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What is a Memory Typewriter?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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Memory typewriters are typing machines that are equipped with a limited amount of memory, making it possible to retain one or two documents for printing at a later time. The earliest versions of this type of typewriter appeared before the middle of the 20th century, and reached the height of their popularity during the decade of the 1970s. While considered obsolete today, it is still possible to purchase a memory typewriter from a small number of manufacturers.

The earliest versions of the memory typewriter essentially created a permanent record of a typed document on a roll of paper, using a series of perforations. In operation, the device worked very similar to a player piano. The roll was inserted into a holding case, then allowed to run through the device. At the roll progressed, the machine took note of the placement of the perforations and responded by automatically depressing the keys so that a printed copy of the letter or other document was created. Typewriters equipped with this type of technology were often somewhat difficult and costly to operate, which minimized their practicality in many office settings.

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Later versions of the memory typewriter proved more successful. Versions developed during the 1960s and early 1970s relied on the emerging computer technology to equip the basic electronic typewriter with a limited memory capacity. Many models sported a small view screen, located just above the keyboard, which allowed the user to view the letters as they were entered. This modern memory typewriter also included some capacity to check the spelling of the words, and alert the typist to any words that were not recognized. By setting the typewriter to save the data, but not actually type the characters onto paper, it was possible to enter an entire page of text, scan it for spelling and spacing errors, make corrections, then print the final copy.

The built-in memory typewriter proved to be very useful when preparing multiple copies of documents with little to no differences. For example, a typist charged with the task of compiling large numbers of unemployment claim forms after the close of a plant facility could key in the basic data that would not change from one form to the next, making sure the spacing was set to match the layout of the form. Once the basics of the text were in place, the document was saved in the memory of the typewriter. Rather than having to type each form individually, the typist simply inserted a blank form, triggered the execution of the saved file, and allowed the typewriter to fill in the blanks. While inefficient by today’s standards, the memory typewriter saved a great deal of time in comparison to typing each character on each form by hand.

While modern word processing software has rendered the memory typewriter obsolete, there are still a few companies that manufacture the devices. Considered more of a novelty than a useful tool for the office or home, this type of typewriter is readily available from a number of online retailers. In terms of price, many cost as much as a good quality used computer, without offering the additional features that are found on the most basic of desktop or laptop systems.

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Terrificli
Post 3

@Logicfest -- actually, you will use that memory function and probably won't realize it if you are addressing envelopes. Most modern typewriters come with an auto correct function built it that allows the typist to correct a single character or even an entire word. The memory function is what makes auto correct work.

By the way, anyone who has used a computer to address envelopes knows that they can jam like crazy. For multiple addresses, get a sheet of blank labels. Most word processing programs can be set up to output labels that come on standard sheets.

Still, for individual or just a few envelopes it is hard to beat a typewriter. One with built in memory so you can easily correct make mistakes makes that task more convenient.

Logicfest
Post 2

@Melonlity -- there is still at least one thing that typewriters do better than computers -- addressing envelopes. I have never owned a printer that didn't tend to jam when envelopes are being fed through it. That is a pain to deal with when you have a slew of envelopes to print and every third or fourth one causes a jam that has to be cleared.

You don't have that problem with a typewriter. Granted, you won't use that memory function at all when typing addresses on envelopes, but you might find other uses for it.

Melonlity
Post 1

If you run out and buy a typewriter today the chances are good that it will be a memory typewriter. However, the article makes a good point. Why bother with a typewriter at all when they have pretty well been replaced by computers with printers and word processing programs?

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