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Underwood Music Typewriter

Gates Underwood was a transplant from Billings, Montana. It was there that he developed his love of music. The photo below, which dates to 1922, is from the Billings High School yearbook. Gates is playing the violin in the group he was a member of, the X-Chequer Orchestra

Gates E. Underwood

Underwood Music Typewriter


San Francisco, California, U.S.

Gates Edwin Underwood  (1903 - 1983) of San Francisco, California received a patent no.1,847,282 for his music writing machine, a.k.a. a music typewriter or musicwriter, in March of 1932. The patent was applied for in May of 1930. Lewis Kean Cameron (1884 - 1955), a music store employee in San Francisco, was assigned 3/5 of the patent.

Underwood Music Typewriter

Underwood's invention, which one reviewer referred to as a "robot music typewriter," took him three years to create after an original prototype was made on the kitchen table of his home. Purportedly, the musicwriter was able to automatically print musical notation as it was being played by on an attached piano. The piano's internal key levers were wired with a bank of electrical switches attached to them which then relayed the necessary information to the musicwriter. Underwood's devise was able to write both melody and harmony on a continuous roll of paper as fast or as slow as the musician could play. It was able to produce carbon copies, too.

Actually, to call this machine a typewriter is probably a bit of a stretch. It's more of a printer than a typewriter. Underwood himself preferred to call it an "'A' tone music recorder." Whatever it's called, it was probably really heavy and an interesting machine to watch as it typed. I like it so I hope it's still out there somewhere.

Underwood Music Writing Machine Typewriter
Underwood Music Typewriter

Questions? Comments? Have more info? Have you found the Underwood Music Typewriter? I would be very interested in it. Please email me at

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