|EMERSON No. 3 Serial 3658. Jim Dax collection.
In 1907, the first Emerson machines appeared on the market. The design was by Richard Uhlig, who was highly knowledgeable in the field of typewriiters. The machines were originally manufactured in the northeast, but by 1908 the company had already begun a move to the midwest. The offices of the company were moved to Chicago, Illinois; the factory was moved to Woodstock, Illinois.
The Emerson was one of those machines that attempted to get a place in the market at a price below that of most standard machines; it achieved this through simpler and easier construction. This led to faults, with many machines being recalled or sent back. The company was soon in trouble, and defaulted on loans made to it by Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1909, according to Sears records, management changed hands as Alvah C. Roebuck took over control; he would learn much during the next few years.
|One curious sidelight to the whole Woodstock story lies in the still-elusive Annell' typewriter, whose name is only properly written with an accent following the last letter. I own a 1922 ad for the machine, a section of which is seen here. This machine is labeled as No. 3A, and was available by mail-order only. Price not stated, except that it was less than the standard $100 price of the time. Much speculation exists as to just who was behind the seller -- namely, the Annell' Typewriter Company, No. 230 East Ohio Street, Chicago, Illinois. It is clear from the ad that the machines are NOT rebuilt; they are new. It's also clear they're mail-order only. There was a huge business at the time in both mail-order machines and machines sold only by agents (ie with no sales shops or service centers, thus lower payroll and overhead.) There was also a booming rebuilding industry, offering still lower price.|
|Woodstock Typewriter Company and Alvah C. Roebuck Many collectors, both new and experienced, are familiar with this company -- if only for the 1925 Woodstock Electrite (an early electric standard typewriter) and for the loose association between the Woodstock and the Emerson. However, up until now, no real presentation of a detailed nature regarding the histories of the involved companies has been made. It is a story worth investigating, through to the end with R. C. Allen.|
|Alvah Roebuck was not only a watchmaker (which was what Richard Sears hired him to be in the first place) but was also a man very interested in anything mechanical. He was also, reportedly, a man of considerable persuasive ability and insight. His leadership was probably just what Sears thought the company needed; although he was no longer a partner in the firm, he was in charge of a division of the company which handled various subcontracted products and was still very much "in the loop," as we say, and was a personal friend of Sears.
Roebuck was also, later, quite apparently no stranger to the fine art of manufacturing typewriters. This industry was always marginal in profit due to the complicated nature of the processes required to obtain a reliable, precise typewriter, and its history was already full of makers who had failed miserably. Many of those who had failed did so because they had attempted exactly the kind of market position that a machine like the Emerson would hold, by the very nature and limitations of its design.
Within several years, Roebuck's association with typewriters which had failed was quite first-hand. Sears Roebuck had already tried to market several typewriters which had failed, and after that, attempted to get some control over product quality by demanding an inspection of prototypes before selling a machine, which further would be funded partly by Sears Roebuck itself. This machine was the Harris Visible, covered elsewhere on my site. This machine also failed, again largely because of an attempt to produce a mid-priced machine (with three-bank double-shift keyboard instead of the mostly accepted four-bank single-shift type) which was engineered to be more rugged than any four-bank machine on the market. It is now clear that Roebuck took more than a few lessons away from the Harris.
|Of course, the episode with the Harris really didn't take place until the Emerson Typewriter Company had been under Roebuck's control for several years, and during this time it still struggled with its design. (See footnote.) However, by 1914, the company had a completely new design ready for production. It changed its name to the Woodstock Typewriter Company, and its new machine was to be called the Woodstock.
The design was almost entirely the responsibility of none other than Alvah C. Roebuck himself; the detail from a patent filed in April 1914 for the new machine is seen at left, and is credited to Roebuck. The machine may seem like a conventional four-bank frontstrike at first, but there is more than meets the eye.
|The Harris had begun production for exclusive Sears Roebuck distribution in 1912, and was a fine piece of engineering; the design was the responsibility of De Witt C. Harris. Harris, in his patents filed for the machine, made serious note of the fact that a large cost and complication in typewriter manufacturing was the previously necessary cadre of highly trained specialists employed at the very end of the production line, whose purpose was to check the machines and make any adjustments necessary before the machines could be accepted and crated for shipping. Much of this work was misalignment of type, or misalignment of various mechanical connections, caused by the very nature of the assembly process itself. Harris chose to design discrete subassemblies for the Harris which would be mounted to the typewriter frame individually; the connections between these units were then made, but the overall design was such that these connections could neither produce misalignment of themselves nor transmit misalignment from one section to another. This was keen insight; its point was to reduce, as much as possible, the adjustment at the end of the factory process and thus reduce cost.
