16 Oct 2014

U.S. Navy Mill by Underwood

1941 Underwood Universal (U.S. Navy) F1429518






There is a pleasing seriousness to this specific version of the Underwood portable, with its black crinkle paint and shiny black striping, metal-rimmed keys, and the balanced asymmetry of the keyboard, with the shift lock, backspace, and margin release on one side, and on the other, touch selector and color selector.

It is well-known now that the lower case alphabet is more easily readable than the uppercase, which is why guide road signs today (and for the past 60+ years) use both cases. Around the time of WWII, guide signs often used all-caps, as did all the mills and telegraph equipment. I wonder if proper research had been done into readability of upper vs lowercase before the war, the mills would not have been only uppercase?








Sent from my Underwood Universal navy mill

8 comments:

  1. Yes, the Underwood Universal is a fine unit, in civilian mode as well! I was most pleasantly surprised at it's typing feel the first time I tried one out. A well and solidly built unit, which it would have to have been for the Navy to use it. The styling is great also, with a soundness and look that makes it look to me more like a "standard" full sized model. I tend to be a Royal man myself, but I think this time, Underwood's got Royal beat. Thanks for highlighting these special models, not only for their look and feel, but also for the invaluable job they did during the "great war".

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    1. A lot of good typewriters were being made in the US in the 1940s, that's for sure! It's interesting because I used to own an Underwood Leader (in good shape, made in Canada) from this era and it was a terrible machine. I wonder if the Leader really was worse, if I had a dud, or if something was wrong in the Canadian factory at that time.

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  2. Congratulations on the fine Underwood. Those Universals prove the worth of an Underwood -- excellent typers. I have one that nearly looks the same, a bit less pristine, but a fine typer. Mine does not like to return from Upper case. No such problem with a mill.

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  3. Heh, I was just tinkering with one of my ugly Finger-Flites, thinking that it has such a great typing action that I'd prolly keep it despite the fact that it's hideous and has a somewhat rattly carriage. Those Underwoods have charm, that's for sure. Even when they're not particularly working well.

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    1. Though not the prettiest typewriters, I've always found them attractive and charming in a way. I especially like the ones with the dark blue logo and accent keys, for some reason the blue works much better with that ugly grey-brown than the green that was common back then.

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  4. Those C's and R's are pretty amazing! Congratz on the find.

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  5. It was understood as early as the late 19th century that lowercase was more easily legible than uppercase. The problem was that with early teletype systems, the bandwidth requirements to transmit mixed case typing (52 characters plus punctuation and extras) was significantly greater than the bandwidth necessary to broadcast a single case (26 characters plus). There's a possibly apocryphal story that the engineers at AT&T were all set to build teletype machines which were all lowercase for better readability when someone in upper management realized it would require writing "God" in all lowercase. That put the kibosh on the lowercase instantly.

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  6. You might be interested to know that my mill has the serial number F1429514, which I bought on etsy.com in 2013. It does not have the "as new" look of your machine, but is complete and works well. As a radio ham I use it to copy Morse code, and the advantage of using it over the ordinary keyboard is that you rarely have to go to the upper case, and as mentioned earlier you have the slashed zero. The mill used in Britain by the Royal Navy also had a key for the 'long break' (=) and 'end of message' (+). One thing that has not been mentioned is the benefit to the addressee of having clear and large print when reading in conditions where the lighting is dimmed. You might find it useful to purchase a cheap typewriter to cannibalize for spares. I bought a 'champion' portable, which could be used by a typewriter mechanic if needed. Lastly, it's good to see that there are people interested and enjoy using these old machines.

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