO. 2
December 1909 saw the introduction of the Victor No. 2, which in overall appearance and general arrangement followed closely after the No. 1 but which incorporated a very large number of improvements and alterations. These included the following:
•Change of primary key levers from wood to metal, and change in mechanism design
•Addition of new and novel ribbon color selector device, on front, with distinctive guide
•Back space key (mounted as bar above keyboard, center)
•New carriage rail and bearings
•Variable line spacing
•Improved paper finger design
•Provision for individual adjustment of key lever tension
Retained in the machine's features were the decimal tabulator, the ribbon arrangement, and the orientation of assembly that made the machine type just above level, as it were, on the front of the platen. Wide carriages had been introduced just immediately prior to issuance of the No. 2 model in 1909.
The Victor Typewriter Company soon found itself in a position to announce somewhat of a sales coup, as it was the Victor that won out over a number of other standard makes in a competition held by International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The purpose of this competition was to determine which make ICS would use for its correspondence typing and business courses -- for which it would be shipping off not just the courses, but $100 typewriters.
ICS placed an enormous order in January, 1910 for no less than 7,500 Victor typewriters to be used not only for its correspondence work but also by special arrangement in all of its own offices and plants. This was one of the largest single orders of its time, and represented over twice the entire production that the company had achieved of the No. 1 model in two and a half years. This order also began what would prove to be a close relationship between the Victor concern and ICS until the complete shutdown of the business in the 1920's.
INTERNATIONAL TEXTBOOK TAKES OVER
After a period of two years and three months the Victor No. 3 model appeared on the market; introduced in March 1912, the machine had a number of small improvements over the No. 2. In its general arrangement, main operative features and mechanical design it was not at all dissimilar from the preceding model. As it happens historically, the No. 3 would be the major production model for the company; it would last on the market for about seven and a half years. It continued at $100 price as with the previous offerings.
|Victor No. 3 ad, Auto Trade Journal; date unknown, Will Davis collection|
When the new model hit the market, ICS announced that it had over 2,000 Victor machines in its service (of all models) whether that be for use by correspondence students or for use in its own offices and plants. Whether the commitment for a further 5,500 machines to ICS played a role in what happened next is not certain, but seems important given the ICS commitment to its correspondence program - but whatever the case, Victor soon found itself in new hands.
In September 1912 it was revealed to the trade that Robert J. Edwards had sold the Victor Typewriter Company to ICS affiliate International Textbook Company including all patents, tools, facilities and good will. A letter by inventor George W. Campbell (intimately involved with the Victor for years) to Business Equipment Topics stated that this transaction "benefited Victor in every way." In point of fact, the Victor concern was seriously in trouble, and it is a good bet that ICS bought it partly to save it, partly to ensure its supply of typewriters, and partly due to the desire of Thomas J. Foster - head of the ICS companies - to become somewhat of a business magnate in the vein of the Vanderbilts or the Morgans.
The various Foster enterprises, which included not just ICS but mining and railroading interests among others were all headquartered around Scranton, Pennsylvania. Financial magazines of the day made note of the interconnected finances of the Foster enterprises, the apparent seamless movement of money between them (and even mergers of them) and both the frequent convulsions of their financial conditions and the resultant pleas to investors for more cash. None of the ventures was highly profitable -- the entire Foster empire was a house of cards it was said, and in point of fact the addition of Victor to the fold made the conditions worse, not better.
The periodical FINANCIAL WORLD was never kind to T. J. Foster or his ventures, it would seem, and right from the start it questioned the purchase of the typewriter concern by ICS/ITB, noting in November 1912 that financials for the Victor concern were generally impossible to find but that $1,000,000 had been raised by Foster to buy the stock of a company which had multiple small judgments (in other words, lost lawsuits) against it. The picture then was of a company so cash deficient it could not pay its bills but yet for which Foster had managed to get a million dollars from investors. The contract for the 7,500 Victor machines was valued (at the time of ICS purchase of Victor) at about $850,000.
Already in October 1912 FINANCIAL WORLD had directly accused Foster's companies of continuing to offer bad securities after good, so that increasing monies taken in were used mostly to pay old debt. The periodical wrote of the Foster companies "it is a long chain they are running, but it is no stronger than its weakest link." Soon the company would attempt to offer a SECOND block of stock totaling $1,000,000.
