Keyed Up, Switched On, Logged In: Antique Typewriters at the MZTV Museum of Television

Mike Crisolago | October 7th, 2015

A glimpse back to the early days of ink and ribbon…

If someone gifted you the handy little gadget pictured below, would you know what to do with it? Your great-grandparents might.

Typewriter Hall 1

At first glance it looks like some sort of calculator. Or maybe a primitive seismograph. An old-fashioned musical box perhaps? Looks, as we know, can be deceiving. The Hall, circa 1881, is, in fact, an American typewriter, known for being the first of its kind without a keyboard.

It’s a unique artifact in the history of the written word and just one of a set of antique typewriters that make up the Keyed Up, Switched On, Logged In exhibit currently on display at the MZTV Museum of Television.

“Big black machines with names like Underwood and Remington will be familiar to anyone of a certain age,” the exhibit, which features antiques from the Martin Howard Collection of Early Typewriters, notes. “But it took many years of mechanical evolution to arrive at those workhorses.”

Keyed Up, Switched On, Logged In lays that evolution bare with typewriters from the late-19th and early 20th century that vary is shape, size, design – from ornately-decorated machines to devices that look nothing like any typewriter you’ve ever seen. Central to the exhibit is the TV typewriter, which serves as a missing link, so to speak, in the leap from typewriters to personal computers.

Invented by American engineer Don Lancaster in 1973, the TV typewriter paved the way for the i-devices we enjoy today, with a unique keyboard that “could connect to any TV and display 2 pages of 16 lines, of 32 characters each.” It’s also a natural fit within the MZTV Museum of Television’s wide array of antique and historic television sets.

Typewriter September 1973 RE Cover[26]

Even the keyboard-less Hall offered a glimpse into the future of communication, though no one knew it in 1881. Its means of typing, via a handle “used to select characters from an ‘index’ of characters,” foreshadowed one of today’s most popular means of communication – our penchant for casual, two-thumbed texting.

Scroll through the slideshow below for a glimpse of the some of the other antique typewriters on display as part of the Keyed Up, Switched On, Logged In, which runs until Dec. 23, 2015, and visit for more information on the exhibit and museum hours. 

Crandall New Model (1887, USA)

This typewriter boasts a wonderful Victorian design, with inlaid mother-of-pearl and hand painted roses all over its frame.

This was the first typewriter to use a single type-element (no type-bars) – well before IBM’s Selectric typewriter of 1961 with its ‘golf ball’ typing sphere. Like the Selectric, the font style can be changed simply by putting on another type-element.

Ford (1895, USA)

The Ford typewriter is a most impressive machine with its ornate grille and gracefully integrated keyboard. Its inventor Eugene Ford would become a senior Development Engineer for IBM.

It is notable that this typewriter was the first to use the new lightweight metal, aluminum, in the construction of its carriage.

Typewriter Mignon[8]

Mignon 2 (1905, Germany)

Despite its unusual appearance the Mignon typewriter embodied a very clever design, facilitating a smooth and fast operation. One’s thumb and forefinger pinch the black button to move the pointer to a character. This moves the type-cylinder into position over the paper before the black key in front is pushed down to type. The second black key gives a space.


The MZTV Museum of Television boasts “one of the world’s largest collections of historic television sets and ephemera,” including TV sets that belonged to Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. For more information, visit

Photos and product descriptions courtesy of the MZTV Museum of Television.