IBM Office Products Division highlights

The following is the text of an IBM Office Products Division press fact sheet published in August 1976.

In 1933, widespread usage of electric typewriters was little more than a dream in the minds of a few progressive businessmen. A big, black, noisy machine that terrified girls who were learning to use it, the electric typewriter of the day bore little resemblance to the sleek, quiet office electrics we know today.

One firm, Electromatic Typewriters, Inc. of Rochester, New York, was making a modest amount of money manufacturing and selling the strange machine in the early years of the great depression, but although slightly profitable, it would have been a distortion of fact to term Electromatic's operations "successful." Moreover, previous attempts by other companies to manufacture and sell electric typewriters had all ended in disaster, and it is doubtful that Electromatic would have been the exception, considering the formidable sales resistance to the machines at that time.

However, Electromatic, which then had 30 employees, including four salesmen, caught the eye of Thomas J. Watson, Sr., IBM's founder and first president, and in July, 1933, IBM purchased the production facilities, tools and patents of that company. Only 20 years old itself at the time, IBM put its development, production and marketing know-how into perfecting an electric typewriter which was soon to start a revolution in the typewriter industry.

The first successful electric typewriter

Acutely aware of the problems connected with the marketing of an electric typewriter, IBM's management came up with a comprehensive program to meet the challenges. First, the basic machine needed improvement. In 1934, more than a million dollars was invested in the new typewriter which was designed to be completely free of the operating deficiencies inherent in the Electromatic design. Secondly, IBM realized that sales techniques had to overcome a multitude of groundless objections to the application of electricity to the typewriter. People had to be convinced that this electric was a safe, reliable, efficient machine. Only after this pioneering stage was completed could IBM sell the need for greater efficiency in business communications through the use of IBM electric typewriters. Thirdly, management saw the need for an effective service organization to work with production and sales, so a customer engineering operation was established to ensure all typewriter customers that their machines would be kept in top running condition at all times.Most important, however, was the IBM determination to keep up-to-date with business needs as they developed. This determination engendered a policy of continued product research and development. With this program supporting it, the IBM Electric Typewriter was introduced in 1935 and became the first commercially successful electric to be marketed in the United States. The product line was rapidly expanded in the late thirties with the addition of the toll biller, the manifest writer, and the automatic formswriter, which greatly increased the application of the electric typewriter to office procedures.

"Proportional spacing" developed

In 1941, IBM announced a radical breakthrough in typewriter technology. Since its invention, the typewriter had employed a single-spacing principle which allowed the same letterspace width for all characters, regardless of size. Inventors and manufacturers had struggled long and hard to develop a simple, low-friction carriage mechanism that would single space without jumping or sticking, and by 1941 such a spacing device had been perfected. But it seemed as though typewritten material would always have an uneven appearance, with too much space surrounding I's and i's and not enough around m's and w's, thereby distinguishing typing from printed material produced by a typesetting machine which allows different widths for different characters.

IBM typewriter engineers spent years researching, developing and perfecting a mechanism that would measure each alphabetical character in units, and in 1944 the first IBM "Executive" Typewriter with proportional spacing was announced. This revolutionary concept allows from two to five units of space per letter and produces material that simulates the appearance of the printed page. After a scant eight years in the business, IBM had successfully solved a problem which had baffled typewriter inventors and manufacturers for more than 60 years.

Subsequent research showed that material typed on the proportional spacing "Executive" typewriter can be read six percent faster than material prepared on typewriters with ordinary spacing.

World War II interrupted the company's operations, and it was not until 1946 that normal activities were resumed. During this year, the "Executive" typewriter with proportional spacing was put on the market. Over a three-year period beginning in 1946, the company again invested heavily in typewriter product research and engineering. This resulted in the 1948 introduction of the completely new Model A Standard Electric Typewriter line which remained the staple of the company's typewriter product line until 1954.

More applications for electric equipment

In 1950, two developments that were extremely important to the division's growth took place. IBM introduced completely electric decimal tabulation, an invaluable addition to the typewriter's use in preparing statistical materials. The same year, the World Trade Corporation, one of the company's wholly-owned subsidiaries, began the manufacture of IBM typewriters abroad, and has since made a major contribution to the expansion and development of the division's products by opening new markets in countries throughout the free world.