SHOPPING AROUND TO UNLOAD VICTOR
Before three years were out the condition of International Textbook Company had become rather acute - and so had the condition of Foster's empire. The outbreak of war in Europe had led to a reduction in sales of all kinds, overseas first and then in the US; hard hit of course were correspondence courses. According to testimony by Foster a couple years later in an unrelated personal bankruptcy case (not Foster's), just as the War broke out Victor was attempting to establish a conventional sales and dealer network (which implies an outlay of cash to purchase or rent properties and hire and train personnel.)
As early as May 1915 reports began to appear that Int'l Textbook was shopping around for buyers for Victor Typewriter and a new location for its factory. The May 8, 1915 AMERICAN STATIONER reported that Victor officials were scouting the town of Lynn, Massachusetts and discussing a $1,000,000 deal to locate a manufacturing plant there. Representatives of the Lynn Chamber of Commerce showed the typewriter men the city. Nothing came of this proposal, although it did make press a number of places.
However also in May 1915 FINANCIAL WORLD reported that Foster himself was courting the city of Columbus, Ohio to erect a new factory for the Victor. Foster was proposing that Columbus businessmen underwrite an issue of $5,000,000 worth of 7% bonds; the factory would provide employment for 1500 people, Foster reportedly said. The publication (more skeptical of Foster than ever) noted the dire condition of the home businesses back in Scranton and jokingly noted that Foster would build a factory in Kamchatka if he could get an infusion of five million dollars.
By the end of May Foster had made another proposal to the businessmen and bankers of Taunton, Massachusetts - this time an issue of $2,500,000 of twenty-year bonds on a basis of 7% return. FINANCIAL WORLD at this time (May 29, 1915) noted the sorry history of Int'l Textbook and the Victor stock since purchase, with continual recapitalization being required. "So it goes on, weaving and weaving new securities out of the shreds of an old carpet. It is an unending process of capitalizing and recapitalizing the same old proposition. This has naturally and justifiably raised over the whole edifice a black cloud of suspicion," the publication went on to say; it added some details of other financial maneuverings inside the Foster empire to patch holes here and there, and even some bankruptcies.
|Victor No. 3 w/ original crate; Davis Bros. collection|
By June 1915 the situation of ICS and Int'l Textbook was absolutely critical. At the 1915 Int'l Textbook Shareholder meeting, Foster himself announced that cash receipts were down for the preceding year over three quarters of a million dollars and this, coupled with rapidly rising expenses had driven available cash to just $100,000. The company had paid its dividend in January and originally intended to pay April's (and declared it) but then rescinded the April dividend. The stockholders then voted to authorize an emergency issuance of $1,000,000 in bonds, to be secured by physical property and real estate. However, none of these bonds sold (even through March 1918.) It was reported in August, 1915 in THE AMERICAN STATIONER that it was the Victor Typewriter Company's financial condition that was largely responsible for the bad condition of International Textbook Company.
At this time - August 1915 - the Chamber of Commerce of Lawrence, Massachusetts was now reported to be considering whether or not to arrange a deal to buy the company and bring it to Massachusetts. The August 14 AMERICAN STATIONER reported that a letter was sent from the Chamber president to businessmen in Lawrence showing that the condition of Victor Typewriter was not great, having for example only about $28,000 in cash above all outstanding liabilities, but that if any eight business men in the town could each put in $1000 then eight seats on the Board of the new company could be secured and the company brought to Lawrence
What had in fact transpired in the interim between the first visit of officials to Lynn and the present offer for Board seats in Lawrence is that a deal had been struck between Int'l Textbook (Foster) and George W. Campbell (mentioned earlier) to buy out the entire typewriter business from Int'l Textbook. It was now left for Campbell and his group to discover just where a new factory would be either bought and converted or else built and fitted.
|Victor No. 3 illustration courtesy Peter Weil|
By October 1915 the deal with Lawrence businessmen had fallen through. Instead, Campbell and partners incorporated a new Victor Typewriter Manufacturing Company (incorporated in New York) to buy the concern and build a new and large factory in Poughkeepsie, New York. The capital stock of the new corporation was $2,625,000 (a decent figure, since the Lynn officials earlier had found the capital stock of Victor to be $1,780,000 and the total assets to be $1,267,580.)
