A Letter from Harry A. Smith

Harry A. Smith is, to historians, the best known single person associated with the field of rebuilt typewriters.  Earlier collectors have seen to that – their books almost always mentioned Smith or showed some of the machines his companies rebuilt and rebranded into his own name, and to collectors of that earlier era these machines became highly desirable.


The Smith Visible No. 6 above is just one of a number of examples rebuilt and rebranded by Smith’s companies; originally a Rex Visible No. 4, the machine was sold by Smith Typewriter Sales in 1922 as that company’s No. 6 — a dubious numbering since various other completely different machines also went out the door carrying this number.

Smith himself has been well-documented on this writer’s blog articles over many years, and even sales materials from Smith’s companies have been obtained and continue to be shown here.  What is new and exciting is this – a letter from Smith himself.

Harry A Smith Letter 1920

The letter, clearly dictated by “HAS” (Harry A. Smith) and signed by him, is dated June 25, 1920 and seeks to make contact with a Robert E. Coleman, through the connection of the Peacock Coal Co., Pomeroy, Ohio.  It seems clear that Smith is trying to locate someone he had previously done business with and who may have stopped payment on a machine, although this letter quite professionally does not reveal Smith’s motive.

The letterhead itself will be of interest to collectors as it displays the emblem Smith created (or, had created) for his company and typewriters – a cut of a blacksmith at work in his shop.  (That image is seen on the No. 6 shown earlier and enlarged from the letterhead below.)

Smith letterhead 1920 1

The style of the centered name on the letterhead is also notable, and is seen here:

Smith Letterhead 1920 2

The style of lettering is similar to, but not identical to, that used for the name “Smith” on the Smith Visible No. 4 seen below, also in our collection here:

Harry A Smith No 4 Davis Collection

(The “Smith” usually used on Harry A. Smith paper tables appears to be a Smith Premier decal cut in half.  The companies were completely, totally unrelated.)

Historically this newly found 1920 letter presents a couple of questions.  The accepted historical date for Smith splitting up his companies is December 1919, with Harry A. Smith himself selling out his ownership of the rebuilt typewriter concern in April 1920.  This letter is clearly dated June, and presents for the first time the notion that Smith himself continued in the day to day operation of the rebuilt company – already or soon, by that date, to be renamed “Smith Typewriter Sales Co.”

Of course the previous assumes that Smith is looking for a buyer who has ceased payment on a machine; if the Coleman in question was concerned somehow with the other Smith (post-split) firm, which retained the original company name and which shifted to attempted construction of the Blick Bar after that design was purchased by Smith, then the letter is less curious – although we’d wonder why Smith could not find a concerned party in that case.

Regardless of Smith’s search for Coleman what matters is that we have an original letter dictated by Smith himself, and signed by Smith himself, giving us an object that brings us historically closer than ever to this well known industry personage.

Harry A Smith signature 1920

Click here for a history of Harry A. Smith and his companies.

Click here to see a Smith typewriter, ad, and a link to his grave marker.

Click here to see a late photo of Smith and read some ad material.

Typewriter Headquarters 1902, Part 1

TyHQ Envelope 1902

In June 1902, a Mr. C. T. Adams received by mail an extraordinary catalog and type sample set mailed to him by Typewriter Headquarters, of New York.  Examination of these materials will push the boundaries of known rebuilt typewriters for historians and collectors, and will be of interest to all typewriter enthusiasts.

Typewriter Headquarters was among the very first firms set up to offer rebuilt typewriters on a basis larger than just the occasional machine.  In 1892, “The National Stenographer” reported that Typewriter Headquarters in New York and an affiliated Typewriter Headquarters in Chicago would both be opened by firms partly owned by Enoch N. Miner, a teacher of shorthand who had set up his own school and initially sold rebuilt typewriters as a sort of adjunct.  Miner told “Frank Harrison’s Shorthand Weekly” later:

“I believe that I was the first regular dealer in second hand typewriters in the world, having started regularly dealing in second-hand machines in New York City, in the summer of 1883, during which summer I advertised instruments for sale and made a business of the undertaking in connection with my teaching, of which you then knew.”

