.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Burroughs Standard Typewriter - A Second Look

• Introduction.  Woodstock, Illinois -- the date, March, 1927.  A large adding machine company approaches the Chamber of Commerce of the city to inquire about the purchase of the long dormant Oliver Typewriter Co. factory, with the intent of acquiring all patents and rights as well as the facility for the purpose of placing the typewriter back in production.  The Woodstock Sesquicentennial's notes, from which this report comes, do not mention the adding machine company by name (it was apparently not revealed at the time).  The deal does not go through; in February 1928 the factory is instead sold to Alemite Die Casting and Manufacturing Company of Chicago.  An adding machine company wishing to produce typewriters?  It wouldn't have been the first time (American Can took control of Rex Typewriter's sales in 1918, for a brief season) and having a full office machine line in one house was something the industry was realizing was the way of the future.

The date of inquiry is curiously timed with the March 1927 effective date of the merger of Remington Typewriter with Rand-Kardex-Bureau which created the giant Remington-Rand Corporation, with both typewriters and adding machines under the same roof (as well as many other items).  L.C. Smith & Brothers bought and merged Corona Typewriter Company in 1926, creating another powerhouse.  Merger season was on; later, in 1934, L.C. Smith & Corona would buy and merge the Portable Adding Machine Company.

Within four years of the aforementioned Oliver factory inquiry the long-established Burroughs Adding Machine Company would place on the market a four-bank, standard office typewriter in the $100 class intended to be competitive with all others on the market.  Was this inquiry made on behalf of Burroughs?  We do not know at this date, and might never.  It's an interesting prelude to an established story. 


We first wrote about the Burroughs standard machine in great detail in the December 2006 issue of ETCetera, as well as on a 2006 page on my old site on GeoCities (presently dormant as of early 2015.)  I decided it's time to revisit that content and put the story we first told eight years ago back into available print, but with new insight, details, and illustrations.  Although some of these have appeared on my sites before (and some of our old site's illustrations and much of its written content have been copied by others) the content you see here is constructed new for this page.


Burroughs Adding Machine Company entered the typewriter market in 1931 with a machine it described as being completely new, with a variety of superior points to other machines on the market and made specific the point that the company was not saddled with having to update an old design to meet present market requirements.  While this might seem an advantage, 1931 was indeed a rather late date to break into the highly competitive US standard office machine market with a totally new design when the field was dominated by well established makes Royal, Underwood, L.C. Smith & Corona, Remington-Rand and Woodstock.  (There were a couple other makes on the market such as Smith Premier and Demountable, but these were not major players.)  The way the market was developing, however, pointed toward the ability of a manufacturer to more or less make captive its customer by selling that customer all of its office machines or even those plus many major office supplies.  This trend continued long after the Burroughs story began; in 1949, R. C. Allen would buy out Woodstock Typewriter to do the same thing, and about a decade later Cole Steel Office Equipment would begin selling typewriters, adding machines and dictaphones to compliment its long-standing line of office furniture. Eventually in the 1960's conglomerate corporations such as Smith-Corona-Marchant and Litton Industries would offer wide ranges of office equipment and material.  Suffice it to say, Burroughs' estimation of the market demand (or perhaps marketing opportunity) was right on the mark and not so early in time that the idea would have seemed overly novel.

Let us use Burroughs' own sales material to present the machine to you.  Below we reproduce much of the 1933 sales brochure on hand, in order.  Click the pages to enlarge them and read about the various design features of this then-new standard machine.  Your eyes do not deceive you - this Depression Era booklet is NOT printed level to the pages or consistent throughout.

The next several pages are incentives as to why you should trust Burroughs, who advertises its "Half a century's experience in building precision machines" on page 16.  In part the text notes

"To maintain its leadership Burroughs has been alert to the ever-changing requirements of business, as well as to the newest manufacturing processes and methods.  Many of the principles of construction which have proved so efficient in Burroughs figuring machines and typewriter accounting and billing machines are utilized in the Burroughs Typewriter."

Page 17 notes the World-Wide Service available, and notes the one year guarantee of free inspections and service of the machine - which could be extended after the first year "at nominal cost to the user" by the Burroughs Service Agreement.  This Service Agreement "provides for regular inspections, cleaning, oiling and adjustments, which prolong the life and efficient use of the equipment."

The back page shows the other general model then available - the Burroughs Electric Carriage Typewriter.  See below.

Burroughs Typewriters Examined.

As was first revealed to collectors by us in 2006, the Burroughs machines had internally used model numbers or codes which delineated them.  In the general range of Burroughs machine products the typewriters were lumped together as "Series T" machines.  The all manual typewriter, which is the subject of 99% of the brochure you've just read, was the "Series T type 50" and the electric carriage machine was the "Series T type 60."  The type number was altered for specific machines when the carriage was increased above the standard width.

...{We're primarily interested here with the manual standard machine, but first a note about the electric.  Note the description in the brochure -- the only power operated features are carriage return (the return key is where the right shift lock key normally would have been), line space advance and carriage (case) shift.  The type bars remained manually operated.  Thus, it's important for historians and collectors to realize that the Burroughs electric was, really and properly the "Burroughs Electric Carriage" machine and was only semi-electrified as was the early Woodstock Electrite, the much later Smith-Corona 5T portable and others.}...

In operation, the Burroughs manual is adequate if uninspired.  The specific design of the key lever and type bar mechanism doesn't lend to either a snappy or rapid feel, although an experienced typist could certainly adapt to this machine with no problem... and that's one of the things that helped this machine stick around for about a decade.  It's not a BAD typewriter, but rather it's quite run of the mill in terms of use.  In fact one gets the impression that everything on it is the average of the impressions of every other typewriter on the market.  Having said that, here are a few observations.

• The machine is quite late as an overall design to incorporate carriage shift, although the shift is fairly light.

• The tab stops are visible by the typist when seated above the paper table.  This feature was not in itself new (for example, the Visigraph had that 20 years earlier) but is considered convenient by some.

