1884 - 1887
Columbia Type-Writer Co.
New York, NY
As the story goes, inventor Charles Spiro (1850 - 1933) was intent on improving the Caligraph's design after witnessing it in use but, fortunately for us, he couldn't secure funding to produce such a large keyboard-typewriter. So from the machine shop in the basement of his home he developed the smaller, cheaper Columbia. It would be the first of many typewriters that Charles would invent.
A patent for the Columbia was originally applied for in April of 1884 for which no.322,989 was issued in July of 1885. However, patents in foreign countries were already secured as early as November of 1884. In an article from the October 9, 1885 issue of Knowledge magazine, John Browning described the typewriter's operations as such: "In this machine the type is on the rim of a small wheel. When the type-wheel is turned by means of a straight handle, held between fingers, a hand points to the letter which is in the position for printing on dial; simply depressing the handle locks the type-wheel, so that it cannot turn while a letter is being printed."
The company's factory was established at 129 and 131 Crosby St. in New York City while the main sales offices were headquartered in the old Stewart Building at 320 Broadway, also in New York City. The first mention of a Columbia having been placed on the market was in the October, 1884 issue of The Phonetic Educator. Though these typewriters were produced in the US, today, the vast majority have been discovered in European markets. Both of the examples on this page were found there.
Three unique models of the Columbia were produced: Nos.1 and 2 and then the "Improved" No.2. The No.1, like the example at the top of this page, had one typewheel with which it typed uppercase exclusively. The company added an upper/lowercase model, the No.2, as early as March of 1885 when patent no.395,799 was applied for. It covered the addition of a second typewheel. Columbia was selling the 1st two models concurrently and marketing them specifically as Nos.1 and 2 and not as 1a and 1b or "intermediate" model as is often misstated. This is evident in the three pages below from an original instruction manual.
By the end of 1885 Columbia had already introduced the Improved No.2. It was a refined version of the original No.2; more robust, mechanically superior and arguably better esthetically. Though it was the most successful of the 3 models it was, nonetheless, short lived. The last ad I was able to locate for a Columbia index typewriter was in a British periodical, The Saturday Review, dated February 19, 1887. By then Charles Spiro was already working on the Bar-Lock.
Known serial numbers for Columbia typewriters range from 153 to 11,637. Of these, the first 5oo are reserved for models 1 and 2.
Fun fact: Columbias were the first typewriters produced with proportional spacing. The distance the carriage advanced was based on the width of individual characters.
Other than the Bar-Lock, Charles Spiro went on to develop the Columbia Musicwriter, Visigraph and also assisted in the development of the Gourland. He remains one of the most celebrated typewriter inventors.
Need an instruction manual for your Columbia No.1 or No.2? Get it here...