November 1915 brought wide announcement of a bright future for Victor. Trade papers showed artists' renderings of the new, large and modern plant intended for Poughkeepsie, which was designed by architect John J. Petit of New York. The $1,500,000 plant would include every modern feature and according to AMERICAN STATIONER "it is the company's idea to surround its employees with every element which will be conducive toward their comfort and efficiency of their work." The new plant would incorporate its own power plant; it would not be ready over a year. In that month TYPEWRITER TOPICS reported that it was primarily the financial condition of Int'l Textbook that led investors to buy out the typewriter concern.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
And then the new deal, the massive factory, the new ownership failed. The deal was not consummated; the new company did not take over. Not one brick of the new factory was put up. Production of the No. 3 Victor went along as before on Greenwich St. in New York.
International Textbook, according to V. P. Ralph Weeks, 'reorganized the operations of the company' to secure profitability in what it believed would be the near term. And things began to actually look up.
In 1916, a number of positive things happened. The company decided to sell some of its sales offices in smaller business areas and hand over the dealership rights to typewriter businesses already established in those locations. In England, Salter Typewriter Co.'s factory was being used for war purposes -- so it arranged to sell the Victor typewriter through its dealer network. This meant that Victor gained a new, ready-made (if temporary) sales network in England and that Salter could maintain its network for the time when the war was over. And the Boston Board of Education, after considering various models for two years, ordered 1,000 Victor typewriters.
The announcement was made in May, 1917 trade papers that the entire equipment of the Victor Typewriter Company was underway by rail to a new home - a factory space erected for it on the property of International Textbook Company, in Scranton Pennsylvania near the other major operative buildings of the company.
The plant occupied by Victor Typewriter from May 1917 onward still stands today in Scranton, Pennsylvania and is seen above in a screen shot from Bing Maps.
There is also evidence that in late 1917 the company set up a subsidiary to handle its machines after rebuilding and/or traded in machines - the formation of a "Victor Typewriter Sales & Supply Co." is noted in several sources and in September 1917 the company advertised that it had "a number of overhauled, perfect condition second-hand machines that had been traded in on the new Victor No. 3 model." This company was also located in Scranton, Pa.
However in 1917 International Textbook and ICS reported that they had lost over 12,000 correspondence students as a result of the War just in the period from May to December 1917. Clearly though as seen above the company had made moves to establish sales through conventional sales practices, so that the typewriter business was not directly affected by this loss (which was not by any means limited to just correspondence courses that required typewriters.)
THE NEW VICTOR NO. 10 AND NEW OWNERSHIP
In November 1919 the Victor No. 10 was announced to the trade. This machine was a thorough revision of the previous general design; while it incorporated the same key lever and type bar mechanism and the same bearing design for the type bars, a large portion of the machine was "rationalized"or made more like that of other standard machines of the day. The ribbon spools were brought out from under the top deck and placed on top of it; the type basket was reoriented so that impression now occurred level on the front of the platen; and the whole of the carriage assembly was brought up and forward toward the typist to improve access and reach. At the print point, the former vertical orientation of the ribbon was dropped in favor of a wholly conventional ribbon vibrator. The decimal tabulator design and the ribbon selector quadrant design were retained, but a host of minor other improvements was made and the new machine (which now sold at $110) was said to contain "nearly 100 fewer parts" than had the previous models. The Victor No. 10 is often erroneously described in collector publications by its platen width (10-1.2 inches) as a model number - but the model is No. 10 nevertheless. The company expected first deliveries on or about January 1, 1920.
|Victor No. 10, courtesy Thomas Fuertig.|
|Victor No. 10, courtesy Richard Polt|
At the same time as the much improved No. 10 was announced, the company began construction of an addition to its Scranton, Pa. typewriter factory.
