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Smith Corona 5TE Electric 1957

Smith Corona 5LE Electric 1959

The claim of this 1957 Ad campaign was dramatic; "Just touch the keys and you get perfect letters - electrically!"  But does "perfect letters" mean perfect character impressions?  Or it does it mean that the new futuristic electric typewriter is so clever it can almost type your letters for you?  The ambiguity seems to be have been left in deliberately for the benefit of the scientifically naive 1950s audience at which it was aimed.  If the students, housewives, and self-employed business people, who were Smith Corona's target, believed they were buying some kind of intelligent computing machine, then so much the better!  The possibility of putting an electric motor into a portable typewriter was high on the development agenda of every manufacturer since the 1930s but the same factor had deterred them every time the subject came up for discussion in the boardroom - cost.  Electrifying the typewriter would confer little real benefit but would make the machine heavier and much more expensive.  Would domestic and small business users want to pay for such luxury?  In 1957, Smith Corona decided to bite the bullet and find out.  It produced the world's first electric portable in two versions: the 5TE with a 10-inch carriage and the more expensive 5LE with a 12-inch carriage, shown here.  Both cost significantly more than manual machines, although they were cheaper than a manual desk machine - a fact that Smith Corona made use of in its ads.  In the event, the buying public welcomed the electric portable, just as they had welcomed the folding portable 40 years earlier and within a few years, every major manufacturer had followed Smith-Corona's lead by introducing their own electric portables.  Although manual portables continued to be made in numbers for a decade or more, it was the beginning of the end. 

One final irony is that while the first portables, the Blick Featherweight of 1909 and Standard Folding of 1908, weighed only 5 pounds and could be held in one hand, the Smith Corona Electric Portable weighed a whopping 24 pounds -- more than desk typewriters made from cast iron, like the Hammond and the Imperial A.  The years of striving to reduce weight to a minimum had all been in vain.


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       Copyright Richard Milton 2003-2009
          Last revised: 01 May 2006

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