• The brochure notes that "all scales are alike."  This seems to be a shot at Underwood who had a reversed scale on its front frame bar, or at machines whose tab stop racks were not exactly in line with their actual carriage spacing (of this latter group, we just showed on Youtube a machine where this is actually the case - the Imperial 50 - but didn't point out that slightly annoying feature.)

• The machine is full of design features that are "best available."  In other words, it was extremely important that Burroughs have competitive features (like, say, variable line spacing) but not infringe on any patents of any manufacturer in business.  Thus, one might say that by the time this machine appeared most of the best ideas to accomplish certain things were already taken and Burroughs had to plow the fields that were left open.  Dan Supek, veteran typewriter repairman, clearly described this to us point by point years back when comparing, with us, the Burroughs and a number of other machines in the shop.  The comparison isn't hard to make yourself either if the Burroughs is in a room full of typewriters!

We obtained a good deal of operating experience with the machine you see below, which was completely disassembled, tanked, and adjusted prior to the testing.

Burroughs Standard Typewriter serial 51A 80724, Davis Bros. collection
The experience with this typewriter was, on our part, uninspiring.  The machine does not rank above the bottom third of all standard manual machines in the quality of touch, or response to speed.  However, it is also neither overly delicate or underbuilt.

The Burroughs (as explained in thorough detail in my December 2006 ETCetera article) was like many adding machines, and many much later typewriters in using a set of stampings as its structural frame instead of one or more large, heavy castings.  Certainly this meant that Burroughs did not have to add a large casting plant to its factory; it also meant that methods of assembly could be carried over from stamped frame figuring machines.  The exterior that one sees on the machine is simply an exterior "mask" comprised of multiple pieces, which was actually given a design patent in 1931.

This was a bit early for this feature in standard typewriters, actually - and in this one regard Burroughs might be regarded as innovative.  As two major examples, Royal and Remington-Rand did not change to such construction until around 1938-1939, with Woodstock following shortly (the Woodstock machine was even completely open sided until right around the time the Burroughs appeared).  The advantages of this style of construction are obvious, with the cost and complexity of casting operations being completely avoided.

We also have as a "control group" the completely unrebuilt Burroughs manual standard seen below.

Burroughs Standard Typewriter serial 51A 261068, Will Davis collection
The typewriter above, like that shown earlier, has a wide carriage.  However it also adds a decimal tabulator and palm tabulator - both mentioned on page 13 of the brochure.  The only extra cost option this machine lacks is the stroke (type) counter.

In short, were a professional typist to come to work one Monday and find the previous make and model of typewriter replaced with the Burroughs, the short period of upset would not have been too disastrous and soon the typist would be able to turn out a lot of work... but my impression is that few would ever actually LIKE the machine.  It does the job, but it does not make you enjoy doing it.


We've been able to find very little about the machines in terms of factory information.  We know that the War Production Board took control of Burroughs' production in 1942 and believe that typewriter manufacture was terminated at that point, although the statements of a couple of Second World War Veterans to Your Typewriter & Computer's Dan Supek have given us a hint that a number of Burroughs machines were in use by the military during that war.  Whatever the case, the machines did not reappear as part of Burroughs' line post-war, limiting their production to roughly a decade.  We do not have any serial number data for the machines.

What interests me most about this whole affair is the first part -- that in 1927, someone approached Oliver about buying their factory.  When that didn't go through, what did that company do?  If that was Burroughs, it did what my guess is:  It went to work designing its own typewriter from the ground up, which explains the time interval required for the machine to appear on the market.  Speculation?  Absolutely.  But interesting speculation nonetheless.

Burroughs Adding Machine plant circa 1933
Note:  All materials and machines pictured in this post are actually in our collection.  The Burroughs sales brochure we have first appeared anywhere online in 2006 on our site. 

4 PM 1/24/2015

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Addendum:  1/25/2015

Peter Weil, long time friend of ours, of this blog and of our previous websites has sent along some scans of original Burroughs materials actually in his collection, with the express purpose that they be shown here.  The materials and my comments follow below.

Above, we have a wonderful and bright ink blotter showing the "New Burroughs Standard Typewriter."  This piece contrasts with some others in not emphasizing the "Quiet" nature of the machine.  We can tell immediately that this is a manual standard Burroughs 50 and not the electric carriage 60 because this machine has a carriage return lever and also has a pair of shift lock keys adjacent to the shift keys on either side of the keyboard.  The electric carriage 60 omits the right side shift lock and adds a large key to return the carriage in a similar position, and omits the return lever.

Above, an eraser shield depicting the Burroughs Electric Carriage Typewriter.  Ink blotters and eraser shields are two of the more "workaday" pieces of ephemera one might find - and it's nice to see two such pieces in unusued condition.

Above..  NOW.  A 1933 trade catalog introduces the Burroughs Electric Carriage Typewriter.  Note the lack of return lever on the carriage, and the large key on the right side of the keyboard for "return."

A different trade catalog provided by Peter shows some of the features of the Burroughs Standard Typewriter.  This particular image shows quite well the appearance of the "crinkle" or "crackle" painted panels on these typewriters.  This paint, by the way, appears to have been applied on top of gloss paint and will come off if severe cleaning methods or tanking are used on the exterior panels.  We have seen that ourselves!

"Combining all the most modern typewriter features with beauty and advanced design...."  begins another page from the 1933 Burroughs trade catalog.

We end Peter Weil's contribution with another trade catalog illustration showing the Burroughs Standard Typewriter in use.  It's easy to see from this angle that, were the paper not there, the typist could see the tab stops without moving the paper table, and of course could just as well see the scale on the paper bail and the front scale on which the margin stops are set. 

THANK YOU to Peter Weil for these further additions on the Burroughs line.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Typewriter Cleaning Tip, and introduction to the Imperial 50

We put up a new video last night covering a cleaning idea you might want to try (and maybe a few you don't!) and added in a typewriter that's pretty easy to clean thanks to a number of really significant design features.  We won't spoil the video with details on the machine just yet... although we did show the machine several years ago in the old Workshop pages on my site.

