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The charming Molle typewriter can instantly be recognized by its unusual angles, its high base, its ribbon spools mounted on horizontal axles, and its stairstep keyboard. It was invented by jeweler and watchmaker John E. Molle. At the turn of the century, Molle was the only person within 100 miles of the town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, who could repair typewriters. He began to wish that the machines were simpler and easier to disassemble. So he decided to invent his own typewriter, and obtained a series of patents beginning in 1903. Molle's first design (1906) was almost manufactured in 1908 as the Jundt by Alfred Jundt in Dayton, Ohio, but apparently this project never succeeded. Molle's second design (1914) was also stillborn. Finally, the Molle Typewriter Company was founded in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Molle No. 3 came on the market in 1918.

The Molle is a mid-sized typewriter. That is, it is larger than most portables, but smaller than a standard office machine. It comes in a carrying case and is quite light (11.75 lbs., 5.3 kg), because it is made mostly of pressed steel and aluminum instead of cast iron. The Molle sold for $50, half the price of most office typewriters. It has a thousand fewer parts than many other typewriters, but still includes features such as a tabulator and backspacer. It is easy to take apart: it can be divided into carriage, base, and keyboard-typebasket unit in just a few minutes, without the use of any tools.

The main mechanical peculiarity of the Molle is its system of type levers. As on understroke Smith Premiers, each key rotates a shaft that runs from the front to the back of the machine.

Molles are not rare, but they are somewhat hard to find, because the company went out of business after only four years. Many Molles were exported to Europe. They also seem to be found more frequently in Wisconsin, where they were made. My own Molle came from Wisconsin, and the dealer told me that he had heard that the typewriters were given away as premiums to the company's stockholders. -- Well, that's one way of reducing your inventory!

Why didn't the Molle endure? One problem is the three-bank keyboard, which was starting to go out of style in office typewriters. If buyers wanted a three-bank portable, they could buy a Corona, which was much smaller and more portable. With the introduction of the Remington Portable in 1920, they could even buy a four-bank portable. But the real problem, I would guess, is that typing on the Molle simply feels very weird to anyone who is used to a different machine. First, the keys are in straight columns, instead of staggered as on most typewriters. This feature is due to the mechanism that the Molle shares with the Smith Premier, which also has keys in straight columns. For anyone but an old Smith Premier user, the arrangement feels very strange, as if the keys are not quite in their right places. But a Smith Premier user would be used to a full keyboard (no shift) and wouldn't like a typewriter with two shifts. In addition, the keys of the Molle tilt to the side slightly when depressed. Again, this is due to the Smith Premier-like mechanism. The phenomenon is more noticeable on the Molle than on the Smith Premier, because the Molle's keys also tend to rotate a little. It feels as if the keyboard is slipping away from the typist! I would guess that all this would be hard to get used to, unless the Molle was one's very first typewriter. But I should add that if one did get comfortable with the feel of the keyboard, one could produce nice work. The Molle is mechanically sound and types well.

The "MT" logo shown at the top of this page is unusual; most specimens simply say "MOLLE" on their paper table. Another unusual variant is a white Molle. After the Molle Typewriter Company went bankrupt in July, 1922, a Chicago firm resurrected it as the Liberty typewriter, but had little success.

And now, the question you've all been asking: how do you pronounce the name of this machine? Well, no one really knows. But I would guess that it's pronounced "Mollie," like the woman's name -- or if you prefer, "Mali" like the African country (Update: Yes, it's "Mollie"!)

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