California Typewriter - Title

California Typewriter The Documentary

I was browsing the documentary section of Hulu the other day and a title caught my eye: California Typewriter. The word “typewriter” brought back memories of my mother using her typewriter for medical transcription at both a doctor’s office and home. I remember her using an IBM Selectric and then a daisy wheel. She was using a typewriter up until the early 2000s. This isn’t to say she wasn’t using a word processor or a word processing program on Windows 3.1 as well, but the typewriter was still used.

Back to the documentary.

California Typewriter is named after a business in Berkeley, CA. As you can imagine, the business struggles to keep their doors open these days. This documentary looks into the day to day activities of the employees as well as looking into the patrons of this business. Folks bring in typewriters for repair and maintenance, others come in to buy.
California Typewriter - Maintenance

The documentary also shows us some famous collectors like Tom Hanks as well as typewriter advocates singer John Mayer and actor Sam Shepard. They explain why they choose to still use these mechanical devices and steer clear of computers for their writing.

Most of the typewriters featured California Typewriter are non-electric. We even get to see some of the earliest typewriters from the 1800s. Some didn’t even have a qwerty keyboard.

[Via] Zero Media

As someone who collects vintage computers, I appreciate their love of these devices even though some of the people on camera put down computers (it hurt a little). However, computers had their say at the end of the film. Halfway through the documentary, I was regretting giving my ex-girlfriend not one, but two mechanical typewriters (she’s a writer). The commentary in this film has convinced me that I need to type letters, ideas, and basically anything that needs to be on paper with a typewriter.

I have a spot for it in my home office. I just need to visualize…
California Typewriter - Justin's desk

Typewriter Toys

A walk through any toy store will reveal dozens of toy computers, laptops, cell phones and even tables. Back in the day though, we had toy typewriters.


Two things struck me when I ran across this toy in a local antique mall last weekend: the fact that it’s a typewriter, and the fact that it’s made of metal and covered with sharp edges. The thought of selling a children’s toy today made out of metal and covered with sharp edges seems foreign to us, but back in the day it was actually pretty normal.

I thought about picking this up before I saw the price tag, at which point I realized I could probably buy at least 50 used typewriters for the same amount of money.

Selectric II

Remember the AlphaSmart?

Before everyone was carrying around lightweight laptops and netbooks that make word processing on the go super easy, but after they heyday of the typewriter, some devices tried to bridge the gap between the two. One of the most memorable and would you believe still in use in some areas was the AlphaSmart. Originally released in 1993, and then only compatible with the Apple Macintosh, the AlphaSmart was a wordprocessing device that allowed you to work on the go via a pretty long lasting battery and some creative tech. Then when you were ready to take your document to the next step, you just plugged it into your computer. A few iterations would follow after the initial release allowing for compatibility with the PC, USB interface, Palm OS and more standalone functionality.

Those who used the early model of AlphaSmart might be surprised to learn that the device lives on in the form of the NEO and NEO2. Still this is always the AlphaSmart I will remember.

Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t respect what people are doing with the NEO…