parts, williamsburg

The Second World War was a manual-typewriter war. One would be tempted to say that never will typewriters be nearly so important in a war again, were it not for the many manual typewriters in the Serbian and Croatian alphabets that Mr. Tytell has sold for use in Bosnia in recent years. Armies in the Second World War took typewriters with them into battle and typed with them in the field on little tripod stands. In the United States, typewriters were classified as wartime matériel, under the control of the War Production Board and unavailable for purchase by civilians without special authorization. Among the ships sunk off Normandy during the D-day invasion was a cargo ship carrying twenty thousand Royal and Underwood typewriters intended for the use of the Allies. Mr. Tytell says that as far as he knows, all twenty thousand are still down there. More than other veterans, a man whose life has been typewriters is likely to divide his history into short summaries covering before the war and after the war, and volumes in between.


[Mr. Tytell] spent much of his time assigned to the army's Morale Services Division, at 165 Broadway, which dealt in information and propaganda. There he received his hardest job of the war—a rush request to convert typewriters to twenty-one different languages of Asia and the South Pacific. Many of the languages he had never heard of before. The War Department wanted to provide airmen, in case they were shot down, with survival kits that included messages on silk in the languages of people they were likely to meet on the ground. Morale Services found native speakers and scholars to help with the languages. [Mr. Tytell] obtained the type and did the soldering and the keyboards. The implications of the work and its difficulty brought him to near collapse, but he completed it with only one mistake: on the Burmese typewriter he put a letter on upside down. Years later, after he had discovered his error, he told the language professor he had worked with that he would fix that letter on the professor's Burmese typewriter. The professor said not to bother; in the intervening years, as a result of typewriters copied from Martin's original, that upside-down letter had been accepted in Burma as proper typewriter style.

(ian frazier, from "typewriter man," 1997)
ian frazier exacerbated my fascination with siberia, and i search ebay for little bits of it every few months; last night i found a thunderful old landscape painting of chelyabinsk that belongs in my life. gone to new york, the collection in which "typewriter man" and "all that glitter" appear, features a really moving introduction by jamaica kincaid (man does she love ian frazier) and is the best vacation reading ever.


LPC said...

That painting is phenomenal and I really hope you own it soon.

lauren said...

i'm $629 away from having funds available for it, but that's why i have my $1-for-every-kilometer-i-run jar, right? hold that thought, painting of chelyabinsk.

Rob said...

Speaking of relatives (kind of) my cousins' grandfather carried a typewriter all across France during The War. The journal he kept is quite the read.