10:30 1/23/2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Auctions, Collectors, Enthusiasts... Where the groups meet, there can be tension

.... and there is tension.  Conversation in the Facebook group for antique typewriter collectors --- which actually these days is dominated mostly by what we call "typewriter enthusiasts," who do not consider themselves serious collectors but rather seek a perfect machine or small set of great machines to write, journal and typecast with --- has proven that there have been some conflicts.

We couldn't respond to everything posted, but we've been down every single one of the roads mentioned in that string before over many years.  So we shot a video talking about the various parties concerned, the mentioning of auctions that are ongoing, valuation, bidding against friends and lots of other stuff.

Click here to see this latest video called Auctions, Collectors and Bids:  Our Advice January 2015.

2 PM 1/21/2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Harris Visible, Rex Visible, Demountable; Name variants; Vim Visible

The discovery of a 1918 advertisement for the typewriter you see here -- a previously completely unknown name variant of a fairly long running, but known product line -- has caused us to completely re-examine and revise our old, now unavailable but extensive history of the typewriters manufactured in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin from 1911 through about 1936 under various names.  We will describe and analyze the typewriter seen above at the appropriate place in the following lengthy but required article.

I originally published the first long dissertation on the Harris Visible, Rex Visible and Demountable typewriters on my site in October, 2004 and added pages as required.  Much of the content of that original construct, which I still have, forms the basis of the following article.  However, new information researched by ourselves, information provided in Typewriter Topics 1908-1922 (provided by Richard Polt,) and information provided by Peter Weil now enhance and replace the original content on my site.  A 1977 article by Karen Padley in the Fond du Lac Times, entitled "Harris, Rex, Demountable - City Typewriters were Shipped Around the World" from May 18, 1977 also supplements these sources.  Where sources contradict each other, the available evidence has been sifted to determine the probable truth.  Any errors therein are mine alone.

Many of the original illustrations that appeared on my now dormant web pages will reappear here; the original article credited the following collectors for information, photos, advertisements, or any other scraps of information that aided in the discovery of the histories of the associated companies:  Peter Weil, Thomas Furtig,  Herman Price, Jim Dax, Chuck Dilts, Rich Cincotta, Richard Polt, Tilman Elster, Brayton Harris, Nick Fisher, John Pulley, Ernie Jorgenson. 


HARRIS VISIBLE - beginnings

Beginning in 1908, De Witt Clinton Harris (b. 1875), a man from the upper midwestern United States who had worked as a typewriter salesman in the Des Moines, Iowa area (according to surviving family) designed a typewriter to fit a specification issued by Sears, Roebuck and Company who wished to sell a relatively inexpensive standard typewriter through its catalog.  The typewriter had to be reliable, simple and sturdy - important since Sears clearly had no support structure to service the machines under warranty; other efforts with which Sears became directly involved at nearly the same time (Burnett, Emerson) were neither sturdy nor reliable and eventually failed.  By 1911, the design was ready to demonstrate.

Julius Keller, noted industrialist, pneumatic tool company owner and inventor was involved with the effort from an early date and remained instrumental in it for many years.   Keller would file only one patent of those incorporated in the machine (for the ribbon movement), the rest being filed by D. C. Harris (and assigned by Mesne assignment to one of the operating entities.)

Harris - under the requirements from Sears, Roebuck - managed to hand build eight prototypes in February 1911 and demonstrate them to the company; four others later joined these.  The design was accepted and the effort to get it manufactured was begun at about the start of 1911.

The parties concerned formed the Harris Typewriter Company in 1911 and in the first quarter of that year attempted to set up a factory to build the machines at Plainfield, New Jersey; however by May 1911 Business Equipment Topics reported that this effort had failed. We also know that some attempt to have an established manufacturer build these typewriters failed.  Benjamin Harris, brother of D. C. Harris who had invented the machine, noted "back home" in Fond du Lac that the factory of the Wells Shoe Company had become vacant.  The factory was purchased, and the machinery set up to produce the Harris typewriter was moved from Philadelphia (probably Keller's original company) to Fond du Lac.  Keller also sold all interest in his present company to a predecessor of Chicago Pneumatic but almost immediately also set up another pneumatic tool company in Fond du Lac simultaneous with the move of the typewriter concern.

Illustration from Will Davis collection (Sears, Roebuck brochure)

The move to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin carried with it some money from the initial investors but the company issued a prospectus on August 3, 1911 for $35,000 worth of seven percent, second preferred stock.  This was sold in entirety in five days (according to the Fond du Lac Times article of May 18, 1977.)  On August 31, 1911, periodical "The Iron Age" reported officially the formation of the Harris Typewriter Company with capital stock of $350,000.  By September, the company was capitalized at $365,000 and Julius Keller was quoted in Business Equipment Topics as saying that the eventual capacity of the factory would be 150 to 200 machines per day.  (It would never actually produce at that rate, we believe today, although it did eventually produce a large number of machines of various makes and models.)

In October 1911 Brass World reported that the company's officers were as follows:  President, Julius Keller; Vice President, D. C. Harris; Secretary, F. M. Givens; Treasurer, S. D. Wyatt; Directors P.B. Haber, F. A. Foster and B. E. Harris (brother of D. C. Harris.)

It had already been printed (in September 1911) that Sears, Roebuck had agreed to market the entire production of the company and that it had given the company an assurance that it would require ten thousand machines initially.


The above illustration, taken from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. sales brochure in my collection, shows the general appearance of the Harris Visible.  The first model marketed anywhere so far as is known was the Harris Visible No. 4.  The machine is a three bank, segment shifted machine of the general "standard" class with front striking type bars, and with tabulator as standard equipment.  The machine weighed 29 pounds, and had a single ribbon color only.  The emphasis was on simplicity (the machine had only 28 type bars) and strength (the type bars were tool steel and double the thickness of many machines'.) 

The typewriter's patents (too numerous to reproduce here) make it clear that parties involved were intimately familiar with the manufacture of typewriters, and knew the high cost portions of the required factories -- in particular, the large bank of highly paid adjusters at the back end of the factory that made careful corrections to machines just built to ensure alignment of type and proper operation.  The Harris Visible is the earliest known machine designed on the unit principle, wherein major "action units" (as described in the patents) are manufactured and adjusted separately and later inserted into the typewriter.  Misalignment of one section cannot cause misalignment of another; further, in later years the manufacturers said that any action unit made could be interchanged with the same unit of any machine in the world without adjustment -- and that the manufacturing of the parts in this machine was so precise that no files (metal files) were even permitted anywhere in the factory. This would essentially eliminate the need for major adjustment of machines prior to crating for shipping.  All tooling to make these machines was designed and made on site by the manufacturers.  The type for these machines was also manufactured completely in house.