Miner also launched what became the leading early trade paper on typewriters, “The Phonographic World,” in 1885.  In 1891 according to “The Shorthand Review,” Miner began to be accused of wild behavior and several physical assaults for which he was arrested at least twice, and rumors swirled in print that Typewriter Headquarters was actually owned by Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict (makers of the Remington typewriter.)  By the time our 1902 letter and materials were sent, Typewriter Headquarters was under the proprietorship of one Eli H. Eldredge.

TyHQ Catalog front

The small catalog mailed to Mr. Adams in 1902 states in part:

“We have every possible facility for rebuilding typewriters of every make to the very best advantage.  Our parts are obtained direct from the various typewriter companies (with none of whom we are antagonistic) and being made at the same factories where the machines themselves are made are as perfectly adjustable to the instruments as were the parts comprising the machines originally.  Our mechanics are, without exception, the most expert in their line, each having been educated at the factory of the machine he is now engaged with us in rebuilding.”

Further – “We deal in all makes of typewriters alike,” the catalog says, “making the same profit upon one that we do upon another.  It is immaterial to us what machine you buy.”

Let’s take a look through the catalog.  The pages of the catalog are valuable historically because they show and describe a number of models of early typewriter – information useful entirely by itself outside the sphere of rebuilding.  It must be noted though that EVERY typewriter being offered is rebuilt; prices for these machines are not stated on these pages rebuilt but rather the maker’s price for brand new machines only.  Actual prices of rebuilt machines were included on type sample slips that we’ll see shortly.

TyHQ Rem 2

The “samples” referred to here are the type sample slips shown later.

TyHQ Rem 3

The No. 3 Remington was similar to the No. 2 but had four more keys and wide carriage.

TyHQ Rem 5

In looking at these pages, sent out in 1902 it should be recalled that the No. 2 Remington appeared as early as 1878 (according to Typewriter Topics’ voluminous history) while the mentioned No. 6, said to be “recently placed upon the market,” first sold in summer 1894.

A novel and unique form of advertising the actual machines for sale was included in the mailing, which is a set of type sample strips.  It’s clear that machines were used to type samples on sheets of paper which were then cut into strips.  The prices for various Remingtons are seen below on the strips.  Note the significant savings over new retail.

TyHQ Remington Samples and Prices

Typewriter Headquarters of course advertised selling of all makes, and the range offered in the catalog and sample strips is fairly surprising.  The Caligraph page is next:

TyHQ Caligraph 2

Added into the mailing was the below “special offer” sheet advertising a batch of Caligraph machines that Typewriter Headquarters had obtained from one place:

TyHQ Caligraph insert

The sheet above requires some commentary.  First, while it is stated that “the entire stock of one of the largest Caligraph dealers in the United States” was bought, it should be emphasized that all the machines offered here are stated clearly to have been rebuilt.  Second, all models here are fairly well outdated; the old models were withdrawn and replaced by the New Century before the printing of this catalog (this occurred in 1898 according to Mares.)  In fact, the oldest offering on this page dates back to around the mid-1880’s time at which Typewriter Headquarters itself was launched.  It seems obvious then that all of these models had been trade-ins to the mentioned dealer, or else were rental machines sent out by the dealer, and probably in cases both.  The ability to purchase a standard typewriter, and in fact “The brand that won’t wear out,” as its makers advertised, for a mere $14 to $16 cannot be overstated in importance considering then-new machine prices over $90.

IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT:  Some surprising machines you’d never think were offered by a rebuilder, along with great illustrations.  Sign up for email alerts!

Wholesale Out West

Wholesale Store Front 1

Although The Wholesale Typewriter Co. is a name normally associated with the big Eastern cities of the U.S., a newly-acquired brochure dating to roughly the early 1920’s shows that the company had big Western aspirations.  Wholesale opened a rebuilding plant and a general office as well as a number of branch stores in Western cities, as seen here.

The company’s case for its machines was made well on the following leaves:

Wholesale Brochure Up to a Standard

Wholesale depicted a number of the “big makes” in the folder, such as L. C. Smith, Royal, Remington and Underwood.  All of these machines were shown, interestingly, compared with the then-current retail price for the machine being offered brand new.  One example is below.

