Lugging around little typewriters

When Small Size Meant Big Production

By Robert Messenger

During almost three-quarters of a half-century career in sports writing, I carried portable typewriters around the world with me. There were many, many times when I looked to the heavens above stadiums from Edinburgh to Dunedin, San Francisco to Madrid and Kuala Lumpur to Cape Town, and thanked the designers and manufacturers of these typewriters for their ingenuity in producing machines that were light in weight, compact and dependable.

Once, at Dublin airport, some burly Irish rugby players took revenge on me for writing some hard truths about their performance in Cardiff, and took my typewriter apart. It eventually emerged on the luggage carousel in several bits, along with a single sock, a crumpled shirt and a lone shoe. Happily, I was able to quickly reassemble the machine and have it working again before that evening’s newspaper deadline.

At Twickenham in London, I worked so late in the Press Room that by the time I emerged the stadium was locked up. My typewriter was thin enough for me to squeeze it through the 20-foot high iron gates, which I then had to climb over to retrieve my Olivetti. There was no way I was going to carry it as I climbed, and drop it from that height. Mind you, it would probably have been OK. After all, war correspondent Charles Bean’s Corona 3 survived a delayed action bomb in a foxhole in France in 1917, as did sports writer Jack Lawrence’s Corona 3 when heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey landed on it at the Polo Grounds in New York in 1923.

When Royal brought out its first portable a few years later, company president George Ed Smith had the bright idea of promoting it by flying boxes of the Royal in a light aircraft over the United States. The boxes were dropped to agents from the plane, carried down by tiny parachutes, and only those boxes with damaged typewriters could be claimed by onlookers. Very few were ever damaged.

As for my portables, they took a heavy pounding in all corners of the globe – more than 77 million words typed - but never once did they let me down, even when tackled by Irish rugby players. I bet Marcello Nizzoli never thought of that contingency when he designed the Letteras 22 and 32, but I’m certain he’d have been delighted know the capability of his machines went way beyond his wildest dreams.