Pop quiz: What once highly popular machine has disappeared from American homes, schools and offices?


Time’s up! How about the typewriter?


Think about it ̶ how many typewriters have you seen lately? I’ll bet the average middle schooler today doesn’t know what a typewriter is.


For the record, manual typewriters are still being produced in China. It is reported, however, that they don’t measure up to the quality machines of 50 years ago.


An Internet report from 2011 stated that a firm in China manufactured typewriters with clear cases for prisons. It’s impossible to hide contraband in a clear typewriter.


Outside of prisons, however, you don’t see many typewriters today. I have an old manual typewriter in my home office. It was a gift from my wife to help me remember the era.


I fell in love with the big old black manual typewriters when I was a small (make that young) child. Anytime I had a chance, I enjoyed hunting-and-pecking out a message. I dreamed of owning my own typewriter.


During the summer between eighth and ninth grades I earned enough money to purchase my own typewriter. While the funds were accumulating I narrowed my choices until I found exactly what I wanted (considering my budget) at the Gambles Store in Webster City.


The price tag for the nifty little manual portable was forty-nine dollars and some odd cents plus tax. As soon as I had sufficient funds I convinced Dad to take me to town to make the purchase.


What a piece of equipment! The surface was so smooth I could see my reflection in it. When I was done using it, it could be neatly tucked away in the genuine imitation leather case.


There was one problem ̶ I didn’t know how to type. Oh, I could hunt-and-peck, but I didn’t know the touch method of typing. That had to wait for two years until I could take typing in high school.


Of course, by then I had picked up a number of bad habits, each of which had to be broken to satisfy our no-nonsense typing instructor. Typing on the school’s office size manual typewriters was more enjoyable than on my little portable. The big machines required less exertion and the carriage returned in fluid-like action with just a quick flick of the wrist.


By the second semester we were taking turns on electric typewriters ̶ an older Royal and a brand new IBM Selectric. The IBM seemed to reflect the epitome of typing ease and convenience. How could they ever improve on that?


A few years later, in my first newswriting job, I was assigned an old gray Royal typewriter. As close as I could figure, the machine dated back to the late 1940s.


It was a honey. Solid as a rock and about as heavy, the typewriter’s well-balanced mechanism allowed one to pound out news copy for hours at a time without taxing the wrists and fingers.


When I accepted my next job, I was delighted to find a nearly identical typewriter at my desk. My new boss, however, suggested I use a slick new electric model so I gave it a try. A couple of weeks later, I asked to have the old Royal manual back.


At the age of 40 I accepted another new job and was told that I would be expected to use a computer for both writing and number-crunching duties. I wasn’t particularly excited by the computer but figured I could learn to use it.


Within the first year I wouldn’t have traded my computer for any typewriter in the world (unless it was worth a lot of money so I could sell it and buy a better computer.)


Still, when I see an old office size manual typewriter, I like to roll in a sheet of paper and pound out a few lines of “now is the time for all good men…” or “the quick brown fox…” The familiar aroma of dust and oil and the remnants of a gritty eraser bring back many memories.


Like the reel-to-reel tape recorder, the mimeograph duplicator and the 8-millimeter movie camera, the manual typewriter became a victim of progress.


Maybe if someone had invented games which could be played on a typewriter…