Wholesale Remingtons

As stated in the prospectus portion of the flyer the discount was deep on certain variants; we see here the going price for the front strike Remington at $102.50 with the variant built through 1914 priced down at just $30 and the latest slotted segment variant priced at just about half retail of a brand-new example.

The company also showed a number of attractive storefronts in the brochure, which contained an interesting variety of machines that made good on the company’s claim to provide “all makes.”

Wholesale Portland

In the above view of the Portland, Oregon branch store we can see the usual Remington, Royal, Underwood and L. C. Smith but also a Smith Premier No. 10, a Noiseless Standard, an Oliver No. 9 and right at the front corner of the middle shelf an Underwood three bank portable.

Wholesale Portables

Above, a page from the brochure advertising brand new Underwood portables either cash or on credit but also, perhaps more interestingly, rebuilt.  As we see the company also offered rebuilt Corona and Remington portables, the Remington being about 80% the price of a new example.

The Seattle storefront view showed both an Underwood portable and a dealer poster depicting the Underwood portable on display, as seen below.  (Also, note again the presence of a Noiseless Standard and an Oliver.)

Wholesale Seattle

Although the information about the portables is of interest to historians, perhaps the greatest value of this flyer is its view of the grand storefronts of that long-ago day when even the rebuilt typewriter companies had their products on display.

A Remarkable Typewriter


The typewriter above, a Smith Visible No. 6, is significant as a discovery in a number of ways – to historians, to collectors and in particular to those interested in the typewriter rebuilding industry and how it operated.  Explaining what we are looking at is necessary to show its significance, so a couple of short histories are required.

First, it’s obvious by this machine’s presence on this blog that it has been rebuilt.  The history of the design is as follows:  The machine was originally designed by DeWitt C. Harris for sale by Sears, Roebuck and Company as the Harris Visible.  The first model to actually reach the market was the No. 4, and in fact only a few variances ever occurred on this model for roughly ten years.


(Above, Harris Visible No. 4 from Sears, Roebuck trade catalog circa 1913.)

The Harris proved to be a minor success in an already crowded industry and by the start of 1916 was selling independently from Sears as the Rex Visible; a new company, Rex Typewriter, was formed with new capital and carried forward.  Sears still sold the machine through about 1920, always labeled as the Harris Visible.  Sears advertised in 1913 that it had over 1000 Harris Visible machines in operation in its own gigantic Chicago offices.

The design became more or less obsolete over the years and by the start of the 1920’s the company set to work on a new, different four-bank machine called the Demountable.  It was in 1922 that Rex, itself essentially bankrupt, was sold at Sheriff’s auction.  The new buyers were, however, the old owners – and the company picked back up with the new name Demountable Typewriter Co. and began to market the wholly new machine.  Keep the year 1922 in mind – it’s important.


Harry A Smith 1924

Harry A. Smith (seen above near the end of his life) entered the typewriter rebuilding business in 1911, forming his own company in Chicago under his own name to rebuild typewriters.  Smith knew how the business machine world worked, having been associated with the adding machine business for years.  Rebuilt typewriters were becoming a very hot topic, even if the profit for such a business was marginal.

Smith’s business took off quickly, and he sold machines across the United States and around the world.  Smith’s advertising was not unlike that of other firms of the day, and this got his company (and a number of others) in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in 1917 when citations were issued for advertising of rebuilt typewriters without explicitly stating that they had been rebuilt.

Collectors today will note that Harry A. Smith was known also for something else that has, until now, been considered “off” – that is, the rebranding of machines with his own name instead of that of the original maker of the typewriter.  This is exemplified by the photo below, showing two Victor typewriters.


On the right we see an original condition Victor Standard No. 3.  It sits on its original shipping crate.  On the left however is what was a Victor Standard No. 2,  but which has been rebuilt by Harry A. Smith and which is now labeled as a Smith Visible No. 4.  The name “Victor” has been chiseled off the side of the shipping crate on which the machine sits and Harry A. Smith stickers adorn the top of the crate.

