Monday, October 6, 2014

Underwood Electric: disassembly

After bringing home the massive stinker described in yesterday's post, I couldn't resist cracking it open.

I soon discovered that the back panel lifts right off, revealing a brawny GE motor (right) and a unit on the left that translates the rotation of the motor into the faster rotation of a belt. This unit also winds up the strap that pulls the carriage back when you hit the left or right return key. When I got the typewriter, the motion of this strap was very sluggish. After removing a panel I was able to clean the unit with good ol' Lectra-Motive Electric Parts Cleaner, which freed up this essential function.

The big black base / front frame came off pretty easily once I removed 8 bolts. 
By the way, below you can see the distinctive Underwood Electric ribbon spools. Essentially, the machine uses the system invented by the Noiseless Typewriter Company back in the teens, which was adopted by Remington on their noiseless machines and (postwar) on all their machines. This mechanism was shared with Underwood when the two companies made a deal on the manufacture of nearly-identical noiseless typewriters in the 1930s.

Just look at this gorgeous mechanical complexity. Much of the mechanism on the left of the typewriter is devoted to the shift.

Let's watch it in action.

Here's the mechanism on the right side. The thing looks like a miniature tank!

The belt drives a spinning shaft that provides power to nearly all the typewriter's functions. This is a fluted metal shaft, not a rubber-covered roller as on the IBM and many other electric typewriters. The Woodstock Electrite also uses a fluted shaft, but mine is much noisier than this Underwood, which is remarkably quiet.

This machine is fast and has a power spacing function that you can see in this video. Currently the tabulator and backspace aren't working.

There's impressive complexity and robustness at every turn, such as at the right end of the carriage:

This machine follows in the footsteps of the IBM Electromatic: 
built to military-grade toughness with no regard for portability.

Behold the beauty of 1940s engineering:

And here's the shell:

In our next installment:
blasting away!


  1. It is such a militaristic design it needs to be painted Battleship Grey or Olive Drab.

    Very hefty design. Too bad those design standards were never carried through to the rest of the electrics of later years. Or maybe they were for office machines.

    Thanks for the informative videos.

  2. The first time I saw an Underwood electric's insides, I was surprised to find the fluted power shaft that is unlike many other machines with a rubber power roll (IBM, Royal, etc). The rubber power roller has shown to be a weakness as machines age and replacements are not plentiful. The Underwood design has proved to be more robust and reliable over time.

    They don't make 'em like that anymore.


  3. That is a fantastic piece of engineering, indeed! I really hope you manage to make it fully-functional again.

    As for the painting, how about going a bit too far in the military department and give it camo painting?

  4. What a monster! I think you should call it R2DP, after the stamp on the rubber buffer ring on the motor mount. :D

    1. Haha, that is spot-on Ted.

      The innards look like an alien steampunk spacecraft to me. Intimidating!

  5. wonderful installment, thank you! i tried speedtyping on mine, not that easy! it feels like driving a lotus with 250 horsepowers for the first time. quality tank engineering, and certainly rare to find in collections nowadays.

  6. Brilliant, Richard. That is a serious machine. And it sure purrs contentedly.

    I've lusted after a few of these when they've come up on eBay. Good prices, but the shipping has put them way out of my range. How great that you found one close to home.

  7. A very apposite blog for me as I had acquired the exact same model a few months ago only to find went I got home
    that the machine had been dropped and that both carriage end frames had been broken. Plus the driving gear inside the motor seems to have been stripped as it will only turn so far then it meets the broken tooth and stops.
    That is the down side, up side. I have plenty of spare parts.