Above, the peculiar design and construction of the Harris Visible.  Key levers (item 50) are split, or forked (bifurcated) and are fulcrum at point 51.  This split actually allows the key levers to spread slightly upon the use of heavy stroke (finger pressure) and was said to adapt the machine automatically to any touch.  The period and comma key has a fixed travel stop short of the normal full throw of other key levers to prevent these characters from puncturing the paper and/or damaging the platen.  Throw of the type bars (65) on this machine is 78 degrees, as compared to nearly 90 for many front strikes of other makes.  The machine had fewer parts than other standards, manufactured to higher standards of superior materials.  In point of fact, most Harris machines found today in the field (100 years later, give or take) are fully intact, and are operable after being "degunked" and lubricated. 

•Click here to view a video that demonstrates the operative features and overall user experience of the Harris Visible No. 4 typewriter. (Coming soon!)

Harris Visible enters series production; encounters first troubles

In June, 1912, "Iron Trade Review" reported that the Harris Typewriter Co. had begun "manufacturing several hundred machines per week," and that all of the output was being taken by Sears, Roebuck and Company.  

A Sears, Roebuck brochure in my collection contains the following passage that relates clearly the early history of the Harris Visible as it relates to the company:

"Several years ago the Harris was submitted to our Engineering Department for accurate comparison with the latest models of other standard makes.  It showed such marked possibilities that we at once put twelve of them into actual use in order to find just where they could be improved.

These twelve machines were in constant use every working day for a year, under the direct supervision of our General Office Manager.  They were used on all kinds of work, and by experienced stenographers as well as by beginners.  At the end of the year many improvements were made and in November, 1912, we started to equip our entire plant with Harris Typewriters.

During the first six months of 1913 several minor changes were made.  Today our Chicago offices are almost exclusively equipped with Harris Visible Typewriters.  All other standard makes will soon be replaced by the Harris."

Above ad courtesy Peter Weil.  This ad shows the first price for the Harris Visible through Sears, Roebuck -- namely, $39.80.  This ad also uniquely shows celluloid keytops which have never been seen on any surviving example and which may have been replaced with conventional ringed keys as one of the improvements mentioned by Sears, Roebuck in its description of the early history of the machine.  Note the front frame of this machine:  "Harris Typewriter Company."  This will become significant shortly.

In early 1913, the Harris Typewriter Company ran into trouble.  The company ran out of money and in March 1913 the company was placed in bankruptcy as a result of complaint of the bond holders (The Iron Trade Review, June 5, 1913.)  By April, Iron Age was reporting that the factory building of Harris Typewriter Company and the real estate would be auctioned off at Sheriff's sale, while in another separate action the physical manufacturing apparatus would be sold - both sales to be on the same date of May 15, 1913.

Frederick J. Rueping, head of Rueping Leather Co. (a local firm) and in whose personage the bondholders were represented purchased the entire business for $60,000 at the sale.  The plant had in fact never entirely stopped production during the litigation period.  With the major interest by Sears, Roebuck in the product the value of the product must have been obvious, even if the company had been mishandled.

The original company was dissolved and replaced by the Harris Typewriter Mfg. Co. of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  This new company raised capital to the tune of $1,500,000.00 and had as its incorporators F. J. Rueping (President of the company), T. L. Doyle (Secretary) and W. H. Rueping.  This event essentially marks the turn of control of the Harris enterprise to local citizens and concerns.  Julius Keller remained involved as Chief Engineer of the plant.

Harris Visible No. 4, serial 106723, Will Davis collection.  Note "Harris Typewriter Mfg. Co." on frame.

In June, 1913 the concern had gotten back going; "The Iron Age" reported that the firm was increasing production to 15 machines per day and that the work force would be expanded from 125 persons to 150, and that new tooling and machinery was to be purchased to expand production.  By December 1913 the same periodical reported a further increase to 25 machines per day, and a work force of 250 men.

"Iron Trade Review" also reported in December 1913 that Sears, Roebuck had doubled its order for Harris typewriters. 

Above, 1914 Sears ad for the Harris Visible - Will Davis collection.  The price of the machine remains $39.80.  The idea that Sears itself was using the Harris in droves appears in this ad, as does it also in the trade catalog one would receive ("Typewriter Book No. 88N30" as mentioned in ad.)  Disposal of the existing machines is noted.

At some point in 1914, the price of the Harris Visible was increased from $39.80 to $44.50.

Ad above from December 1915, courtesy Peter Weil.  This ad shows the $44.50 price for cash.  The trade catalog in my collection dated 1914 reflects the $44.50 cash price and an insert found in the cover of the catalog reveals that the total cost on monthly payments amounted to $47.50.

By February 1914 production continued to increase; it had reached 25 machines per day and the company expected to increase again by July 1 (The Iron Age).

So far as is known, at this point -- early 1914 -- Sears was still taking the entire production for catalog and mail order sales and for use in its own facilities (it would eventually own and use over 1500 machines itself in its massive administrative departments.)

The Harris Visible sells outside Sears, and becomes Rex

Unfortunately for researchers (and collectors) the year of 1914 and some of 1915 is "dark" for us.  There are no magazine mentions of the company's efforts of any sort available presently anywhere, and the collectors' established writings are of no help.

Two major developments seem clear during this time period of 1914 and 1915.  First, the Harris Visible must have been made available through other channels than through Sears, Roebuck.

Above, both sides of a tri-fold brochure courtesy the Herman and Connie Price collection.  This brochure is advertising the Harris Visible direct - not through Sears.