Because early collectors 30 years ago or more began finding random and usually “off brand” machines relabled this way they assumed that Smith was buying up the stock of closed down companies.  This is clearly not the case, though because Victor kept right on in business for years after these machines seen above were sold.  The same phenomenon also exists with Harris / Rex machines as well.  What was probably happening instead was Smith was acquiring machines which the original makers didn’t want their names on, or acquiring machines which had been recalled, or else acquiring machines when a model was closed out and the original maker had a policy of not allowing rebuilt machines out with its original name on them.

Smith was entangled with the FTC in 1917, but after this his company continued to relabel machines with his own name off and on until 1922.  The last known model that Smith did this to was in fact the No. 6 you see at the top of this article.


It is clear to us that Harry A. Smith sold relabeled Harris/Rex machines twice; once in 1917 and once in 1922.  The origins of these stocks of machines are quite different.


The illustration above, courtesy Peter Weil, is taken from a mailer that Harry A. Smith sent out as a response to an “act now!” coupon from a magazine.  This 1917 flyer shows the first incarnation of the Harris/Rex as a Harry A. Smith No. 6.  These machines, which in other ads Smith said he had a thousand of, are most likely the machines out of Sears’ Chicago offices, rebuilt and resold to the public.


Above we see the 1922 ad in my collection for more or less the same machine, but several years later in a new offering.  Note that the company name change to “Smith Typewriter Sales” has occurred; this happened in 1920 when Smith sold the rebuilding business and attempted to take the Harry A. Smith Typewriter Co. into the manufacture of new typewriters.  That attempt failed in 1921, and eventually after some time Smith came back to his old company.

Smith Visible No. 6 and Observations


The recently acquired example of Smith Visible No. 6 (serial 11067) is the earliest variant of Rex Visible No. 4, with the ribbon selector present as buttons or keys on the sides of the machine.  As stated clearly in the ad for the machine, the stock of this second known sale in 1922 consisted of samples from the Rex dealers around the country.  At this time, the company was in the midst of another self-reinvention as Demountable, and as such these machines were surplus to demands as there was no intention to continue manufacture of this design in the future.


It seems clear that the Federal Trade Commission never cited Smith or his companies for rebranding machines; the only offenses were essentially false advertising.  It stands to reason then that this practice, while unusual, was not considered illegal; knowing the story of this particular No. 6 helps fill us understand just what might have been happening each time Smith (chose to, was allowed to, was asked to) relabel machines with his own name.


Of further interest to collectors might be the fact that this Rex rebranding and a nearly simultaneous rebranding of another standard machine, the Stearns, in 1922 constitute the final examples of this practice for Smith’s company.  Following this the company began work exclusively as a rebuilder for L. C. Smith & Bros. and dropped all trade in any other brands of machine, although it did sell some brand new folding Coronas some time later.


Above:  Alpha and Omega, of sorts.  The very first manufactured variant of the Harris Visible, as used by Sears at its offices and as first offered in the Sears catalog in the Summer of 1912 is seen here at left.  Note the solid keytops not unlike those on an Oliver.  Just a decade later, after more than one bankruptcy and a name change, the final retail sale of this mechanical design occurred when Smith Typewriter Sales offered the remaining formerly-Rex-owned sales sample (and probably office) machines rebuilt at a discount price as the Smith Visible No. 6, at right.

For more information:

For a complete and detailed Harris / Rex / Demountable history click here.

For a complete Harry A. Smith history click here.


That Gray Underwood 5

The very first typewriter I acquired – almost 20 years ago – that I could be absolutely certain was rebuilt was the machine you see below.  At the time, I knew something was wrong with this thing, and I recall my late father telling me it looked more like the color of office machines you’d see in the post-Second World War years than a 1920’s machine.

Square Underwood 5 Rebuilt Resized

This machine was built originally in 1922, when typewriters were black with pinstriping and gold decals.  We know that because – like many rebuilt machines – it retains its original serial number.  However, it was rebuilt post-war and given gray crackle paint, and just a simple “Underwood” decal in red.

