Day 11 NaBloPoMo:How far the office has come!


Spotrick has just inspired this post- he’s my partner in life and was chatting online to a young woman who is producing an online school paper. She was wishing she had a typewriter, so he searched around for a few other pieces of primitive office equipment she might like to try! We both remembered using both ribbon and golfball typewriters in our time. Innovations with the ribbon typewriter were pre-inked ribbons, twin colours or dual-ribbon machines, or self-inking ribbons. All ribbons were messy because you could always get ink on your fingers (then your clothes) when changing or tweaking the ribbon. The crimson red used to look dreadful! Even when those ribbons came in cartridges leaving very little space to get your fingers mucky, people usually succeeded! LOL!


With the IBM golfball typewriters (for those who don’t know- these had a rotary type-head with projecting/embossed metal characters) there were carbon ribbons that were whacked by the typeface on the ball and produced a black letter deposited on the paper per strike. Previously, the typeface was on the end of a usually curved “stick” of metal activated by a lever from the keyboard and it whacked a wet ribbon and transferred an impression of the typeface onto the paper.

I’m not sure when typewriters first became electrically assisted, but it must have been in the 1960s. The first ones just made the return to the beginning of the next line automatic, rather than having to be repositioned manually or mechanically by nudging a lever on the right-hand side of the typewriter. They made typing less physically stressful and you didn’t have to kill your smaller fingers by pressing just as hard with them as your stronger fingers to make an even type.


Correcting mistakes was first done manually, then they invented correcting fluid- these days “Liquid Paper” is the most wellknown. The IBM “golfball” typewriters and their innovative ribbon, snap-in, cartridges also evolved to have separate correcting ribbons (sticky white stuff that when struck with the same type as the “mistake”, could suck it off the paper using a gluey substance. Then you could insert the correct type and it would look perfectly OK.


There were all sorts of additions to the IBM electronic machines within a few years which made great strides in formatting, until the first word-processors arrived. Word-processors were really small computers or PCs that were only set up to do typing, but obviously you could produce multiple copies when you stored the information on a small cassette tape of the first commercial “floppy disk”- which was a really thin piece of magnetised plastic in a paper case. The first ones were about 8 inches across, they got down to 5 inches, then 3 inches very swiftly in the 1980s.

I remember when the admin staff at the hospital ward where i worked as a researcher wanted to transfer the contents of their word-[processer disks to the new PCs that had been bought for them. There was no announcement of any personnel being sent around to show people how to do this- the new PCs just arrived. Sometimes a technician came to set them up, sometimes a pile of boxes was just waiting outside in the morning! I had just been taken on as a researcher in mental health to start a database of reference material on several IBM PCs- a couple of 286s and a 386 I think. I seemed to be the only person available who had any idea about how computers could talk to each other, so I was allocated the task of developing a procedure for transferring all the word processer documents to PCs and indexing them so the secretarial staff could find them on computer, rather than filed on disk in a cupboard!


This was a learning experience for me as I had no general computer training at all- but I had owned several early MacIntosh computers at home and had used mainframes for data analysis. Therefore I knew it was a communication problem- how to get Wang word-processers to talk sense to IBM PCs?? I figured it out, acquired some cables from the Biomedical Engineering Dept and went to it! I wrote the procedure and transfers became widespread around the hospital and associated campuses, accompanied by panicked phone calls from people who wanted to speak to me about problems they’d encountered, eg. dodgy cables and dead disks! That was where I first learnt “If in doubt, turn off and reboot”! This is still with me when I do Help Desk work occasionally- it still works a treat, as any tech-head knows!

Anyway- that’s probably a lot of twaddle for most people- I got carried away noting how far we had all progressed and hadn’t yet got to the intriguing part about primitive copying machines!


Now- who has ever heard of a “photostat”, “Mimeogrpah”, “Roneo” or “Gestetner” machine?? Ancient people like me have learnt how to use these over the years, then abandoned them to learn something new, over and over again. And I guess we’ll continue that way!


I know how to work this old thing and it’s relatives!! Does anyone else?


NB. I never learnt to type at school or later- I just had to figure it out until the modern era when all workers generally do their own computer stuff, while only the rich and privileged have admin staff!


2 thoughts on “Day 11 NaBloPoMo:How far the office has come!

  1. Is that a picture of a gestetner machine? I would love to see one! I am doing a PhD on Australian poeys from the 1970s and much of their work was produced on gestetners.

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