The Classic Typewriter Page


This typewriter is a true oddity and a rarity -- if any exist at all! The Kent typewriter was announced in 1892 by a company based in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was to be an electric typewriter. (Little did its promoters know that electric writing machines were not to gain true popularity for 60 years, although the first electric typewriter to come on the market, the Blickensderfer Electric, appeared in 1902.) The Kent also typed from a typewheel, much like today's daisy wheel -- except that its axis was parallel to that of the platen, instead of perpendicular to it as on today's machines. Most strikingly, the Kent's typewheel moved as one typed -- not the platen, as on virtually all machines of the time. The only way in which the Kent was a creature of its age was its keyboard: it had a full keyboard, with caps on the top three rows (in the QWERTY arrangement), lower-case on the next three, and numbers and figures on the lowest two rows. Of course, this arrangement was doomed to eventual failure, despite its popularity in the 1890's, because it makes touch typing impossible.

Our image of the Kent comes from G.C. Mares' History of the Typewriter (1907):

Mares writes:

"The illustration is engraved from a circular issued in 1892 by the Kent Writing Machine Company, by which they were then endeavouring to sell 'an additional issue of three thousand shares of its capital stock at $1 per share,' by which it was hoped to raise money 'for the purpose of completing the improved model now in course of construction.' As that is now many years ago, and the machine has not (as far as our knowledge goes) yet appeared, it is safe to assume that it 'is not yet on the market.' The Kent typewriter is supposed to be operated by electricity, the operator merely 'touches the button' (whatever that may be), 'and electricity does the rest.' It is, in a manner, a type-wheel machine, the types being arranged around the large wheel on top of the machine. In their prospectus the Company says: 'The time will surely come when this machine will be used on every railroad and telegraph line in the world.' The machine, it will be noticed, presents one or two singular features, not the least curious of which is, that the types are engraved on the edge of the large wheel, which revolves between the letters, and travels from left to right as the line is gradually filled up. No information is afforded as to how the wheel is to be returned at the end of the line. The Kent, from a casual glance, might almost be taken for a patent knife cleaner, or some other article of household use, and the name of Kent, so well known to Londoners, will aid in the delusion."

Do I detect a note of sarcasm??

No Kents exist, to my knowledge. Could one possibly turn up somewhere? Well, it could. Stranger things have been known to happen in the typewriter world, and it may be that as you read this, a little old lady in St. Paul has found something in her attic that looks like a cross between a Smith-Corona and a patent knife cleaner ... whatever that is.

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