Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Royal Ultronic typewriter

You guys are good! Nick B. nailed the identification of the "mystery machine" in my previous post 21 minutes after it was posted. Yes, it's a Royal Ultronic. (Nick, let me know what sort of ribbon you'd like to have as your prize.)




The serial numbers for Ultronics may not fit the sequence for standard manual and electric Royals. In that sequence, according to the available information, 7541666 would date to 1963, but as we'll see below, the Ultronic was introduced in 1966.





A close-up showing the unusual tab rack (upper left):



Let's take a quick look at the history of the Ultronic. (Please add more facts if you know them.)

"The Ultronic, a fully-electric portable typewriter designed to bridge the gap between full-scale office electrics and partially electric portable models, has been launched in the U. S. by Royal. Market tests indicate that about six in every 10 Ultronics will be bought for the home." —Office Equipment and Methods vol. 12, 1966


LIFE, Dec. 9, 1966: The Ultronic is released in time for Christmas as an "office electric for personal use," advertised flanked between Royal's midsized portable and ultraportable manuals. Clearly the company's response to those "market tests" was to sell the machine as a non-business typewriter, specifically for students.


LIFE, May 12, 1967: The Ultronic is promoted as a graduation gift for "college-bound" high school seniors. This ad calls the machine "personal" yet "husky." It emphasizes the electric carriage return as a unique feature. Does anyone know when Smith-Corona introduced portable electrics with the same feature? It couldn't have been much later, and the Smith-Corona really is portable (though heavy).

LIFE, May 26, 1967: The idea of the Ultronic as a graduation gift is pushed even harder. Both of these May 1967 ads list the suggested retail price as $199.50. It was important for Royal to stay below the $200 line.



LIFE, Dec. 8, 1967: Now the machine is promoted as a Christmas gift for the kid who went off to college—"the one you haven't heard from in a while."




LIFE, May 31, 1968: "1. The Ultronic is big. 2. Heavy. 3. Husky. ... Carrying case optional." Obviously all pretense of portability was thrown out the window.

Despite the ad copy, here's a photo I've found of an Ultronic in a third color: green.


This one is labeled "Custom Ultronic," and has a faux-bois panel, much like this white Custom Ultronic that sold on Etsy. What did "Custom" mean? Was it just a matter of appearance?



I haven't found any ad later than May 1968 for the Ultronic, other than ads listing it among "discontinued" models. It seems that production may have lasted little more than a year and half, a disappointing performance for a typewriter that tried to fill a market niche that didn't need filling.

You can download the user's manual here.

24 comments:

  1. It's funny how almost every feature introduced to make typing easier take an according amount of fun out of the experience for us today.

    …and that cardboard box is pretty funny. Just enough to carry it back from the store, I guess!

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    Replies
    1. I know what you mean. I enjoy playing with electrics, but eventually I always go back to the manuals, which wait patiently to be activated by my own body.

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    2. Sorry to comment late to the party, but...

      I definitely know what you mean, and feel both tugs. There is a feeling of relief moving to a machine that is not finicky about your pinkies exerting exactly the same stroke as your index fingers to produce even results - but there is exactly the same challenge on pianos. You want the visceral satisfaction, you have to accept the entire discipline of the thing.

      I also feel I am heading down the slippery slope to computers - the ultimate labor saving typewriter!

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    3. Of course, everyone writing and reading on a blog is already a computer user. I couldn't do my job or enjoy many aspects of life without a computer. But I would be very sad if I didn't get the opportunity to return to a typewriter every so often. They are good for my mental and physical health.

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  2. Looks cool! I learned about it while looking up the Royal Electress. I wonder if there's any major difference between them. I haven't typed on either.

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    Replies
    1. I believe the Electress is a behemoth, the electric version of the Empress. There's similar styling but the Ultronic is considerably smaller and mechanically different -- I think!

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    2. The Royal Ultronic and the Royal Electress are two very different machines. First thing different is size--the Electress is an upright (desktop) machine, whereas the Ultronic is mid-sized (between desktop and laptop). Also, the Ultronic shift is carriage-style (unseen on Royal since 1933), and the Electress is basket-shift. The tabulator on the Ultronic has to be held down until the carriage completes its "jump," to where a tab stop is set. The Electress's tabulator requires a single press, and the tab is locked down until the "jump" is complete. Another interesting factoid: The Electress was the first typeweriter to have been completely designed by a computer.

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  3. Slick! It would have been right at home on the set of A Clockwork Orange.

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    1. thats my favorite movie of all time and that's exactly what i was thinking! ...if alex used an ultronic to kill that cat lady....

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  4. Not to demean that lovely Ultronic, but a glance at it immediately brought to mind the AMC Pacer, which came out during the following decade - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AMC_Pacer

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  5. took a look at ebay sold history and recently one sold for $29.99 and another for that same amount or less. i guess nowadays, royal can stay under $30 rather than $200.
    also, studying yours and the ebay pics:
    1) there is a pic of a plastic case that supposedly came with the Ultronic. Yours was the more environmentally friendly packaging.
    2) i really think that vertical RETURN key is actually quite cool. It's massive and would beat up the Selectric's return key.
    oh and i like that powder blue rather than the white color. the color helps keep that typewriter trapped in that period.

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    Replies
    1. Mine is the one that sold for $29.99. I couldn't find the pic of a plastic case.

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    2. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-ROYAL-ULTRONIC-Electric-Typewriter-Baby-Blue-Retro-STYLE-Nice-LINES-/181460849413?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2a3fe8d305&nma=true&si=XuHWdEKhq71rGlts0Q5HqHEg0UU%253D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

      last photo

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  6. Gosh, I would like to get my hands on one of those babies, just to sit along side my Royal Electress. And you are right, those standard office electrics are really heavy, I don't how I carried the mongrels when I was working. Younger, I guess, heh heh.

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  7. It does look like a Pacer. Personally, I think the Custom Ultronic looks like a Pinto Squire (my favorite car, apart from the gas tank)

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  8. Really cool! I imagine that there were a lot of people who wanted them, but could afford the $200 sticker price (a lot like those of us in the early 90s who wanted computers or flat screen TVs).

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  9. That is one seriously sexxy looking machine :D

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  10. What fun! I've never had the pleasure of seeing one of these machines. Looks like a fun typer!

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  11. But what a box!

    You know... every time I see one of these somewhere (and that isn't very often) I am reminded of two things:

    1: I need to go on a diet before I look like everything spills out the side - like this machine. Just a blob laying on a desk.
    2: People who wore just as silly helmets were in control of the Imperial Star Destroyer in Star Wars. http://s926.photobucket.com/user/Dr_Dengar/media/Star%20Wars/StarDestroyerCommander.png.html

    Other than that, this is a pretty awesome find!

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  12. I have to correct myself on something: Carriage shifting was used on many Royal portables for quite sometime, including and especially some of the Royal portables made in the Netherlands. I have a very nice Royal Eldorado (I forget where it was made. I'll have to look). Pardon my error, folks.

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