Further proof that the machine was being sold through other channels is the existence of "relabeled" or "rebadged" machines under the names Betz Visible, Reporter's Special, and Autocrat Visible.  The Reporter's Special was sold by The Miles Co., Elkhart Indiana - a company in the medical business which later was bought by Bayer.  The Betz Visible (one example known, in our collection) had a pharmaceutical keyboard and was marketed by Frank S. Betz Co.  All of these machines of this relabeled bracket have serial numbers buried together in the midst of conventional Harris Visible No. 4 production and match that machine in characteristics.

Betz Visible, serial 20509, Davis Bros. collection

Left, Harris Visible No. 4, serial 24568, David A. Davis collection.  Right, Betz Visible, serial 20509, Davis Bros. collection
As an aside, it's important for collectors to note that immediately above the serial numbers of these relabeled machines are the only known Harris Visible No. 5 models.  These differ in incorporating a two color ribbon with buttons on the sides of the machines to change the color. 

The other major event that took place perhaps at the very end of 1914 was the formation of Rex Typewriter Company.  This entity would appear to us to have succeeded the Harris Typewriter Mfg. Company without serious issue; it may in fact prove out that this was a reorganization or even a simple change of name of the previous company, since no evidence of any bankruptcy or Sheriff's sale during this period can yet be found.  What's clear to us though is that Rex began slowly at first, then with increasing speed to separate itself from being a catalog firm supplier; the previous concerns had essentially been captive to Sears, Roebuck who were taking their entire output.  Sears itself in 1914 became directly involved in the manufacture of standard, front strike typewriters since it had control of the Woodstock Typewriter Company (a situation that resulted from the default of the old Emerson Typewriter Co. to Sears, Roebuck.)  In that light, it may be that Sears released the Fond du Lac company from any exclusive requirement to itself, if it had one.  


Rex Visible No. 4 as first placed on the market; ad in Will Davis collection
At the beginning of 1915, Rex Typewriter Co. moved its general office from the factory building at Fond du Lac (where it had been since the beginning) to 28 E. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, Illinois - the first of two locations it would have in that city.  The company was selling its Rex Visible No. 4 machine, which was a complete duplicate of the Harris Visible No. 4 with the addition of a ribbon selector.  (In point of fact, the Rex Visible No. 4 is actually the old Harris Visible No.  5; see above for this reference.)  The price at this time had become $57.50 cash, which was a significant increase over the Sears price seen previously -- but was still far below the normal $100 price of any given standard machine of major make on the market (L.C. Smith, Underwood, Monarch, Smith Premier, Victor, and others.)

In May 1915, Frank L. Sholes (of the celebrated typewriter family heritage) came on board Rex Typewriter as Director of Sales; he instituted a radical policy for the new company on its move into sales worldwide under its own name.  The company would not establish the large, and expensive, type of dealership and shop network the major makes had.  Instead, it would be a lean and responsive organization that dealt mostly directly with customers by mail, or sold through established typewriter shops (those which did not have affiliations with a make) acting as agents.  Further bolstering of this policy occurred late that year (November 1915) when H. M. Ballard came to Rex from the Typewriter Distributing Syndicate, Chicago.  This latter company had always dealt direct by mail with buyers, and acted as the only major seller of rebuilt Oliver typewriters.  Ballard had a major reputation in the business, as did Sholes, and the trade papers of the day augured major success for Rex with these two men on board handling sales.

The approach of the company at this time can best be ascertained from this advertisement (below) in my collection, dated October 1916.  As with all photos on this blog, click to enlarge.

October 1916 ad, Will Davis collection.
February 1916 ad (detail) courtesy Jim Dax.  Note new address, Steger Bldg. Chicago by this date.
There are many notable things in the Rex ads, not only concerning marketing but design - and the guarantee.  Harris had offered a lifetime guarantee; Rex initially offered a ten year, later a five year guarantee against defects in parts and workmanship.

REX catalog sales variants

It's clear to us that since Sears, Roebuck continued to sell the Harris Visible off and on through the early 1920's through its catalog and through ads that Rex must have been making machines under the old name exclusively for Sears.  A few have been discovered bearing the name "Harris Visible No. 4," which have no ribbon selectors, but which are labeled as having been manufactured by Rex Typewriter.

Harris Visible No. 4, serial 107931, Will Davis collection.  Labeled as made by Rex; see detail below.

Perhaps more importantly for collectors, we have just discovered a new name variant of the Harris / Rex line, advertised in 1918 by the Simmons Hardware Company it its catalog.  This machine is the Vim Visible (seen at the head of this blog post.)  The advertisement is below.

VIM VISIBLE ad, 1918; Davis Bros. collection
Peter Weil has noted to us that Simmons Hardware, known to many antiques collectors for its "Keen Kutter" brand name, also used many other alliterations in naming its products -- thus, the alliterative "Vim Visible" is right in line with this company's offerings.

A couple of notes are required about this product.  First, the machine is, in complete, the Vim Visible No. 10.  In point of fact this machine is exactly duplicative of the Harris Visible No. 4.  Further, the front frame says "Manufacturers and Distributors" under "Simmons Hardware Company" but this is most assuredly a reference to the fact that the company was indeed both of those in other respects even if it did not make this typewriter.

The origin of this machine (the Vim) is obviously in question; one might wonder if Sears had deferred a wartime order, and if Rex had offered some machines elsewhere.  The machine assuredly is brand new at an $88.00 price.  Further, it should be noted that by this time Rex machines did NOT have the elaborate decor of the early Harris machines, generally but that this one appears to incorporate it.  (Note that none of the Rex model illustrations show the elaborate striping and "up and down arrow" decor seen early on.)  Indeed, some interesting speculation becomes available in consideration of this new discovery.  However, the point here is the presentation of known fact and interpreted relation of history, and we return now to that endeavor.


We've gotten just a bit ahead of our timeline with the mention of the Vim Visible above; backing up a bit to January, 1917 we find the regular Rex Visible No. 4 still in series production at the time that a completely different venture is launched by Rex.

At that time, manufacture of a portable typewriter in the Rex Typewriter Co. factory was announced to the trade, although in point of fact, the portable had been in experimental or "field test" production for as much as two years prior to this point but was not advertised by the company. (Indeed, patents for the machine were first filed in February 1915.)  At the start of 1917 however the portable, labeled the National No. 2, was ready for the broad market.  Its inventor, Hubert K. Henry, was said at the time to be a man with "20 years' experience in the typewriter industry."

