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Mitterhofer Model 1

This article was written by
Berthold Kerschbaumer
and translated by
Richard Polt

This machine takes us back to the age of the first mass production of Peter Mitterhofer typewriters. Peter Mitterhofer (1822-1893), from the South Tyrolean town of Partschins, was one of the more inventive men of his time. In addition to practicing his livelihood, carpentry, he produced a series of diverse objects, both useful and artistic, such as loudspeakers, picture frames, washing machines, a device to break up hemp in making rope, and last but not least, five typewriters. He also demonstrated his many talents at local entertainment events, where he performed as musician and ventriloquist.

Mitterhofer finished his first model (shown at the top of this page) in 1864; with the exception of the type basket and the connecting wires, the entire machine was made of wood. He himself called this machine a "failure," even though it was the first to display such notable technical features as differential spacing and an ergonomic keyboard with several rows of keys, designed for two-handed typing. The 28 typebars struck the bottom of a wooden panel which served as the paper carrier (this panel is missing today). Bent needles served as the types; this meant that the script was visible in relief, as in Braille (the name "Mitterhofer" at the top of this page was produced in this way). Today this machine is found in the Technical Museum in Vienna; according to the research of conservator Richard Krcal, it should be seen as an experimental machine for the next typewriter, the Model 2.

The Model 2 (1864/65) is located today in the Technical Museum of Dresden, and has been preserved intact. Mitterhofer Model 2 This machine is somewhat smaller than the preceding model, and is more carefully finished. Its notable improvements over the Model 1 include an automatic spacing mechanism that operates when the laterally moving carriage is returned, function keys for locking the typebars, and a double-space key. By means of eight pawls which moved different lengths according to the width of the letter being typed, eight different spacings could be achieved -- the prototype of modern proportional typing. The whole machine is constructed on the principle of interlocking pieces -- the basic chassis, the typebars, the devices that control other functions, and the carriage. Some crucial hurdles to mass production had already been overcome.

In 1866, Mitterhofer made his way to Vienna by foot with his third model, which is no longer extant. In this model, in contrast to the first two, printer's types replaced the bent needles, and a cylindrical platen replaced the flat paper frame. He appealed to the Emperor with a petition for a grant "to prepare a second, completed device which could serve as a model for factory production of such devices." An appraisal from the Polytechnical Institute, dated January 25, 1867, vouches for his machine and guarantees that "flawless operation will doubtless follow upon more precise construction, and the inventor has overcome the real difficulties in a most perfect way." Emperor Franz Joseph authorized a grant of 200 guilders in order to reward the work that had been already done and to make possible the production of a perfected model.

Encouraged by the Emperor's grant, Mitterhofer began work on his fourth model in 1867. Mitterhofer Model 4 This machine is now primarily built of metal, and has a keyboard with 39 keys, with a shift for capitals. The 72 typebars were to be equipped with printers' types on their ends, and printed 26 capital and lower-case letters, 10 numerals and 10 figures. The paper was carried again on a platen, whose new spiral motion made automatic line spacing possible. This model, which today is found in the city museum of Meran, was not completely finished, and probably served as an experimental model for Mitterhofer's next machine.

The fifth model, perfected in 1869, was meant to be Mitterhofer's crowning glory. This machine is now equipped with a full keyboard (82 keys), Mitterhofer Modell 5 since apparently the shift from one group of typebars to the other presented greater technical problems. The types were inked by means of a group of bristles soaked in printer's ink, which was inked with every movement of the space bar and revolved with every strike of the typebars; this ensured an even inking of the type. At the end of 1869 Mitterhofer took this machine to Vienna to be judged, hoping to receive a grant or to sell the machine to a collection. The judgment of the Viennese police was exceedingly positive, and thus the machine was bought for 150 guilders for the model collection of the Polytechnical Institute. Today this machine exists in ready-to-write condition in the Technical Museum in Vienna.

After 1870, Peter Mitterhofer no longer occupied himself with constructing typewriters, but turned to more practical things, such as building washing machines, or artistically prepared picture frames. Since those who understood technical matters in the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not see far enough to recognize the true significance of Mitterhofer's construction and use it as a base for industrial production, his contribution to the development of the typewriter almost fell into oblivion. Only in 1920 was Mitterhofer rediscovered and retrospectively dubbed "the inventor of the typewriter." This appelation still adorns a commemorative Austrian stamp issued for the hundredth anniversary of his death in 1993. Mitterhofer stamp Mitterhofer was far ahead of his time, and in fact no other inventor succeeded in producing so many ideas that are still found in today's machines, such as proportional spacing. But, as with so many such inventions, Mitterhofer must share the title "inventor of the typewriter" with a series of other enlightened minds, such as Henry Mill, William A. Burt, Giuseppe Ravizza, Rasmus Malling-Hansen, and not least with Sholes, Glidden and Soulé.

Further reading:

  • Lassnig, Ewald. Peter Mitterhofer - ein Pionier der Schreibmaschine. Bozen, 1993.
  • Niederhuemer, Rolf (ed.). Blätter für Technikgeschichte, vol. 32/33. Vienna, 1973.
  • Krcal, Richard. Peter Mitterhofer und seine Schreibmaschine. Aachen, 1964.
  • Technisches Museum Dresden (ed.). Die Mitterhofer Schreibmaschine Modell Dresden. Dresden, n.d.
  • PS: An excellent Peter Mitterhofer Typewriter Museum now exists in Partschins.

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