The year 1920 saw an event that had been attempted numerous times before but which had failed brought to fruition; the Victor Typewriter Company was sold by International Textbook to a concern headed by Everly M. Davis. The periodical UNITED STATES INVESTOR reported in 1921 that International Textbook had "disposed of interests in Victor Typewriter" during the year 1920, but other sources show the date of changeover being February 1921. It is possible that the deal was signed late in 1920 and not effective until February of the next year. Whatever the case, the company was now on its own feet.
An important change that had been progressively occurring in the matter of sales of the Victor was an ever-increasing focus on the export of the typewriter outside the United States. Earlier in this piece Foster was quoted as saying that Victor was only just establishing a sales network at the time it was purchased by International Textbook; at an international trade convention in Cleveland, Ohio in 1921 Victor Typewriter President Mayne R. Denman told the assembled crowd that when the war had broken out, his company was not exporting. He did point out that after concerted effort in the field, it was now exporting 80% of its product. He mentioned that some companies who had been exporting pre-war were referring to new exporters as "wild-catters" (a derogatory term) but he said that he felt the new exporters had every bit as much right to build business as old exporters had. Denman also brought up the problem that some South American opportunities had been stymied because prospective customers had been cancelling orders; the required purchase of raw materials for these had taken place in some cases a year in advance, so that when the customers ultimately cancelled the costs for the whole process were thrown onto the manufacturer.
|Victor No. 10 courtesy Tilman Elster.|
We do now know the exact turn of events (yet) that surround the collapse of the Victor Typewriter Company, although the worldwide recession of the early 1920's is unavoidably contributory. What is clear is that for some reason or another, in March 1924 Business Equipment Topics reported that ownership of Victor Typewriter Company had passed BACK into the hands of International Textbook Company. In point of fact, back in June 1922 (the same month that manufacturing was reported to be at a high point) it was also reported that two whole floors of a building at Scranton that had formerly been used by Victor were being re-purposed for other uses. It is quite contradictory to find that Victor's production was at a peak and that it was giving up floor space -- but the nature of a trade paper is first to promote and second to report. Thus it was very likely that production of the machine had not been vibrant at all for some time, and that the reported "peak" in manufacturing was more of a last gasp than an augury of future success. Whatever the case, the death of the concern was near at hand.
Moody's reported that Victor Typewriter Company had (in 1924) about $568,000 in notes outstanding to International Textbook. This must partly explain ITB taking control of the company once again, and indicates the company's cash-deficient position.
References to existence of the company can still be found in 1925 publications - but not in 1926. In 1926, the Victor Adding Machine Co. paid Victor Typewriter $15,000 for "rights and good will" concerning the name "Victor" for typewriters, as it intended to launch a portable typewriter of indigenous design and wished to use its name for the typewriter. At this point, this was probably the largest payment Victor Typewriter could have hoped for, and surely this was an aid in the dissolution of the company which must have occurred at about this time.
PERSPECTIVE AND ANALYSIS
Victor Typewriter Co. manufactured four models over the span 1907-1924.
•Victor No. 1 / May 1907 - December 1909 / serials 0 to ~3000 (3000 units)
•Victor No. 2 / December 1909 - March 1912 / serials 3000 to 7500 (4500 units)
•Victor No. 3 / March 1912 - December 1919 / serials 8000 to 25000 (17000 units)
•Victor No. 10 / December 1919 - ? 1924 / serials 50000 to 55000+ (about 5300 units)
When the Victor machine was first conceived about 1905 the market was still responding to the Underwood; the brand new visible, front strike L. C. Smith and the similar Monarch were making enormous waves in the trade press, and the push toward all standard machines being visible writers had just begun in earnest. (The Oliver also continued to be a force.) The Victor just barely beat the Remington and Smith-Premier visibles to market in 1907, but it had been beaten to market by the Fox and by the brand new Royal, both of which had appeared in 1906. The Royal had two models - a $100 and a $65, both described as "Standard" machines. In the same time period the short lived Remington-Sholes Visible appeared, and quickly disappeared. Sun Typewriter Company had introduced a $100 machine (its No. 6) to complement its line of lower priced front strike machines.