National No. 2, serial 1590, Thomas Furtig collection
The National No. 2 portable was a three bank, double shift rigid body (non-folding) portable typewriter weighing 10 pounds, and was competitive with all other machines of this size and weight in production at the time.  This portable typewriter would continue in production, with modifications and improvements, and with succeeding model numbers, until about 1923.  Initially this machine was advertised as being manufactured by the National Typewriter Dept. of Rex Typewriter Company.

EXPRESS, no serial; Thomas Furtig collection.  A variant of the No. 2 National.
At the same time the portables appeared, J. W. H. Higbee became Domestic Sales Manager for Rex Typewriter Company, moving to this position from that same position at Oliver Typewriter Co.

As of February 1, 1917, the price of the Rex Visible No. 4 was increased to $62.50 cash and $69.50 credit, as announced in a letter provided to us by Peter Weil.  At this time, according to the letterhead, capitalization of Rex Typewriter Co. was $800,000; more interesting is the lineup of company officers and directors provided on this letterhead.  President of the company was B. E. Harris; Paul Herbert was Vice President; H. M. Ballard, Secretary and Treasurer.  Directors were listed as follows:  B. E. Harris (General Sales Manager, American Can Co. Adding Machine Division); F. J. Rueping (President Fred Rueping Leather Co.); T. L. Doyle (Attorney; former Mayor of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin): H. M. Ballard (Secretary and Treasurer) and Paul Herbert (Vice President.)  Clearly, the Harris brothers had not walked totally away from the operation as evidenced by the presence of one of the Harris brothers as President of Rex Typewriter Company.

July 1917 saw the introduction of some improvements to the Rex Visible No. 4, with the introduction of a longer carriage as standard equipment and interchangeable long carriages now being available.

During this time period, the company began to place both the standard and portable machines for real sales outside the United States, particularly in Europe, as at the end of the Great War, there would be a renewed and probably large demand for machines.


January 1918 saw the announcement of some major changes for the company.  In that month, it was announced to the trade that American Can Company would take over all domestic marketing and sales of the Rex Visible. It seems no coincidence that Benjamin Harris was already in a high position at American Can, who were selling inexpensively made lever (index) operated adding machines and cash registers on a fairly wide scale.  Thus, American Can had a very early stake in the grounds of selling both adding machines and typewriters.  This arrangement did not last longer than two or three years at the outside, however.

Rex Visible No. 4, serial 48935, Will Davis collection.  Note front frame label "Sold and Guaranteed by American Can Co., Chicago, U.S.A."  Also note the addition of a front mounted ribbon selector with two colors and stencil cutout.
The standard typewriter was altered around this time to include a three position ribbon selector switch (black - stencil - red) for the first time.

Rex Visible instructions, courtesy Peter Weil; note seller in England.

Sales brochure for Rex Visible, 1918; courtesy Peter Weil
Also in January 1918 the National No. 3 portable appeared, with multiple improvements (a significant one being double sets of shift keys) and a reduction in weight of one half pound, down to nine and a half pounds for the typewriter.  The trade press reported that Rex intended to double production of the portables since the demand for them in 1917 could not be met without backorder; in Typewriter Topics, the company stated it expected to increase production 300%.  Whichever is the case, the company clearly expected to grow by a giant leap.

The company had not been idle in revising its standard machine either.  Entry into foreign markets had revealed a weakness - a shortage of keyboard space for special characters required for foreign languages.  To meet this need, the company introduced its Rex Visible No. 10 to the market in March 1918.

Above, Rex Visible No. 10 as depicted in Typewriter Topics, 1918 (copy courtesy Richard Polt.)  This typewriter uses entirely the same design for its key lever and type bar mechanism as employed in all previous standard typewriters from this factory but adds four keys, allowing it to type 96 characters -- a conventional single shift machine would have to have 48 keys to match it.

There are also indications that in this year (1918) De Witt C. Harris began work on a standard typewriter design completely different from that in production; we will read much more about that design later, but the idea that the company was preparing for changes may be instructive when searching for insight on the next series of corporate convulsions it was to endure.


The Annual Report to the Secretary of the State of Virginia from 1918 tells us that in that year an attempt was made to form a new corporation, to be named Rex Typewriter Co., Inc.  This new corporation did not actually form or take over and for the moment Rex Typewriter continued as before.

In March of 1919, Typewriter Topics reported the closure of the vast Chicago offices of Rex Typewriter and the removal of the offices back to the factory in Fond du Lac.  In addition, H. M. Ballard, a driving force in sales and marketing, left the company.  This move was concurrent with the reorganization of the company as Rex Typewriter Corporation with a new total capitalization of $1,050,000 (comprised of $600,000 first preferred stock, $450,000 second preferred stock and also including 20,000 common / no par value shares, according to a stock certificate scan provided us by Peter Weil.)  Iron Age, February 1919 reported the incorporators as F. J. Rueping, T. L. Doyle and W. H. Rueping; in other words, exactly the same three reported incorporators as from the old Harris Typewriter Mfg. Co. of 1913.

Around this time the company also began use of the name "National Typewriter Co." on its portables, and although the trade papers of the day hint at the nature of this name being a 'trade name' or in today's legal language a DBA ("Doing Business As") there was eventually a National Typewriter Co. in France, and both portable and standard machines can be found in Europe carrying the National brand name.

National Typewriter No. 10, serial 52126, Thomas Furtig collection.  Machine nickel plated overall, as was also optional on portables sold under the National name.

News and/or announcements about the company are practically non-existent for the rest of 1919 and 1920, although the company did continue to expand sales opportunities in Europe.


January 1920 marks the date of the introduction of the improved National No. 5 portable.  The machine incorporated a number of improvements but was not a significant departure from previous construction.

May, 1921 National portable ad, Will Davis collection.

