1889 - 1906
Odell Type Writer Co. & Odell-Young Typewriter Co. & American Co.
Lake Geneva, WI & Chicago, IL, & Momence, IL, US
The Odell typewriter story begins with the No.1a, also known as the "Seal Foot Odell." It was produced briefly in Lake Geneva, WI before inventor Levi Judson Odell (1855 - 1919) scrapped the design in favor of a round-based version. The 1b model, as seen at the top and bottom of this page, was awarded patent no.437,791 in October of 1890. Eventually the company moved to Chicago, IL where a few more of the 1b model were produced just as its successor, the No.2, was introduced.
In a 2014 story, Sylviane Gold, Art Critic for The New York Times, remarked that Odells resemble as "a cross between a meat slicer and a sextant." But as odd as these typewriters seem to us, they had their merits when they were originally marketed. First, at 1/5 the cost of standard typewriters, Odells were more appealing to a broader consumer base. Second, they were very easy to use. As one tagline stated, "No previous knowledge of typewriting necessary," This was undoubtedly intended to make Odells more appealing by painting larger typewriters unnecessarily complex. Lastly, Odells were much smaller which made them portable enough to take anywhere without hesitation.
Most Odell No.1b models had a gold gilt round base incised with primitive dashes, dots and zig-zags within a nickel plated rim. A few examples, like the one at the top and bottom of this page, had a completely nickel-plated, rimless base. No.1bs were sold for $15 and typed uppercase only. They were briefly produced and marketed concurrently with the $20 No.2 model which typed both upper and lowercase. The No.2's base was adorned with an Art Nouveau designs as were all subsequent models, like Nos.3, 4 & 5, which also all functioned similarly. The one exception was the Odell Check Protector which had a check cancelling type-rail, like the example here...
Odells were linear index typewriters with a type-rail print element. A fabric roller under the type-rail applied ink to the characters as they passed over it. The pinch levers to the side of the carriage acted as both the carriage advance mechanism and escapement.
As stated, Odells were first produced in Lake Geneva, WI before the business was moved to Chicago, IL. The brand was restructured as the Odell-Young Typewriter Co. in 1889 at which point Levi Odell was no longer affiliated with the company according to a September 1890 issue of the Phonographic World. The company was once again purchased by the American Company of Rockford, IL in early 1905 which moved operations to Momence in 1906. The building in the image on this page is where where the Odell factory was once located at 529 Main St. in Lake Geneva.
The round-based Odells stopped being marketed in mid-1906 at which point the New American No.5 took over. Despite its square base, the New American functioned principally the same as its predecessors.
See an original 1898 trade catalog for the Odell No.2 here...
See an original diagram of an Odell No.4 broken down by price-per-part here..