The first commercially successful portable typewriter was patented in 1904 by New York inventor Frank Rose. His machine, seen left, went into production in 1907 as the Standard Folding Typewriter and the first machines came off the production line in a cramped New York City loft in March 1908. The secret of the machine's light weight and compact size was a combination of aluminium construction and a unique folding mechanism that halved its size when folded away. The little machine was an instant success and four years later was succeed by a design that has passed into legend as one of the most successful of all typewriters, the Corona 3. It also laid the foundations for one of the most successful of all typewriter companies, Smith-Corona. Tragically, though he invented the first commercially successful portable typewriter Frank Rose died before it went into production. His son, George, raised $150,000 on Wall Street with his father's patent and launched a new company to manufacture it in 1907, The Rose Typewriter Company.
The Standard Folding Typewriter
From March 1908 to February 1912 close to 12,000 Standard Folding Typewriters were manufactured (see bottom of page). Each machine came in a leatherette case at a standard price of $50 -- a price that remained unchanged for decades. For an extra $3, you could buy a slightly more luxurious real leather case, lined with velvet, like the one shown here. The first 5,570 models made had the Cap key at one side and the Fig key at the other as in the prototype. In July 1910, a slightly different model was introduced with both keys at the left as in this machine, which was most likely manufactured some time in late 1910 or early 1911. This particular machine has a keyboard with a French layout (Azerty instead of Qwerty) showing that the company was manufacturing for export markets even in its earliest years and even though it could scarcely satisfy demand in the home market. Early U.S. made machines were sold in England, France and Germany where they were re-branded as "Piccola" and "Azed". Although it weighs only five and a half pounds and can be held in one hand, the machine provides all the features of contemporary desk machines, such as two-colour ribbon, margin release, multiple line spacing, and shift-key locking. Two features it did not provide, however, were a back space key and automatic ribbon reversal. When the typist reached the end of the ribbon, he or she had to loosen the keeper nut on top of the full spool and tighten the nut on the empty one! To conserve weight, every major component of the machine was made from aluminium apart from the typebars, ribbon spools and the folding arms themselves, which were made from steel for strength. Unlike every other typewriter on the market which were invariably painted black, the machines remained unpainted. If you are using an expensive and rare material, as aluminium then was, you want everyone to know about it! Customers who wanted to buy a portable typewriter in 1910, could kit themselves out with a Standard Folding complete with leatherette case for $50. For the well to do typist, the machine was available in a leather case for $55 or a Sole-Leather case for $58. Accessories were available too. A black ribbon, on spool, cost $0.40 while a two-colour ribbon was a little more at $0.50. Extra leatherette travel cases could be bought for $3 and leather cases for $5. Special typewriter oil was available at $0.20 and type brushes for $0.15. The most important and most striking feature of the Standard Folding was, of course, the fact that the carriage had been designed to detach completely from the key board and to fold neatly away when not in use. That Frank Rose was able to separate the two precision mechanisms and bring them together again and make them work together was a remarkable piece of engineering design from a man who seems to have been mainly self taught.
Standard Folding Typerwriter production figures (based on serial
numbers) can be estimated to have been around 800 machines in 1908,
rising to around 2,200 in 1909, rising again to 4,500 machines in 1910
and around 4,500 again from the beginning of 1911 to February 1912, when the
Corona 3 was introduced, giving total production of around 12,000
machines. The earliest Corona 3 serial number so far found is 12,172.
To discover how the
Standard Folding Typewriter
The Portable Typewriter Website
Copyright © Richard Milton 2003-2004
Photographs by courtesy of The Cornelia and Peter Weil Collection