The first sign of major changes to the standard machine of Rex Typewriter Corporation came in November 1921 with the introduction of what the company termed the Improved Rex Visible No. 10.  This typewriter bodily comprised the same machine as before, essentially; what differed was wholly "on top."  The complete carriage of this machine was completely redesigned (by D. C. Harris, naturally) and incorporated a wide range of alterations and improvements.  New "caterpillar" bearings were employed that greatly reduced the force needed to throw the carriage; return levers were now present on both sides; sliding tab stops, instead of the old "pop can lid" removable type were incorporated, and the paper table was altered to allow easy view of these and the margin sets from the seated position by flipping the paper table.  The platen remained immediately removable as before, but new feed rollers were incorporated.  None of this Improved model is presently known to me to be in the hands of collectors.

It is significant to note at this point that all of the features mentioned as changes in the Improved Rex Visible No. 10 were carried straight over to the completely redesigned standard typewriter that followed; it may prove out, if any is ever found, that the carriages are identical.  This would be intelligent planning -- spreading out the retooling and modification of production in this manner would be a very smart move for a company that was more or less a small fish in a large sea.

Two months into the new year (February 1922) Rex Typewriter Corporation published a prospectus soliciting new investors in its venture of building what it termed the Rex Demountable Typewriter.

Above - this exceedingly rare (and unfortunately fairly poor) illustration from the February 1922 prospectus depicts the Rex Demountable Typewriter.  While this machine has all the features of the later Demountable No. 1, none carrying this labeling has ever been found.  Courtesy Peter Weil.

It's significant to note that events now were happening more quickly than before.  The company had actually produced a completely new design of standard typewriter and was attempting to obtain further capital with which to build it; the portable was about to change as well.

Just a short time later (May, 1922) the company announced further improvements to its portable typewriter, now to be known as the Portex No. 5 (also still sold as the National, as the No. 5 model) and also announced that it had absorbed the National Typewriter Co.  The company reported it had invested $50,000 in order to alter tooling and to change material specifications so that the machine's weight was further reduced to nine pounds from the nine-and-a-half of the No. 3. 

National No. 5, serial 16169, Will Davis collection

Portex No. 5, serial 19882, Davis Bros. collection
National No. 5, serial 22036, Will Davis collection.
Above - three different machines in the National / Portex No. 5 model range.  The first machine carries the "National Combination Typewriter" marketing labeling; the last named carries the National eagle emblem used after the "combination typewriter" marketing was dropped.


The two month period of September-October 1922 was one of enormous change for the company.   It was announced in the September 28 issue of Iron Age Review that Rex Typewriter Corporation had undertaken full production of a new Demountable typewriter, and that it intended to manufacture 150 machines in September, 250 each month in October, November and December and would reach 400 to 500 per month beginning January 1, 1923.  (The last figure seems quite high to this author; the total figures may in fact include portables as well as the new Demountable.)  The magazine also named G. B. Sherman as General Manager of the company.

The company had actually (according to Typewriter Topics) stopped production briefly to retool, and in fact did not resume production until 1 October.  The magazine did note at the same time that foreign orders continued to increase (the Rex and the portables had always done decently in Europe once introduced.)

The company reorganized at the same time as production of the new Demountable typewriter began; the company was now Demountable Typewriter Company, and announced itself as such before the end of 1922 (although the Typewriter Topics 1923 compendium states that the reorganization did not take place until March, 1923.)

Above, the introductory model of the Demountable standard typewriter as shown in Typewriter Topics (issue courtesy Richard Polt.)  The machine is a four bank, segment shift standard machine with tabulator as standard equipment.  The machine is instantly "demountable" into four major parts with no tools -- namely, the action unit (key levers through type bars), the body unit (the whole exterior of the machine including ribbon spools), the carriage, and the platen.  The body is removed by simply pulling out a latch at the rear of the machine; the carriage is removed by depressing the margin release key and moving the carriage all the way left off of the machine.  In an ingenious design, the drawband is caught by a special hook as the carriage is removed, so that the typist never needs to attach or remove it.  The platen lifts out using catches and hold down levers identical with those used on the Harris Visible and Rex Visible machines for years.  The only inconvenience of the disassembly of this machine is that the typist needs to remove the ribbon from the ribbon vibrator prior to removing the carriage from the body.  The machine was offered with optional 14 and 18 inch carriages.

Above, Demountable No. 1 serial 126223, Will Davis collection.  This machine is missing its paper table, and does not have its original keytops - but it's important to note that it's completely operable.  Many pre-war machines from Europe (where this was sold -  see the sticker on the front) have been rebuilt or modified heavily due to the occasional extreme shortages of typewriters historically occurring in that war-torn part of the world.

Above, Demountable No. 1 with the body removed from the action unit.

The new Demountable Typewriter Company was headed by William Mauthe as its President.  Some familiar names populated other offices; F. J. Rueping was Vice President; T. L. Doyle, Secretary; H. R. Potter, Treasurer; G. B. Sherman and T. J. O'Brien, Directors.

At this time, the portables remained on the market.  The date of the cessation of their manufacture is not known with certainty, but it is not considerably longer than 1923 or 1924.


By October 1924, the company -- itself a renaming of the old Rex Typewriter Corporation -- had begun to run out of cash again.  A letter provided us by Peter Weil from that month and year shows that the company had a large amount outstanding in the way of bonds, and that there was serious question of the company's success.

The first model Demountable had been in production at that time for exactly two years.

The result of this situation was another bankruptcy and Sheriff's sale, sometime late in 1925 or in 1926 as near as can be figured.  A new corporation, named Demountable Typewriter Company, Inc. was formed by generally the same persons already involved in the company (William Mauthe was its President) and bought the business.

In the middle of January 1925, just prior to the formation of the new Demountable Typewriter Company, Inc. a new model standard machine -- the Demountable No. 2 -- was introduced.  Interestingly, an ad for the "New Demountable" sent to us by Peter Weil, which has no date, shows the No. 2 machine alongside two other No. 1 style machines; the old open side and rear No. 1 machines are the wide carriage models, while the conventional model is the No. 2 style.  This hints at overlap in production. This chain of events also hints at a requirement for new capital to place the improved model in wide production.

The machine you see below is about 9000 units into the known serial numbers for the No. 2 model, and carries the old (Demountable Typewriter Company) name on the rear of its paper table.

