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Yetman Transmitting Typewriter


I have been lucky enough in my collecting career to acquire two Yetman Transmitting Typewriters (serial number 1080, on the left, and the machine on the right with no serial number). This rarity was invented around 1903 by Charles E. Yetman of Washington, D.C., who designed it for use in telegraphy. It was manufactured from 1908 to 1909 in North Adams, Massachusetts.

In order to transmit, the operator depresses the small lever at the left of the frame. In order to type, the operator depresses the small lever at the right. Of course, by depressing both levers, one can type and transmit simultaneously. Several sources claim that the Yetman could both transmit (convert typing into Morse code) and receive (convert Morse code into typing), but this is false.

Quoting from G.C. Mares' History of the Typewriter (1909): "The machine may be permanently connected into a telegraph circuit by simply cutting the wire and inserting the two cut ends into binding posts fixed in the frame at the rear. Temporary connection into any circuit may be made by the use of a cord and jack placed under the spring of the Morse key circuit closer, so that the machine can be moved quickly from one wire to another like any ordinary typewriter."

As a typewriter, the Yetman is not particularly remarkable, since it is a four-bank, frontstroke, typebar machine. However, it does have some unusual features. The shift keys are located in the lower left and upper right corners of the keyboard -- as on early Remingtons. The ribbon spools are hidden away in the back of the machine, as on the Smith Premier #10 and the Remington Junior of 1914. The shift mechanism works by tilting the carriage forward, rather than raising it up. Most strikingly, the carriage return lever is mounted on the right side and is operated like the arm of a slot machine. Aside from the Yetman, only some Sholes and Gliddens and the Ideal return the carriage in this manner.

The Yetman's most noticeable design feature is the nickeled "shelf" above the keyboard which mirrors the "facade" of the machine. The black key on this shelf is designed for sending Morse signals the old-fashioned way. The typewriter is decorated with molded columns and blue-and-gold pinstripes. It is not unusually large, but it is remarkably heavy. In addition to containing a telegraphy mechanism, the Yetman has an extraordinarily sturdy typewriting mechanism. Even the little wheels on the paper fingers are beefy and solid. This machine was built for the ages.

Alas, it did not last for the ages. In 1909, the company failed. An entrepreneur called J.L. Smith then reintroduced the machine as the Smith Visible -- but removed the telegraphy feature. The basic concept of the Yetman was very sound, and if things had gone a little differently, the machine would not be rare today. In some not-too-distant parallel world, people aren't faxing and e-mailing each other -- they're "yetting"!

Previous literature has stated that Mr. Yetman died under mysterious circumstances in 1909, but this is not the case. His grandson contacted me in 2011 and let me know that Charles E. Yetman lived on until 1949.

Several mysteries about the Yetman remain to be solved. Why do many specimens have no name on them whatsoever? Why is there a postcard dating from 1907 showing a "Yetman Transmitting Typewriter Factory, Ilion, N.Y."? (Ilion, of course, was the site of the Remington factory.) (Ernst Martin in Die Schreibmaschine states that the Yetman was made for a while in the Monarch factory. Monarch was a Remington-owned make. This ties in with the postcard and the Yetman's Smith Premier-like ribbon spools; Smith Premiers were made in Syracuse and were another branch of the typewriter trust, along with Remington.) I invite other owners of Yetmans to contact me with further information.

Mares' book discusses several other early applications of the typewriter in telegraphy. To find out how to order this book, see The Percy Smock Corner.

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