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Noiseless Portable

By the 1920s, every typewriter manufacturer wanted to offer a portable. This decade saw the production of some of the smallest keyboard typewriters ever made. One of the cutest is the Noiseless Portable of 1921-24. It is a three-bank typewriter with no front frame. When the space bar folds up and the carriage return lever folds down, the Noiseless is truly a tiny machine.

The technology of the Noiseless Portable has its origins in the late nineteenth century. Anyone who has heard an Underwood #5 at work can imagine the din made by a room full of standard typewriters, and can understand the motivation behind constructing a noiseless typewriter. Such a project was launched by a team of inventors including Wellington Parker Kidder (creator of the immortal Franklin and Wellington). After two decades of efforts, the Noiseless Typewriter Company went into full production in 1917, with its model 4. This typewriter was a big, heavy, three-bank machine. As Paul Lippman explains in American Typewriters: A Collector's Encyclopedia, "The Noiseless uses the momentum of a pivoted weight on each typebar to bring the type to the printing point in a relatively quiet 'kiss' which reduces the noise but requires a rigid metal platen rather than rubber to make an impression possible." The office-sized Noiseless uses a thrust mechanism. The portable uses front-striking typebars which swing towards the platen, but are held back just before reaching the platen. The momentum of the small weight gently brings the typebar the last few millimeters to the printing surface. The shift keys move the typebasket down for capitals, up for figures.

The selling points of the Noiseless Portable were, obviously enough, its "noiselessness" and its portability. The company affectionately called the machine "Your Junior Partner," and claimed: "The loud, raucous voice of a noisy portable limits its use on trains, in hotels, even in the home because the irritating click, click, click disturbs everyone nearby. There is only one portable typewriter that can be used anywhere, at any time without disturbing anybody. It is the Noiseless Portable." Of course, "noiseless" really just means "quieter than the average typewriter." The Noiseless Portable does make a gentle tapping noise when it types. However, the carriage movement is almost silent, and the very first Noiseless Portables do not even have a bell to signal the end of the line. The typewriter is very small; in its case, it measures 4-3/4" x 9-1/4" x 11-1/4" (12 x 24 x 29 cm). Since its body is made of sheet metal, it is light (around 8 lbs. / 3.5 kg in its case) and very easy to carry. I'm always tempted to bring my Noiseless with me on a plane and amaze my neighbors who are working on laptop computers. However, I have to say that the work done by my Noiseless Portable is inferior in quality to the work of a conventional typewriter: it is blurrier.

The very early Noiseless Portable at the top of this page (serial number 92) differs from later machines in a few ways. Later specimens include a complicated device which is used to lock the carriage in place while the typewriter is in its case (this was present before serial number 600). On later machines such as the one piectured to the left, the words "The" and "Noiseless" may be on the same surface of the frame, with an attractive tiger decal on the surface below. Very late Noiseless Portables (around s.n. 6000) replaced the sheet-metal sides with a more rigid cast frame.

The Noiseless Typewriter Company was bought by Remington in 1924. In 1931, Remington introduced its own noiseless portable, and various noiseless machines formed part of the extensive line of Remington portables for decades thereafter. These are four-bank machines with rubber platens which type more clearly than the original Noiseless Portable. These fine typewriters sold very well, perhaps proving that the public was willing to give up some portability in exchange for better quality and convenience.

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