|Perhaps fortunately for Corona, these serious new competitors from Underwood and from Remington appeared immediately prior to a world-wide economic recession that occupied several years in the early 1920's. This recession actually was responsible for killing off a considerable number of typewriter manufacturers all over the world; for example, it saw the end of the Fox Typewriter Company, and the reorganization of the Rex Typewriter Company into the Demountable Typewriter Company, concurrent with which change the firm dropped production of the National / Portex portable typewriters for good.
This did not mean that Corona could remain idle. It clearly would have to respond, and would have to be prepared to do so as soon as sales of such items as portable typewriters began to pick up. It did this with a machine that in some ways met the competition, but which in other ways remained true to many of the concepts of the orignal Corona machines.
|In May 1924, Corona Typewriter Company introduced an entirely new machine. This was the Corona Four, which for the first time in Corona machines included the standard four-bank single shift keyboard. Advertising of the day hints at the fact that the model number always being spelled out in the word "FOUR" was a deliberate attempt to give dual meaning to the model -- model number four, and four-bank keyboard.|
|The new Corona Four carried on design ideas from previous the previous Corona 3; it was built with a light-weight sheet-metal body made from stampings, and its internal workings (key levers, connectiing links) were designed to be manufactured as inexpensively as possible from stampings and from extruded rod stock. (This is described quite clearly in patents for the machine.) However, the key lever / type bar action was totally new, and was somewhat of an improvement over the rather primitive design of the Corona 3 in feel and response. These features made the machine relatively inexpensive to build, but relatively a major step up from the Corona 3 in the eye of the consumer. It cost only ten dollars more than the previous folding machine and quickly made its way to an important place in the market. Corona had responded well.|
|By 1926, the world economies had essentially recovered and sales of typewriters (both standard and portable) were on the rise. In this year, a large number of important changes in the portable typewriter industry occurred; indeed, there was a practical explosion in the industry at this time.|
|The year 1926 saw the introduction of no less than three serious efforts in the portable typewriter market.
Royal Typewriter Company, which had begun making typewriters soon after the turn of the century, introduced the machine seen here. This was a substantially larger machine than any of the portables on the market in the US so far, and had a type action which felt more like a standard typewriter than any machine yet produced in the portable field. Although it was relatively large and heavy, it was a large jump ahead of the others in sturdiness and set a new benchmark for the upper end of portable typewriters.
|Underwood, which had previously added a duplicate CAP shift key to its three-bank portable, also introduced in 1926 a wholly new machine. This was the Underwood Four Bank Standard Portable, which was roughly in a size and weight class with the Royal machine. Like the Royal machine, it was more upright than the Remington and for what it is worth presented a more impressive appearance. Again, like the Royal machine it sold well enough from the start that it was never in jeopardy.|
|The third large entry in 1926 was the machine seen here; the Barr Typewriter. The Barr would ultimately have little impact in the marketplace; although it was designed by well-known former Remington engineer John H. Barr (also an author of various standard texts on mechanical engineering) it was produced by two successive companies that did not have the ability to develop any sort of network like the large makers for selling the machine, or for promoting it.
The significance of the Barr's introduction in 1926 lies in the fact that while it was designed with many of the same principles applied to the Corona Four (enumerated above) it also was the first large, heavy portable typewriter to have any market presence at all which also incorporated segment shift, instead of carriage shift. Although the Barr ultimately essentially failed, it had set a new benchmark.
|Obviously, prior to this time it would have been apparent to Corona Typewriter Company that competiton was serious, and of course in 1926 it became very serious indeed. Corona was, relatively speaking, a small company; while it was the most successful producer of portable typewriters in the world for many years, its profits were nothing like that of giants like Remington or Underwood. It would have seemed like a small fish in a barrel of sharks.
But something else had occurred, apparently, to another company. L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriters Inc., founded in 1903 and successful from the start, was one of the largest manufacturers in the world that had made no effort at all to enter the lucrative market for portable typewriters. The story has been told many times before -- in 1926, L. C. Smith & Bros. bought and merged Corona Typewriter Co. and essentially solved the problems of both companies.
While a number of developments took place in the next few years, the final serious development in this early progression (pre-World War 2) of portable typewriters took place in 1934. L. C. Smith & Corona Typewriters, Inc. finally responded to the large, heavy Royal, Underwood and Remington machines with its own, completely new portable. It was every bit as rugged and large as the others, eschewed cheap sheet metal and thin stampings, could type as fast as many standards, and included segment (or basket) shift. Even though Underwood, Remington and Royal had essentially at one time or another gotten the jump on Corona, the new firm responded with a machine so well-made that it rightfully took its place alongside, or above, each. It is no surprise that the machine was styled like standard typewriters of the day (complete with simulated side "windows" or reliefs like those seen on the sides of standards) and that one of the earliest model names for the machine was Corona Standard. As the Great Depression of the 1930's waned, the other makers' portable typewriter sales picked back up and Corona's took off. The light, early "tin-plate portables" were finally dead, at least as a market force.
We'll now leave this historical discussion of early portable typewriter history; we hope you've enjoyed this timeline retrospective. Be sure to check out the specific features on machines mentioned in this discussion -- and some not mentioned as well -- to get the full perspective and to see new details on these fascinating machines.
|Detailed presentations on individual machines. As a part of this new project, we are preparing detailed descriptions and inspections of various pre-1940 portable typewriters. Articles in this project are linked below; all are specially prepared for it. Machines featured below may or may not be included in the historical perspective. Return often for updates or check Will's Typewriter Blog.|
|Some notes on prices. The machines listed and described on this site were, for the most part, competitive with the vastly successful Corona and priced themselves accordingly. The folding Corona, from inception through at least 1924 was always priced at $50.00 retail; machines with more, or better, features thus tended to be higher priced. For example, the Underwood 4-bank portable brochure we have here, dated 1926, has a penciled-in price of $60.00 by the four-bank machine; there is no price by the three-bank but we know that Montgomery-Ward was selling this three-bank Underwood within a few years for about $41.50. According to another brochure, the price in 1929 for the fully optioned Barr Universal was $65.00 and for the stripped Barr Special $50.00. We also know from Typewriter Topics that the last known price for the National No. 5 portable was about $57.00, which would be right around 1922 or 1923. The Corona Four, introduced in 1924, was priced similarly to the other four-bank machines at $60.00. A Fox Sterling receipt from 1921 shows $50.00.
Pricing is important to at least note in any discussion about these machines because they had to appeal to the customer based upon the combination of features, the quality and the price all rolled into one. As the Corona outsold everything early on, an establishment was made as to what was expected for a fifty-dollar typewriter much the same way there were expectations for a standard, one-hundred-dollar machine for office use at the same time. Machines priced way too low, perhaps such as the failed Dayton Portable (not covered here) may have failed largely because the price was TOO low and the public perceived that only a bad typewriter could be had at that price.