Miss Success = Underwood 5

The 'all-time' best selling typewriter, the Underwood 5,
owes its success to its magic formula.
It was made by Franz X. Wagner, a German
immigrant in America - and a brilliant engineer.

Higher gear

Wagner stands at the beginning of no less than three typewriters: the Caligraph, the Yost and the Densmore. The latter's idea for an extra connecting-piece in the transference from key to hammer matures: the 'accelerating sublever'. This transforms energy into speed just like the gearbox of a car. The result: a typewriter with a wonderfully light touch and whizzing hammers.

You can see what you are typing

He at last breaks through the rusty ideas of the major brands, which all strike the platen at the bottom (understrike). The typist cannot see what she is typing and only discovers her mistakes, many lines further on.

There are a few compromises with 'topstrikers' such as the Franklin, Bar-Lock, Williams and Oliver - but a very pliable neck is needed to look over the keys.

Wagner chooses the most logical solution:
a 'frontstrike' that strikes the front of the platen.

He lays the type basket flat in front of the platen. This is not his idea, but comes from Daugherty two years earlier. However, the wobbling type bars are too long to guarantee an aligned result. 

Brilliant compromise

This is Wagner's shopping list for the best typewriter compromise ever:

  • type bars
    because single type elements, such as on the Blick or Hammond, are slower;
  • front strike
    because you can see what has just been typed, this in contrast to an upstrike;
  • qwerty keyboard
    because most typists are already good at this
    in contrast to the 'scientific' Blick or the 'ideal' Hammond;
  • four rows with keys and a single shift
    because this is ideal for blind typing (touch typing)
    in contrast to the double keyboard (e.g. Smith Premier or Caligraph)
    or three rows with double shift (e.g. Hammond Universal);
  • ribbon
    because this is far more practical than ink cushions that have to be inked
    (although they do print a sharper letter).

Shining example

With the 5, Underwood conquers half the market very quickly. The only thing the competitors can now do, is copy the formula for success. Just ten years later, Underwood is the new standard. More about Underwood's success>


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