October 26, 2011

Published in The Huffington Post, October 21, 2011.

It was the first writing gadget that everyone coveted.

It was sleekly engineered, came in cool colors, and folded up into a compact square that you could hold with one hand. You could use it on a train or a plane, or in a cafĂ© in Paris to tap out a novel. The first Mac laptop? No, it was the Corona 3 Portable Typewriter invented in 1912. Ernest Hemingway loved his, so did Teddy Roosevelt. It was the most popular model of typewriter ever made–selling over 700,000 in 30 years.

The Corona Typewriter Company of Groton, New York marketed the Corona III as “the personal writing machine.” Before that, typewriters were viewed solely as a complicated cast iron fixture on a secretary’s desk. But the Corona was an entirely new breed of typewriter. It folded in half, came in a leather carrying case and weighed a mere six and a half pounds (the weight of a MacBook). At $50, it was affordable to an individual consumer–much like a portable gramophone.

Corona ran ads in popular magazines such as National Geographic and The Saturday Evening Post marketing the portable typewriter as a necessity rather than an extravagance, a business machine required by everyone to stay competitive in a fast-changing world.

Doctors and businessman could type up records and receipts on the road. Parents owed their children a typewriter so they could get better grades and “keep up.” Ads warned that even a woman from “a very nice family” might have to “earn her own living” and needed to learn a marketable skill. Corona developed its own school of touch-typing called “Coronawriting” which could be mastered in 6 easy lessons.

Above all, the ads made Corona users look adventurous and sexy. One featured a screenwriter tapping out his latest script in the wilderness, his typewriter jauntily perched on a tree stump. Another ad showed a man using a Corona in the open cockpit of a pre-Spirit-of-St. Louis bi-plane.

Pages: 1 2 3