The Victor has, as a product line, a peculiar distinction -- Most $100, small brand machines introduced in the USA later than it did failed or at least did much worse than it did; these include the Blick-Bar, Remington-Sholes Visible, Secor, Sholes Visible, Stearns, and Visigraph. The Woodstock, introduced 1914 was later but as we have described in one of our videos was not initially a $100 machine because of the issuance of "credit drafts" with each machine during early years, bringing the price under $70 (a policy which was not maintained, but rather kept long enough through production of the Woodstock No. 4 to ensure spread of the product.) We thus can provide a pinpoint in history for the Victor as about the last "off brand" $100 standard to make it.
Rebuilt standard machines available at good quality but half the price of new standards seriously began to make inroads as increasingly they became available at this same time; additionally, a number of ostensibly "standard" but lower priced and less well featured machines such as the Harris Visible, the Pittsburg Visible (later Reliance), and others such as the Molle populated the same price range as the better rebuilt machines. In other words, competition was fierce. The First World War had a serious effect on sales; the increase following it was more than blunted by the world-wide recession of the early 1920's that killed off so many manufacturers (not just Victor, but Reliance and Fox to name a couple.)
|Victor No. 10 trade catalog illustration courtesy Peter Weil|
At no time was Victor in any position to steer the overall field. Its machine was good, but no better than the other $100 makes and had nothing especially to commend it. Instead it remained an "also ran" for its entire career - although it maintained its high market price to the end.
|Victor No. 3, Davis Bros. collection|
Victor standard machines were superbly painted, decaled and finished, and are very often found in a condition that surprises. For four bank front strike standards, the Victors draw a premium price.
Numerous Victor machines were rebuilt and relabeled by Chicago-area rebuilder Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co. and can be found with this brand name and variously given the Harry A. Smith model numbers of 2, 4, and 6 (rebuilt Victor No. 2 machines) and 9 and 12 (rebuilt Victor No. 3 machines.)
With something over 30,000 Victors of all models built, the Victor as a brand is roughly as common as Demountables of all models (about 25,000 built) but considerably less common than Harris Visible / Rex Visible machines of all models (about 70,000 built.) Roughly three times as many of the ornate, open sided (German built) Ideal machines were made as were made of all models of the Victor, as a poignant comparison. Certainly then a Victor of any model should be on the wish list of any collector interested in early or unusual front strike standard typewriters. Serious typists (in other words modern writers) should only pursue the No. 10 model, if any at all.
Typing test! My Victor No. 10, tested back in January 2011.
Harry A. Smith page on this blog features details on rebuilt Victors
As noted in the text - includes various issues of Business Equipment Topics / Typewriter Topics, The American Stationer, American Machinist, Poor's Manual of Industrials and Public Utilities, Automobile Trade Journal, Educational Foundations, United States Investor, Typographical Journal, and Financial World. Black and white typewriter cuts taken from Business Equipment Topics (Victor Typewriter Co. advertisements.) All other illustrations and machines shown, see individual captions and descriptions.
Machines in Davis Bros. collection include a Harry A. Smith No. 4 (Victor No. 2), a Victor No. 3 and a Victor No. 10.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this well-researched article, particularly as it so richly relates the business climate of the period vs. focusing on feature comparisons with contemporary typewriters. The interactions with ITB and Victor Adding interest me as well, because I've obtained some interesting old textbooks (related to slide rules and mathematics) from ITB and several Victors along the way.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the great effort!
Beyond impressive work. Perhaps once you've done a few more, you can compile it all into a book!ReplyDelete
Very enjoyable to read, many thanks for this history!ReplyDelete
For business history the typewriter industry really is a great subject, having run its course completely from start to finish.
(And am flabbergasted at your mint machine with original packing crate, new-old-stock... :)
Great summation of your research.ReplyDelete
I wonder why they came up with that charming vertical ribbon path in the first place. Just trying to be original?
Thanks, Richard! I recall reading (maybe in Mares) that the ribbon path was specifically chosen so that no letters could print accidentally half red and half black.Delete
Hi. I came across a Victor Typewriter model 3 instruction booklet. If you or any if your readers would be interested, please contact me. Thank youReplyDelete
Will and David, this is a great article!ReplyDelete
I have had a Victor 1 which is now in another collector's home. Currently I am eyeing a #3 which is locally available, if an hours drive may be called local. This brand fascinates me.