I have wondered for years just when this was sold and by whom.  One thing for sure is that the time period for any open-sided machine to still be considered modern enough to factory rebuild ended in the 1950’s, although it must be remembered that the war did lead to an enormous shortage of typewriters which took a while to recover from.  Well, in terms of the search, we’re a step closer.

Tower 1955 catalog SEARS

Here we see the front cover of a 1955 Sears Business Equipment and Supply Catalog.  Sears was known, as was Montgomery-Ward, for selling largely brand new portable typewriters and rebuilt standard machines (although certainly both did at times sell brand new standards.)  On page 21 we see the following machines, among others:

Tower 1955 Underwoods Rebuilt

As we can see, on the left is an older No. 6 model which was out of production before the start of the war, but which is here offered rebuilt in 1955.  Both it and the “S” model beside it are found, if we read, in gray crackle paint.  Neither would have looked like this new; they’d have been black.  Although we didn’t get the right date to find a No. 5 like my gray one shown earlier we did find a fairly obsolete model, more open than most, for sale rebuilt in the mid-1950’s.

What did the No. 5 look like new?  Well, like this…


..except of course for the fact that the typewriter you see here was also rebuilt!  In the early days of rebuilding, up through the post-war period, the rebuilders worked very carefully to ensure that the machines retained the original appearance.  Contests were even held to see if dealers could tell rebuilt from new machines of the same model.  Many could not.  Here’s another ad, showing a rebuilt-to-original Underwood 5:

ITE Underwood No 5

International Typewriter Exchange promised this Underwood No. 5 to be “completely renewed and refinished to operate and look like brand new.”

There’s an important point here.  It’s really clear that the gray Underwood No. 5 has been rebuilt.  It would have been very unclear to anyone that the Underwood No. 5 shown in the ITE ad had been rebuilt – and many of these, and others, that “look original” are actually REBUILT to “original”.  And there were tens of thousands of these rebuilt Underwood machines out there.  I’ve even seen a Wagner Underwood rebuilt and carrying later “Underwood Typewriter Company” decals, likely because no Wagner decals were still available.  No one would have called anyone out on that back then.

It was only really in the 1920’s that rebuilders began doing things like adding decals onto machines or using an advertising shift key insert to let the user know that a machine was rebuilt and who did it.  And again, later, identification of the rebuilders went away as they shifted their sales to mail and catalog outlets under the name of others, like Sears, Ward’s, and others.

Because it’s extremely important for the value proposition, let’s look at what Sears promised for the rebuilt machines it was selling in 1955.

Tower 1955 rebuilding points

We see a subtle change here – look at the third point.  Now, by 1955, brand new typewriters were not all black any more and black typewriters LOOKED old.  Thus, the “factory-new” appearance Sears mentions here is really the attempt to get machines so old that they were built black and pinstriped to APPEAR new(ish) by painting them the same color that brand new machines were painted.

Rebuilt Underwood 5 side

The problem of course is that it’s very hard to get an open-sided, open-backed typewriter to look new just by painting it another color.  And of course, it probably fooled no one.  What it DID do however was give many machines perhaps a third, fourth or fifth life in the build-service-trade in-rebuild-repeat cycle.  Any useful standard machine, as a working tool, could have multiple lifetimes; witness some rebuilders offering upstrike or “blind writer” machines into the middle 1920’s for $15 to $20 prices when brand new machines cost over $100.  In that context, it’s not perhaps too shocking that a bunch of old open sided Underwoods stayed in the forefront of business long enough to get to wear gray paint and simple decals.  Perhaps it’s fitting to think of this as the machine’s final, “out to pasture” uniform at the end of a life of hard work.

AWMCo Rebuilt – Union Enters the Fray

An interesting ink blotter recalls the days of the giant Union Typewriter Company – really, a trust company that would eventually be made illegal – and its move to enter the rebuilt typewriter market.

American Factory Rebuilt blotter

This clever ad piece asks us to “blot out those old prejudices against rebuilt typewriters” by availing ourselves of the details of American Writing Machine Company’s offerings.  This is slightly ironic considering the fact that the companies involved in Union had resisted and even counter-advertised against rebuilt (and against visible) typewriters for some time before swinging over to where the cash was to be had.