The Woodstock standard, the familiar "visible" introduced by Woodstock Typewriter Company in 1914 fully two years after the Harris Visible entered production, was designed exactly along these lines. Patent Number 1,250,226, granted to Roebuck (see illustration) contains a description not only of the mounting of "sets of working parts" to upper and lower typewriter frame sections, very like the Harris, but also describes something not found in the Harris, which was the use of as many similar or identical parts as possible. The Harris had, for example, a number of different key lever shapes depending on placement, which actually would have helped to increase, not decrease, the cost. Full review of the patent for the Woodstock indicates that Roebuck knew what was right and what was wrong with the Harris, and probably other machines, and that he knew how to fix it.
The end result was not a surprise, given this information. The Woodstock was an immediate success, and according to Beeching, was quickly in such high demand that backorders were taken. The machine was sturdy, reliable, convenient to use, and was also one of the fastest machines on the market. In 1922, it was shown that an experienced typist could maintain 120 words per minute on the Woodstock; the world record, on an Underwood, is 125 words per minute. Roebuck had done absolutely everything right, and assured the success of this company which, originally, had been saddled with a poor design which was made worse by being manufactured poorly. Roebuck saw the company to great success, finally retiring from it in 1924 knowing that it was offering a machine competitive with any other made anywhere in the world.
|click the picture to view the entire advertisement|
|I mentioned earlier that Emerson struggled with its design, and here I offer proof. This is a crop from a patent filed by Joseph Raber as assignor to Emerson in 1911. It is for improvements in the type bar mounting, and the text gives hints of the problems that Raber was trying to correct. To wit: "One of the objects of the present invention is to so construct the frame that when the type bars are mounted thereon any individual bar of the set of bars can be removed from the frame without the necessity of removing or disturbing any of the remaining bars." (Author note -- probably to replace type bars whose type slugs have broken off.) "Another object of the invention is to provide a cone-shaped groove in one of the rails of the supporting frame, which will receive a cone-shaped member on the type bar, thus providing a mounting for the type-bar within the frame, whereby, when the wearing of the parts takes place, the bars can readily be readjusted so as to regain a firm seat within the frame. And a further object is to maintain a firm seat along the top of the frame for the swinging portion of the type bars." (Author note-- this portion is self-explanatory!)|
|At left, another Emerson No. 3, from the collection of Richard Polt and used by permission.
The machine itself is hard to quantify; the type-bars are indeed classified as such, but few other typewriter designs are similar. What you cannot see in photos is the fact that these machines are actually NOT carriage shifted. You however can't really use the term "segment shift" since they do not have a slotted segment, but perhaps that's as close as we can get. The CAP key causes all the type bars to move up; the FIG key causes them all to move down. Thus, each type slug has three characters on its face. The keys across the front are tabulator keys, except for the center key which is "ribbon shift." The machine does not have a conventional shift lock, either, but rather a lever type which can be seen sticking up by the shift keys on the left.
|Illustrations showing the total difference of the Woodstock machine that replaced the Emerson. Two features of the Emerson DID live on, though; first, on the Woodstock, the design feature wherein operation of the carriage release allows bypassing the margin stops was redesigned and included; and second, the esact same line-space mechanism from the Emerson was used on the otherwise totally unrelated Pittsburg Visible No. 12 and all following models of that line. Perhaps Emerson licensed that feature late in its life (or else Roebuck / Woodstock did) to acquire some further capital.|
|At right, an advertising illustration from Peter Weil.
This illustration (like the letterhead at top) dates from 1913, and it is of interest to note the decal changes over time, as well as the variance in the front frame shape.
|click for first-hand details of the Emerson's operation|
|..on to the photo and detail galleries|
|At right, a fabulous trade catalog cover illustration, sent to us by Peter Weil. This catalog was issued about 1920 by the Woodstock Typewriter Company, and covered the still - in - production Woodstock No. 5. The illustration is classic 1920's art, with its depiction of (some colored, some shaded) skyscrapers towering over a city, with the smokestacks of industry issuing smoke that lifts high in the sky -- but not as high as the towers of industry. A steam locomotive is seen below the factories, with the view going right down to street level in the same wonderful, stylized way. This might be one of the most striking typewriter advertising illustrations that this author has ever seen.
Below, 1920 Woodstock letterhead also courtesy Peter Weil.