The Classic Typewriter Page


"Let's see: a first-rate typewriter [typist, in 19th-century parlance] can reach speeds of 100 words per minute. But she is forced to print only one letter at a time. Ergo, if we allow her to print two letters simultaneously, she can reach a speed of 200 words per minute! -- And while we're at it, let's see if we can improve on QWERTY ..."

Make no small plans, it has been said, and A.S. Dennis was a man of vision. Not only did he have this thought (or something much like it), but he constructed and marketed such a machine, with high hopes. The 1895 Duplex was an understroke typewriter which featured 100 keys and typebars. The typebars were arranged in two semi-circles of 50, and it was possible to print one character from each semi-circle simultaneously, thus typing two-by-two. The keyboard arrangement of the Duplex is as follows:

OIERTL ()890%
ASDFGH ?"567$
oiertl oiertl
asdfgh asdfgh

With our 20/20 hindsight we are likely to say that we could have predicted this typewriter would not sell well. But George Jewett, who financed the enterprise, figured that he could market the Duplex with the promise of speed and a little sex appeal, as in this front-and-rear pair of advertisements:


No, the marketing strategy didn't work -- but our story does not end in utter tragedy. The conventional, one-by-one understroke typewriter made in the same Des Moines factory, the Jewett, was a success and was manufactured until around 1910.

The Duplex-Jewett family of typewriters includes:

Both the Duplex and the Jewett feature a clever means of producing shaded type by shifting the carriage slightly and retyping a word or phrase.

The photo at the top of this page, graciously provided by Darryl Rehr, shows a specimen with a Duplex mechanism and a Jewett paper table, formerly in the collection of Richard Dickerson, now in the collection of Bill Kortsch. The photo comes from Rehr's book Antique Typewriters and Office Collectibles.

Typewriter Spotlights