Friday, May 14, 2021

Typewriters at the Wende Museum

Yesterday my family and I visited the Wende Museum of the Cold War in Culver City, California. My son, who's about to graduate from college, had an internship here—virtually. He worked cataloguing items online, but this was his first chance to visit the place in person.

The museum focuses on artifacts of daily life and propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain, especially East Germany. As we know, that state produced an abundance of typewriters—the best in the Communist bloc.

The museum includes a large collection of Soviet books ...

... and eye-catching Communist technology.

The current exhibit shows a Mercedes typewriter as it supposedly would have been used from day to day (although I doubt that these expensive items were actually used in family homes).

Another section of the exhibit shows a 1950s Optima Super and a 1970s Robotron Cella as they might have appeared at a flea market after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Robotron was the name for a socialist conglomerate that eventually absorbed the traditional East German typewriter factories. It made computers, electronics, and business machines.

Typewriters in the Communist bloc were not just expressions of the power of socialized production; they were also threats to state power, because they could be used to produce samizdat, unauthorized publications. (See the film "The Lives of Others" for a dramatization of this situation.) Despite Communist states' efforts to document and supervise every typewriter within their borders, some machines were mobilized by dissidents. The museum includes these examples of Polish samizdat from the period of the Solidarity movement.

This unusual museum is well worth a visit if you're in the LA area.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Women & typewriters will rule in 1998

As I wandered through Half Price Books today, I ran across a typewriter reference in an unexpected context.

In the year 1998, women will rule the world, according to The Girls from Planet 5 by Richard Wilson (1955). But typewriters will still rule the newsroom! 

Here's an older cover for this book, which seems to be a silly, possibly misogynistic take on the "battle of the sexes." In 1998, the State of Texas is the lone holdout against the new gynarchy.

PS: Thanks to Robert Messenger for uncovering this 1987 obit that tells us a little more about the author (including his mother's remarkable name):

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Typewriters of the Times: Ozick, Abernethy, hacking

As usual, this Sunday's New York Times is sprinkled with typewriters. 

An obituary for NBC and PBS journalist Bob Abernethy shows him with his Underwood.

A review of 93-year-old writer Cynthia Ozick's latest novel includes this bit:

But the main thing that made me think of typewriters—not as tools of old and bygone writers, but as necessary equipment for the 21st century—was this front-page story.

It's just the latest reminder of how digital equipment is vulnerable to prying, hostile incursions—in a way that typewriters are not.