Demountable No. 2, serial 139738, Davis Bros. collection
The most obvious change on the No. 2 model is the movement of the ribbon spools inside the machine.  In fact, the changes are more significant than this; the ribbon spools now remain with the action unit at all times, simplifying the separation of the machine into units.

Demountable No. 2 instructions, Will Davis collection
Demountable No. 2 instructions, back page, Will Davis collection
Penciled in on the advertisement announcing the Demountable No. 2 (courtesy Peter Weil) are some notes telling us that the price of the regular length carriage No. 2 was $105; the 14 inch carriage machine was $115 and the 18 inch carriage $130.

Available information from collectors tells us that following the No. 2 model, a No. 5 model was introduced - and very few of these have survived.

The end days of the company are still shrouded in mystery; certainly, it was not a major player in the field of typewriters worldwide and historically for us becomes obscure for the rest of its days.  The preponderance of evidence tells us that production of the Demountable ended in 1936, with the company finally being liquidated permanently in 1939.  None of the designs previously manufactured was picked up by any other company and restarted, so that these dates mark the end points of the entire typewriter enterprise originally started by De Witt C. Harris.


De Witt C. Harris himself, married to the former Jennie Wharton, passed away in Tampa, Florida in June 1941 (his residence had been at Pineland, Florida for some years) according to information provided us by Mrs. Charles Wharton several years back.  Harris himself is buried at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park, Tampa, Florida. 

The Harris and Rex machines are found often enough today by collectors to make the act of putting one on a "must have list" a real chance of success.  The portables are more expensive for collectors today; the Demountables are the hardest to find, with the No. 2 being most common.

The serial numbers of the machines are constantly recorded by collectors for the purpose of research; no corporate records have been found and none was printed, for example, by NOMDA or OMEF typewriter age guides.  Our estimate is that the Harris and Rex machines of all standard models were produced to an aggregate total of perhaps something over 75,000 machines; for the portables, the aggregate total was something over 22,000 machines.  By the serials, no more than 25,000 Demountables were made, running in serial numbers starting at about 125,000 and running through three models to just over 150,000.

Below are our previously published serial number breakdowns on Harris / Rex standards and on the various portables.  It is important to note that the serials for Harris / Rex jump around - for example, Rex appears to have retroactively populated the 0 to 10,000 range, never used previously by Harris.  It remains our belief that Harris Visible machines in the 100,000 range were for sale by Sears, Roebuck through its catalog; the other Harris range is unclear.


up to about 10000:   Rex Visible machines, made roughly 1915-1916

11,000 to about 25,000:  Harris Visible machines, made 1912-1915. 

SPECIAL BLOCK:  19,965 through 20,509 contains all four known AUTOCRAT, REPORTER'S SPECIAL (2) and BETZ VISIBLE, and no others.

25,000 to about 62,000
:  Rex Visible machines, 1916 and later (33,000 through 50,000 American Can; all others Rex Typewriter)**

100,000 to about 112,000
:  Harris Visible No. 4 machines, built either by Harris 1912-1915 or Rex 1915 and later, for SEARS ROEBUCK***

125,000 to about 151,000
:  Demountable No. 1, 2 and 5 machines (Demountable Typewriter Co.) No. 1 appears October 1922, and No. 2 appears January 1925.

** :  One machine labeled as Rex Visible No. 4 reported to have serial number in 81,000+ range but there are none others at all known between the given ranges in the listing above, ie none near this number so it seems suspect.  It may be misread or struck incorrectly.

***:  None in this group has a ribbon selector.  Made either by Harris or by Rex for Sears.  Last guaranteed date in a Sears-related publication is a date of 1920 (printing code) in the Office Machine Americana reprint of a Sears-labeled Harris Visible No. 4 manual.  One machine in this block discovered actually with its original Sears manual.  Two known machines in this block labeled as made by Rex, mixed serials randomly..  Frames / decks were probably stockpiled; this was well before "on time delivery" of parts in modern manufacturing, so they were used (painted and assembled) somewhat out of serial number order. All machines in this block have interior sound deadening material except for the earliest known example, serial 100,794 (owned by Craig Burnham.)


National No. 2; introduced 1916, product of National Typewriter Dept. of Rex Typewriter Co. serial numbers through about 2500

National No. 3; introduced January 1918; National Typewriter Dept. of Rex Typewriter Co. serial numbers roughly 3000 to 14000

National No. 5; introduced January 1920; National Typewriter Co. serial numbers roughly 15000 and up, but see next entry.

Portex No. 5; introduced May, 1922; Rex Typewriter Co. serial numbers roughly 16390 and up, but see next entry.

Rex Typewriter re-merged the National Typewriter Co. early in 1922 but for some reason National No. 5 and Portex No. 5 machines continued to be produced about evenly in serial number blocks until the end of production; highest serial known is 22540.

Printed reference exists to the sale of the EXPRESS in 1919, which may indicate assembly of earlier spare parts for this purpose.

Machines in our collections:

Betz Visible   serial 20509  (Davis Bros.)

Harris Visible No. 4 serial 22925 (Davis Bros.)
Harris Visible No. 4 serial 24568 (David A. Davis)
Harris Visible No. 4 serial 106723 (Will Davis)
Harris Visible No. 4 serial 107931 (Will Davis)

Rex Visible No. 4 serial 42980 (Davis Bros.)
Rex Visible No. 4 serial 48935 (Will Davis)

Demountable No. 1 serial 126223 (Will Davis)
Demountable No. 2 serial 139738 (Davis Bros.)

National portable No. 5 serial 16169 (Will Davis)
Portex No. 5                 serial 19882 (Davis Bros.)
National portable No. 5 serial 22036 (Will Davis

We hope you have enjoyed this look into the line of machines made in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin for about a quarter century. We will be adding descriptive videos to this page as time permits.  Please feel free to comment below.

12:00 1/19/2015



•REV 1:  Added seller of Reporter's Special after examination of high res photo from Milwaukee Public Museum; revised estimates of production after receipt of new serial list information from Thomas Furtig  1/20/2015