The presence of an upstrike Remington machine on the blotter hints that the date of this piece is early – early that is, in relation to the time AWMCo halted manufacture of its own line of machines (Caligraph / Century) and turned to rebuilding all makes of machines in 1906-1907.

The changeover of AWMCo was just one piece of the ponderous transition of the Union affair into something more modern and competitive.  Formed in 1893, Union was a trust that held control over the patents and factories of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict (makers of the Remington typewriter), Smith Premier, Densmore, Yost, and American Writing Machine.  The trust kept prices of its machines high and set standards for quality and service.  However, while such trusts were at least in part meant to eliminate competition (by ensuring all profits of all makers went into a common fund, thus being able to support weaker members and so maintaining apparent competition) others from the outside with new ideas and capital charged to the fore with new machines and forced Union to change its principles.

Union had to do two things; it had to replace its upstrike machines of all makes, and it had to enter the rebuilt business.  If it did neither, either could kill it or help to.  But the giant conglomerate couldn’t just write off all of its present assets overnight.  So it took a few years to set up production of a wholly new machine (the Monarch) by 1904, and then moved to halt production of the AWMCo New Century machine and convert that plant to rebuilding in 1906-7.  In 1908 the new “visible” machines of Remington, Smith Premier, and Yost appeared and at about this time Union also absorbed Pittsburg Writing Machine Co., maker of a less-than-$100 four bank frontstrike.  (Densmore was dropped in 1910 without converting.)

With these moves – namely, converting big $100 brands to front strike “visibles,” buying and integrating a lower-price standard machine, and changing a capable plant to become a rebuilder / retailer / wholesaler, Union had made great strides to meet the competitive situation.  It knew, as did all others sooner or later, that the rebuilt market would exist whether it moved to enter it or not – and by not entering, it could only be hurt by it.  Considering that AWMCo remained in business well into the 1930’s rebuilding machines (and, handling the new-old-stock parts of L. R. Roberts after Remington used its Remington-Noiseless subsidiary to buy that firm out at auction in 1927) it made the right call!

American Writing Machine Letterhead

American Writing Machine Co. letterhead, 1930. This letter was sent as the result of an inquiry into Blickensderfer keys, which AWMCo was handling as a result of the 1927 buyout of Blick’s descendant company, L. R. Roberts.  AWMCo. advised the gentleman that all key buttons were totally sold out, and suggested the purchase of a new Rem-Blick.

Miller Closes Out – Or Does It?

In December 1927, an interested party received a letter from the Miller Typewriter Sales Company of Wichita, Kansas, almost surely in answer to a request for information.  That letter was a flyer advertising the company’s offerings of rebuilt typewriters.  However, this flyer had been altered before being sent, as can be seen below.

Miller Typ Sales Co Letter Dec 1927

This now-fragile sheet advertised “Rebuilt Standard Visible Typewriters” and included the description “$10.00 to $30.00 Less.”  As we can see, a variety of models was offered.

What’s interesting is the typed additions at the top of the sheet.  These read as follows:

“Dear Sir:  We are closing out what we have left, all makes at $25.00 each.  These are real bargains.  Fine nickel plating and good enamel and all have two-color switch and backspacer, etc.  Also have one Rex Visible not shown on this sheet at only $10.00.  No Royals or L. C. Smiths left, or Olivers.  No more at these prices as soon as disposed of present supply.  Better get busy.”

Now, that message to to the prospective buyer makes it sound as if a fire sale were in progress – that is to say, a total closeout.  And that’s certainly the impression it was meant to convey.  “Better get busy” means that if you don’t act now, others will get these machines at these low prices (and twenty-five’s a pretty good price for a Monarch, Remington, Woodstock, Underwood or Corona machine in that year.)  But read it again and notice that nowhere does the company directly state that it’s going out of business, that this is the end, or that it’s all over.  It just says “no more at these prices.”

