Sunday, February 12, 2012
The Memowriter is a calculator combined with a 3-row "regulation" QWERTY keyboard and a tiny dot-matrix printer. I was amazed to find that the little ribbons for the printer (Epson ERC-05B ribbons) are still readily available. The one-pound device runs on an adaptor and also has an internal rechargeable battery pack, allowing it to store 40 "word memories" -- 17-character files that can be consulted as digital reminders.
In essence, the Memowriter is a rudimentary personal computer. It has two built-in apps: the calculator and the word processor. You can create files, modify them, and print them.
Here's a short video of the Memowriter writing "TYPOSPHERE 2012" (filmed and uploaded to YouTube with my iPad).
Here are two 1981 ads for the Memowriter. The first one refers to only 8 "memory registers, with an input total of 120 characters" (i.e. 15 characters per file). The second ad (Popular Science, October 1981) refers to 40 files with 17 characters each, which is the arrangement on my Memowriter. The gadget was not cheap: its price in the ad is $129.95 (over $300 in today's money).
Notice the claim in the second ad that the gadget is "a lot of fun." That's essential. Is it actually more practical to use the Memowriter than to handwrite some notes on a conventional calculator printout? No. But is it more fun? Sure! Especially if you're a nerd... This machine brings back some of the feelings I had when I got my first digital device: in the late '70s my grandmother gave me a Casio watch with LCD screen, alarm, and stopwatch. It was pure magic!
I found these very schematic instructions online, but a full instruction manual would be nice to have. Notice that they are for the EL-7000; mine is the EL-7001. I don't know how they differ.
Isn't this "mobile device" cooler than a smartphone? Hey, you could even tweet with it. Print a 48-character tweet and mail it to your "follower." Nifty! (A computer scientist at my university speculates that some hacker could rig this device up to connect to Twitter.)
Sharp, by the way, also made (and still makes) many conventional calculators. For years they also manufactured full-sized electronic typewriters, but no more.
So why do I say that the Memowriter wasn't really the world's first pocket typewriter? Well, as collectors know, in 1907 the Junior came on the scene, a little mechanical typewheel typewriter that was only a little bigger than the Sharp Memowriter, and a lot better: it was faster, it wrote on full-sized paper, and it could type lowercase, uppercase, and figures. The Junior used an ink roller; its more popular successor, the Bennett, used a ribbon. (Photo: Wim Van Rompuy collection.)
So were these the world's first pocket typewriters? Not at all! Just ask Benjamin Livermore...he invented a pocket typewriter before the US Civil War!
Click on Mr. Livermore to read an article (PDF, 3MB) about his invention by Jos Legrand (first published in ETCetera no. 81). I wish I could have known Livermore; he and his relatives look like the happiest folks you are likely to find in any 19th-century photographs.
Typed by Richard P at 9:27 AM