“Rebuilt” Defined

In the early years, “second hand” typewriters were sold in a wide variety of conditions.  While many were heavily torn down and reconstructed, a great number were not.  The lower quality, patched-up or in some cases not even patched-up machines gave the whole notion of second-hand machines something of a bad name.

As in any business, there were also unscrupulous persons who offered typewriters that were said to have been reconditioned or refurbished but which were not much more than touched up with new paint.  Some were even sold without telling the buyer that the machine was rebuilt — that is to say, the advertising led the buyer to believe that the machines were new (although it was never specifically stated.)

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Detail from an early Harry A. Smith ad which never mentions that these typewriters had been rebuilt. Ad in Will Davis collection.

Finally in 1920 the Federal Trade Commission asked the major typewriter manufacturers to assemble and determine as a standard what should constitute a typewriter described as “rebuilt” or “remanufactured.”  This was defined as follows:

Machines in which all substantial parts have been removed, examined, cleaned and tested; defective parts replaced; type properly aligned; unnecessary lost motion eliminated; tarnished blued and nickeled parts reblued and renickeled; and the parts of which have been reassembled, inspected, and adjusted by competent workmen.

Clearly by the above definition a rebuilt machine legally had to be taken quite apart, and in the cases of most of the factory rebuilders ‘defective parts replaced’ meant that the parts were replaced with new ones.  Another route to obtain this effect was batching, where a batch of perhaps 50 machines might be whittled down to, say, 30 by mixing and matching the best parts among them and coming up with 30 complete machines without having to buy new parts.

The industry took other actions that same day in cooperation with the FTC, and we’ll detail and explain those in future posts.  Also, we’ll look into every aspect of the described process above as well as other practices which allowed legal sale of ‘used’ machines without following the process outlined.

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