So what we have here in all probability is a sales tool – the creation of the impression of a coming shortage.  In this case, that’s shortage of supply of inexpensive rebuilt typewriters.  But nothing could have been further from the truth in that year, because the business overall was doing quite well nationwide.  More than likely Miller Typewriter Sales (which oddly has included an envelope addressed directly to most likely the owner / manager, C. W. Miller) was doing all right and was simply using a good sales tactic to motivate the buyer.  Because this was an extremely obscure company, we can’t say for sure, for now – but the tactic is clear as day on the second reading.

Miller Typ Sales Co Envelope

Harry A. Smith: Personal Care

Among seasoned typewriter collectors, the name “Harry A. Smith” has almost always been well known.  His machines are the most-discussed rebuilds because of his occasional habit of replacing the original maker’s name with his own, and even his own emblem – and these relabeled machines are prized among collectors.  Yet, he sold far more machines faithfully rebuilt and originally labeled.

Smith launched his company in 1911 after years of sales work in the office business, and quickly became a successful seller of rebuilt machines – largely by mail.  He shed control of his original firm to focus on an attempt to build brand new typewriters at the start of the 1920’s, but when that company failed he soon found himself in the employ of L. C. Smith & Bros. in the Exchanged Machines department.  It was not long after this employment that Smith took back control of his old firm, now the Smith Typewriter Sales Co., and put it in the employ of his new bosses to become an exclusive rebuilder of L. C. Smith machines alone.

No one could have remained in this business as long as Smith did without doing many things right, and now, thanks to a remarkable late 1924 brochure, we can read some of his philosophy.  What’s more, the photo contained therein may be among the last published of Smith, who died January 11, 1925; the brochure has hand written on it “Rec’d 12/26/24.”  By that date, Smith was already in the hospital (according to information provided by Alan Seaver.)  He was 50 years old.

Harry A Smith 1924

Above, Harry A. Smith is seen in his office at Smith Typewriter Sales.  On the wall behind Smith is an illustration of the L. C. Smith & Bros. factory in Syracuse, New York; outside the window of his office can be seen the Chicago River.

The following is printed below the photo and attributed to Smith:

“SUCCESS in this business, as I see it, can only come in proportion to the amount of personal care and interest that is put into it.  I personally open each letter that we receive.  Your order or inquiry has my personal attention first, before going to the other departments; any order or inquiry that has anything out of the ordinary in it must be reported back to me for my personal assurance of proper attention.  I have spent most of my business lifetime in the typewriter industry.  I thoroughly understand the work and enjoy it.

The typewriter expert is necessarily a highly developed type of keenly sensitive mechanic.  The nature of his work requires great concentration of his senses of sight, touch and sound.  He works for hours under severe tension with every faculty alert, and it requires full understanding of such a man and his work to keep things running smoothly.

Smith Typewriter Sales LCSmith 8

Above, a Smithtype Rebuilt L. C. Smith & Bros. No. 8 machine.

I know and fully appreciate the accuracy and precision required of my men and ‘ease things up’ by giving each man the work he likes and performs the best.  In many cases I have made it more pleasant for the men, and more conducive to better work, by placing them in groups of four, each doing a specialized portion of assembling.

Our large, unusually well lighted workrooms are appreciated.  The men have a real love for the perfect mechanism of the L. C. Smith, which enables them to do more and better work than on other makes.

I know good work and exact a definite but reasonable output per man.  On the other hand, I know the worth of personal encouragement.  Our practice is to give our men full praise and good pay for doing unusually good work.  My men believe they are handling the best typewriter that is built.  Their belief in, and respect for, the L. C. Smith comes from their intimate knowledge of the quality of the machine and the service it gives our customers.

Our care and interest continues after we have shipped your typewriter to you because it is our desire that every customer shall be more than satisfied in every respect.”

Smith Typ Sales 1924 Smith Sig

Galbreath Typewriter Co.

Were it not for a cache of letters recently discovered, history might have forgotten the still-obscure Galbreath Typewriter Co. business – surely one of the smaller, regional operations but one which did advertise off and on for over a decade.

Galbreath Aug 1926 A

This August 1926 letter advises the recipient that two ranges of machines were advertised on the enclosed flyer (which we’ll see in a moment) – “cheap” machines, which for rebuilders were older variants of established makes or else obsolete sorts, and “late up to date machines” which were either still in production or at least very recent.  There’s no record which if any Mr. Mason ordered.

