Remington Rand’s Streamliner Typewriter (1941-42)
By the time the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, E. Remington & Sons was one of the largest manufacturers of firearms in the world, and a company eager to diversify its business. Initially the company began producing agricultural equipment, and eventually they also started making manual sewing machines. In 1872, company chairman Philo Remington received an unusual letter; it was not written by hand with a quill and ink. Rather, this letter appeared to be set in type and printed just for him, an incredibly expensive way to produce personal correspondence in the 1870’s. The letter was from a man named James Densmore, a partner in a small machine shop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Densmore’s letter further claimed that it was produced on a revolutionary invention called the ‘type-writer‘ – a printing press that sat on a desk.
Philo Remington was not particularly impressed, but a company executive named Henry Benedict thought the sale-pitch was bold. Benedict knew that their wildly popular desk-sized manual sewing machines were intricate devices, for the era, and perhaps that expertise could produce a commercially successfully typewriter. Considering Remington & Sons contracts, and contacts, with the U.S. Government, there might be a massive market for such a device. Philo Remington, an iron-monger by trade, unenthusiastically agreed to a demonstration of Densmore’s contraption.
James Densmore was intimately familiar with the ‘typewritten letter’ sales-pitch. The exact same tactic worked on him in 1868, when he purchased 25% of the rights to the patent for the “Type-writer” for $600. All without even seeing the machine. The letter Densmore received was written by Christopher Latham Sholes and his partners, who had received the Type-writer patent in that same year but were having problems financing their efforts. After Densmore joined, the partnership faced several years of unsuccessful demonstrations. Over the those years most of the other partners were slowly bought-out by Densmore, who remained steadfast in his vision. But, by 1872, with 9/10th’s ownership, the failure of a market for the “Type-writer” to develop was bankrupting him. Densmore was desperate when he received an invitation to demonstrate the machine for Remington. The old pitch had worked again.
On March 1st, 1873, E. Remington & Sons entered the typewriter business, and, after their own retooling and refinements, the Remington 1 Typewriter soon was for sale. It was not successful. However the Remington 2, introduced in 1878, was a sensation and the company enjoyed a monopoly on the business until competitors reached market in 1881. Philo Remington was 65 years old, quite elderly for the late 1800’s, and wanted to retire. By 1886 Philo agreed to sell the typewriter business to three colleagues; William Wyckoff, Clarence Seamans, and typewriter’s original champion at Remington – Henry Benedict. The deal allowed the new company to use the Remington name, but chose “Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company” instead. Standard rebranded in 1902 and the Remington Typewriter Company was born. The company merged with Rand Kardex Corporation, inventor of the visible file system, in 1927 and Remington Rand was established.
Remington Rand was one of the biggest products of typewriters when they introduced their Model 5 Typewriter in the mid 1930’s. The Model 5 was a portable typewriter with a beautiful art deco inspired design, and was reasonably inexpensive for the time – retailing for $54.95. In spite of the raging Great Depression, the Model 5 was a success, selling especially well through partnerships with various department stores. the company’s network of dealers were not particularly happy about that last part.
Remington Rand released the Streamliner Typewriter in February of 1941 for a price of just $49.50, and it was only available through their dealers. At first, production of the Streamliner was modest, running about 1,500 units manufactured per month1. Early models featured the Streamliner logo with stylized ‘gust of wind’ lines. By summer of that year, the logo design was cleaned up to just feature the Streamliner name. Sales began to increase, so production increased as well, averaging 2,300-2,500 per month2.
By December of 1941 the U.S. had entered World War II. Remington Rand, like so many other U.S. companies, began to shift their production to support the war effort. Famously, the company produced more M1911 pistols than any manufacturer during the war. The company shut down most typewriter manufacturing for civilian use, except for a limited run of old Model 5’s and some of their desktop typewriter models. The Streamliner was shelved, with the last units coming out of the factory in the middle of April, 1942. In the 1950’s Remington Rand brought the Streamliner name back, attached to a lightweight, plastic, typewriter, but the era of their art deco designed typewriters ended with the original Streamliner.
Remington Rand saw where the future was headed and became a pioneer in computing with UNIVAC when the company was acquired by Sperry Corporation in 1955. The “Remington Rand” name continued to live on a subdivision for several years before being quietly retired.
For several years now, I’ve been thinking about adding a typewriter to my collection, and to display in my home. I have always been fascinated with them as incredible and intricate machines, and, for their time, the pinnacle of technology. Gutenberg would have been amazed. Weighing about 10.2 pounds, the Streamliner is slim, but still hefty. Well, at least ‘hefty’ when compared to modern portables. For its time, the Streamliner was considered pretty light-weight. Its footprint is reasonable too, with the body coming in at 12 inches deep, 5 inches high, and 12 inches wide. If you take the carriage return arm into account, it is actually 14 inches wide. Even for its time, the Steamliner’s design is extremely compact.
While being the MacBook of the 1940’s in terms of portability, the Streamliner is also gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a beautiful, art deco-inspired, design. For my money, the Remington Rand Model 5-family designs are the simplest and best looking manual typewriters ever produced. When I saw this very reasonably priced 3 recently, I had to make my move to get it and I’m so glad I did.
This particular Streamliner is Serial Number B117230, which, according to the outstanding Typewriter Database, means that it was produced in December, 1941. Remington Rand manufactured 2,297 Streamliners that month, with this unit being the 1,052nd made. With that in mind and looking at an old calendar, I am guesstimating that this Streamliner came out of the factory somewhere between December 10th through 12th, 1941 – mere days after Pearl Harbor. As a testament to quality manufacturing, this Streamliner still works like a champ.
Adding the right antique typewriter can be a strong addition to any discerning geek’s collection, and it can also be a sharp piece of home decor as well. Good hunting!
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