.Davis Typewriter Works

.Davis Typewriter Works

Sunday, July 7, 2024

George Baker and the Typewriter Business

George Baker started out in typewriters in 1932 and stuck with the business - his war service aside - until retirement in 2006.  My father and I were lucky to interview Mr. Baker on the final day his business was open, as he was having a total clearance sale.  We ended up with a few items that he knew we'd appreciate - one being his treasured Royal Line Book.  But the stories and memories were the important part of the day.

The story really begins with George Baker's father, who had already taken one run at typewriters years before, servicing local machines as an independent mechanic.  That adventure had ended badly when the elder Baker's partner suddenly absconded to Canada with all of the machines; Baker started over by doing something else.

After a series of factory and foundry jobs, the elder Baker decided to have another run at typewriters because he knew he could do it; asking his son, George, to come along in the venture gave him both an extra pair of hands and an apprentice.  George was right out of high school and given the job market at the peak of the Great Depression, agreed to join with his father.  

The Bakers began by approaching businesses in town and asking if they had maintenance or repair contracts for their typewriters; they also offered to refurbish machines that were overly worn out.  The Bakers soon had customers and decided to rent part of a home in Elyria for $15 a month in order to operate their business out of it. The Bakers carried typewriters by hand in those early days from businesses to their rented space for work. "I remember sitting on the porch of that house many days and nights," George Baker told us, "scrubbing many small parts with a brush, some gasoline, and my bare hands."  

Baker explained to us how meticulously his father taught him all aspects of the business, which of course turned out to be as much about people as it did machines.  Paramount was selling the customers on the service they would receive, and then building relationships that would last.  "He taught me how to deal with customers as people, and people as customers" Baker quipped.  

The father and son duo did well - perhaps, better than even they had suspected.  They decided to take the next step, and looked for a typewriter manufacturer who would allow them to obtain a dealer license in Elyria.  There was a bit of fear that the Cleveland dealers might object, but they did not; the result finally in 1934 was that the Bakers launched a dealership with Royal Typewriter Company. 

The timing could not have been better.   Royal, according to Baker's own words, "had just changed their number 10 machine to the segment shift which was much lighter and easier than before."  Although they didn't know it at the time, this was the final puzzle piece that would allow Royal to overtake Underwood as the #1 selling standard typewriter in the United States. 

According to Baker, the segment shift 10 did a lot to sell itself, although you had to bring one along with you on sales calls.  "You could sell the Royal as opposed to an Underwood with the heavier carriage shift if you just let the secretary or typist try it out and you would say 'see how easy that is' and that look on her face with the boss watching would usually do the trick," he told us - somewhat proudly.

(Aside:  Baker is one of two long time Ohio dealers who have told us separately that in their experience the Royal No. 10 is the finest standard typewriter ever made anywhere and was unbeatable in office durability as well as ease of adjustment and repair.)

Baker continued on comparison sales.  "Now, the L. C. Smith already had the basket shift from way back, but at that time they still hadn't started using the segment yet - still had separate type bar bearings.  So, you could take a Smith that was kind of worn out and type on it erratically and if you knew how to do it, you could get it to print all over the place ... and then you type off a page on the Royal you're demonstrating, and everything's in line and of course the boss just goes right for that."  With this, Baker did slyly remark to us as I recall that it was important to figure out who in the office actually had the most influence on what typewriters to buy - it could be a senior secretary and not the office manager, for example.  However they did it, using their acumen or whether it was just the attributes of the new Royal, the Baker Typewriter Company began to take off.

Baker at one point paused and thoughtfully said to us "then there was Woodstock.  They were always around, somehow, but they never seemed to be a factor in anything."  He then went right on talking about sales.    

Baker Typewriter moved several times after than until obtaining a proper storefront in 1940.  When war broke out, the younger Baker didn't get drafted and initially didn't enlist, he told us.  Offhand remarks and looks began among the townspeople and Baker's father told him that he'd better enlist right away if he wanted to really make it in the business coming home after the war.  That's just what George did; originally he was billeted to an office machine job (he'd let them know what he could do with typewriters) but Baker changed over completely to armor.  That's right- tanks.  In fact, George Baker the typewriter man became a decorated veteran serving in the famous 749th Tank Battalion, serving everywhere in Europe from Normandy to the Ardennes Forest and the Battle of the Bulge.  The 749th also drove in on the very final assault into Nazi Germany, right to the end.  Baker did in fact return home a hero.

Rapid changes happened again for George, as he took over the typewriter business from his father upon returning - and then, his father passed away soon after.  The business was doing so well that George began to become somewhat of a local business magnate; he invested in the Baker Building in 1955 and moved his business into it in 1966; the building is seen in the photo opening this article.  

Another change occurred for Baker in 1966.  Baker told us that he had become increasingly displeased not with Royal's standard machines, but with the portables both domestic and imported which seemed to be continuously dropping in quality and which he felt just weren't competitive.  Baker made the decision to change affiliations to Olympia; he's seen above with an Olympia keyboard chart from that time period.  Change or no, Baker Typewriter had become the biggest dealer in Lorain County, and also held a number of large school contracts for office and typing education machines.  

Baker continued on through the years of electric and then electronic machines, of course having to branch out into other kinds of office equipment to keep going.  Business steadily declined however, and in 2006 Baker finally decided to retire.

George Baker preferred to recall the good old days instead of the decline.  "I remember carrying two typewriters in each hand, with my hands and fingers just so (he showed us) and I could get them from offices to the shop and back that way.  Later of course I could only carry one on each arm, and later of course less!" he joked.  He also recalled how his father had taught him the true art of sales.  "My father taught me never to oversell the machine, or services, but to deal with the customer honestly and squarely.  When the customer asked a question like 'how much is it then for the one with the wide carriage' or some other such thing you had just described, you just stopped talking right there because the sale was already made."  

For many years, George Baker's life was simply full of typewriters and the office business.  While we've found many men who worked in the trade and treated it as just another job, it was clear to us as we finally shook hands and said goodbye (late enough in the evening that Baker's wife was almost late for an appointment) that Baker really loved the business - every minute of it, and every aspect of it - and indeed liked remembering the good times as the best of goodbyes.

Another classic article from willdavis dot org.  Originally published 2006; full rewrite 2024.


  1. Great piece of typewriter history. Check out Ben Greenberger's Where Typewriters Took Me if you haven't yet. Lots of similar stories about the biz and the people.