The letter above is signed by A. A. Galbreath, President of the Galbreath Typewriter Company.  This operation’s roots go back as far as 1913 when the mail-order Carnegie College, of Rogers, Ohio began to advertise rebuilt machines through its Typewriter Department.  Galbreath was President of this Carnegie College as well, which offered learn-by-mail courses in a wide variety of topics including but not limited to English, Engineering, Domestic Science, Poultry, Drawing, Real Estate and, probably unsurprisingly, “Type-writing.”

Asher A. Galbreath himself was born in Columbiana County Ohio in 1864, and among other things was at one time Mayor of the city of Rogers (from which the Carnegie College operated) and an Ohio Senator.  Eventually one or more of his sons became involved in the college and typewriter operations.

A 1917 ad for rebuilt typewriters in Progressive Teacher and Southwestern School Journal gives the curious address of “Everette Galbreath, Rogers Ohio.”  A 1918 ad has the orders sent to “Senator A. A. Galbreath, Carnegie College, Rogers Ohio.”  Sometime after this, certainly by December 1919 the name Galbreath Typewriter Company came into use.

Galbreath Aug 1926 B

Above and below, advertising flyer in 1926 Galbreath Typewriter Co. letter.

Galbreath Aug 1926 C

The advertisement for Galbreath shows the usual spread of prices for machines, but it should be noted that the actual prices for the machines are slightly higher than the norm even at this time, although not by any means extravagant.  There is clear evidence that Galbreath was rebuilding these machines it offered and not just distributing machines rebuilt by a larger national firm – the description of the company in its letterhead states “rebuilders, wholesalers and distributors.”  The factory was located in Rogers, while General Offices were in Columbus.

In this case Galbreath Typewriter Co. did not offer any “store front” services that we know of, and did not repair or service machines.  It appears as if Galbreath’s machines were mail order, just like the courses offered by the family run, affiliated college.  The parallel between this operation and Victor, which made new typewriters and which was for most of its life owned by International Correspondence Schools, is interesting.

Obsolete machines are often a focus of the bargain basement class of rebuilt machines, and in this case the old Royal No. 5, the Oliver No. 5, the full keyboard Smith Premier No. 10 (a front strike) and the Hammond No. 12 stand out.

Galbreath disappears from the record before the time of the Great Depression, and it’s safe to say so did many other operations we might never know about.  That said, we do have records and even brochures from a few other small operations throughout the years and you’ll see those all here on this site, eventually – so stay tuned for that.  For now however it’s enough that we can add another name to the pantheon of rebuilt typewriter companies, which at this late date is something of an event in itself.

Still Standing

W. H. Young launched the Young Typewriter Company in Chicago in 1911 – a period in which several companies that would become significant rebuilders were launched.  According to a 1926 trade catalog issued by his company, Young had previously achieved success both as “an expert mechanic and a successful salesman.”

The company moved more than once in its lifetime, but its final factory location was 652-654 West Randolph Street, Chicago.  Here we see a photo of the factory in operation from the 1926 Young Process Remanufactured Typewriters trade catalog.

Young Typewriter 652 W Randolph

As with other plants of the day, the Young plant operated on the newer design wherein a single machine did not stay in one spot during its rebuilding by a single expert, but rather was broken down with parts traveling through the plant in streams to later be assembled by a bank of experts.  Below, we see an early phase of the rebuilding operation; a power washing machine was employed to completely clean sections of the machines, already disassembled; they were then dried after this by compressed air.  Although not advertised in the catalog, there is at least one Smith Premier No. 10 and at least one Oliver machine in the cleaning room seen here.

Young Power Washing Machine

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Young plant and the machines it turned out in future installments; we’ll also meet Mr. Young himself.  What may be surprising is that the building that housed the Young Typewriter Company (which appears to have ended business during the Great Depression) is still standing today.  The photo below, from Google Maps, shows the Young building as the right-most of the two taller buildings at the center of the photo.

652 w randolph chi google maps Young Typewriter