The production of typewriters in pastel colors, and with changeable typebars, began in 1952. Changeable typebars allow the typist to replace standard typebars with special symbol typebars when needed.

Heavy investments in research during 1952 and the two years that followed brought about the introduction of the Model B typewriter line in 1954. Although it was not a radical departure from the Model A, it incorporated many new features, including cushioned carriage return, electric ribbon rewind, and multiple copy control.

Subsequently, typamatic keys were added to the Model B typewriter. They provided automatic repeat action on carriage return, spacebar, backspace, hyphen and underscore keys.

A new expanded division

In October, 1955, the Electric Typewriter Division was established as an autonomous segment of IBM's corporate structure. The division was completely integrated -- developing, manufacturing, marketing and servicing its entire product line.

In 1957, the division began the manufacture of typewriter supplies to ensure customers that rigid quality controls would be maintained in the production of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper bearing the IBM trademark. In the same year, the Input-Output Typewriter, which automatically typed computer-originated solutions at a rate of 10 to 12 characters per second, was introduced. The machine provides a means through which the operator can automatically receive communication from, and manually enter information into, data processing systems, measurement recording devices, and automatic control mechanisms through electronic impulses.

In 1957, the division also completed transfer of its manufacturing and engineering operations to a new plant at Lexington, Kentucky. The new facility contained the world's most modern typewriter assembly operation as well as the only engineering laboratory in the world devoted solely to electric typewriter development, and soon became a showplace for advanced manufacturing and engineering techniques. In 1958, the division produced its one-millionth typewriter, a fitting climax to its silver anniversary year.

Model C typewriter

In January, 1959, the division introduced a newly-engineered and dramatically-restyled typebar electric typewriter. Known as the Model C, it featured a new decelerator mechanism for noise reduction and elimination of slack in carriage returns; a new touch control system; and a carbon ribbon feed to achieve book-style printing.

Introduction of dictation equipment

In 1960, the division entered a new line of office communications with the announcement of the IBM "Executary" dictation equipment line. The line included a dictating unit, a transcriber, a combination unit which can be used in or out of the office. Introduction of the IBM "Executary" dictation equipment represented a giant step into a new field, and one which had remained largely untapped because of a number of problems not unlike those which surrounded the introduction of the electric typewriter.The new line of IBM "Executary" dictation equipment was designed to provide efficiency, fidelity and ease of operation never before available in dictation equipment. As with the introduction of the electric typewriter in 1935, dictation equipment required concept marketing -- selling the idea first, then selling the product.

The solid-state IBM "Executary" dictating unit recorded up to 14 minutes of dictation on a magnetic belt and allowed the operator to revise unwanted material and completely erase the belt in six seconds so it could be used again.

In July, 1961, the IBM "Executary" portable dictating unit (Model 214) made its debut.

The "Selectric" typewriter revolution

In the summer of 1961, the division announced a technological breakthrough which revolutionized the typewriter industry -- the IBM "Selectric" Typewriter. It prints by means of a single, interchangeable sphere-shaped typing element bearing 88 alphabetic characters, numerals and punctuation symbols. It has no typebars and no movable carriage. The printing element is mounted on a small carrier which runs along a cylindrical metal bar while typing. Because the writing element moves, and not the paper-carrying unit, the need for a conventional carriage is eliminated. For this reason, the "Selectric" typewriter requires less space, vibration is minimized, and there is no carriage return jolt. Another important feature of the new machine is the ability to change type styles in seconds through the single element typing principle.

First Magnetic Media typewriter

In 1964, the division introduced the IBM Magnetic Tape "Selectric" Typewriter which is capable of automatically producing error-free typing at a speed of 150 words per minute. This machine uses a magnetic tape which stores typed information in coded form. As the typist operates the machine's conventional keyboard, words and numbers are recorded and stored on a tape which can hold approximately a full day's typing. The MT/ST is designed for typing applications where revisions will be needed because of errors, insertions, or deletions.

A change of name

To indicate more accurately the scope of the product line, the Electric Typewriter Division changed its name to Office Products Division in August, 1964. That same year continued growth was reflected in a move to expanded headquarters facilities at 590 Madison Avenue in New York City.

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