The Portable Typewriter:  Historical Spotlights
..our look at the development of portable typewriters from early to modern, all-in-one.
It is not the aim of this site to duplicate material already in print, or on the internet.  Our goal is to present a retrospective, time oriented story of the development of portable typewriters from the very first significant machines through to machines that we would have no trouble recognizing as "modern."  As this goal requires discussion in steps, we will present a series of articles concerning what we might consider as developmental phases.  We should note, though, that historians often apply distinctions and make historical breaks in places where, at the time, no real break was perceived -- only a development or extrapolation.  We thus note that it is not our intent to re-write history, but rather only our intent to explain it in a fashion we can easily visualize, with longer stops at points of interest to collectors and typists.
Introduction.     The history of that first recognizable, truly useful and portable typewriter, the Blickensderfer, has been covered so exhaustively elsewhere that to do justice it would require either completely new material, or else just the briefest description for perspective.  We choose the latter style as the beginning for our investigation.
The Blickensderfer Typewriter dates from those early days of typewriter development wherein anything like we might find "modern" today in a typewriter had yet to assert itself as superior.  Many bewildering designs were in production, using all sorts of mechanisms to produce writing, mechanically, on paper - whether enormous or tiny.  The Blickensderfer, which first appeared on the market in 1895, combined a number of design elements that worked well enough that the machine, overall, had considerable merit.  For example, it incorporated a keyboard - it should be remembered that many kinds of index machines had come and gone, and would still come later, but the major makes of standard machines were all also keyboard machines.  The Blickensderfer incorporated a type wheel, which was perfectly functional if extreme speed and manifolding were not considerations (although some sources state that the Blickensderfer was better than one might imagine at manifolding) and produced a fine, clear impression on paper through the means of direct-inking of the type wheel - reducing the effect of uneven touch by the typist.  Of course, the greatest virtue of the machine was its small size and weight.  From inception the Blickensderfer became well-known as the best truly portable machine, and sales steadily increased; the advertisement at right, from February 1906 indicates that over 100,000 had already been sold (and the machine was not as inexpensive as one might think, compared to standard or office-sized typewriters.)
It might be said, in retrospect given the timing of introduction of the Blickensderfer Typewriter that it was one of the last successful machines to be introduced which did not employ front-striking type bars.  In 1895, although the upstrike standard machines were still dominant, the Daugherty and Underwood machines were about to make an enormous impact; by 1904 the industry of typewriter manufacturing would be in the midst of a mechanical revolution in favor of visible writing, front-strike machines (which naturally implies the use of type bars.)  Still, the Blickensderfer machines, through their many models, changes and improvements continued to sell quite well, although it should also have been obvious that eventually something would develop to threaten the type-wheel, direct-inking Blickensderfers.
Although it appears not to have had a major impact in the marketplace, the Sun Standard No. 2, which appeared in 1901, was among the first harbingers of change in the manufacturing of workable, sturdy, reliable machines which could be easily transported.  The product of the Sun Typewriter Company, and invented by Lee Spear Burridge, the Sun Standard No. 2 was advertised as "the only standard typewriter suitable for travelers" (see ad at right) and also made a point that it was "built on the type-bar (not type-wheel) principle" -- clearly a shot at Blickensderfer, the leader at the time.  Also noted, though, is the fact that the machine weighed 15 lbs with the case; the machine also employed direct inking.  Still, it was now clear that it was only a matter of time before further refinement took place - and that time was not far off.
all photos this site from Will Davis or David B. Davis unless noted.