1891 - 1909
Williams Typewriter Company
Brooklyn, New York & Newark, New Jersey &
Derby, Connecticut, U.S.
Williams typewriters are stunning pieces of machinery that salute the industrial design mantra of form following function. Very early typewriters were blindwriters, which meant that typists could not see what they were writing because the typebars struck the platen from underneath. By 1890 there was a collective roar from the public for manufacturers to produce visible typewriters. John Newton Williams (1840 - 1929), a brilliant inventor, with a life as interesting as were the typewriters named after him, attempted to appease the public's want. In doing so, he created a visible writing machine with uniquely peculiar typebar arrangement.
So how does the form of a Williams follow function? Well, a visible typewriter had to allow the typist to see what was being composed. To do so with a Williams, the platen was situated in the center of the typewriter while two sets of typebars were fanned out at the front and rear. These typebars struck the platen from the top similar to how a grasshopper's legs kick and retract, thus the function of visible writing was accomplished, if only for a few lines at time. The resulting form can be best appreciated viewing the machine from the top. Because the typebars struck from front and back, the paper had no place to go except underneath the platen, otherwise everything would get jammed up. So, before typing, the typist would have to roll the paper into the basket at the bottom-front of the machine. As the typist's work progressed the paper would get fed from the front- to the rear-bottom basket.
Later Williams No.1s, starting in 1895, were produced with a straight, three-row keyboard. These were manufactured by the Domestic Sewing Machine Co. at first but production eventually transitioned to Williams' own factory which was set up in Derby, CT (shout out the Nutmeg State!). Straight-keyboard No.1s had no decals.
According to old newspaper advertisements, John Williams may also have been a spokesperson for Paine's Celery Compound, which was a quack medicine of sorts. He testified that the compound worked wonders for his digestive system. If anything, this ad tells us that John was famous enough that his celebrity could be commodified.
No.3s were the Williams company's models with extended carriages. They were available throughout most of the company's tenure beginning with the straight keyboard No.1. In fact, No.3s are nothing more than Nos.1, 2, or 3 with an elongated frame and carriage.
Williams No.1 models, like the one at the top of this page, were first made available in 1891. They had a curved, three-row keyboard and were embellished with Victorian inspired floral decals. The Williams company had them first produced by the Brady Mfg. Co. in Brooklyn, New York and then by the Domestic Sewing Machine in Newark, New Jersey Co. (J.N. Williams hadn't his own factory, yet).
No.2s were first sold in 1897 and were nearly identical, structurally and cosmetically, to the No.1s with the straight keyboard. No2s did, however, get a typebar alignment upgrade. They were also labeled on the frame just below the spacebar with the proper insignia.
The Williams No.4 was introduced in 1899. It was the company's first model with a four-row keyboard with a single-shift mechanism. As a result of the additional typebars and levers, the No.4s had a bulkier, rounder frame. These models may also be found with variant names such as the Junior, Academy or Englewood.
There were no No.5 so the company's next model was the No.6, which was first made available for sale in 1904. It was virtually identical to the No.4.
As mentioned earlier, John N. Williams was an interesting character and a brilliant inventor. He was known to keep company with Alexander Graham Bell and Emile Berliner in his inventive prime. Other than typewriters, he also patented check protectors and cigar cutters. "Is that it?" you ask. How about a 3-cylinder motorcycle (The Williams Motorcycle), ca.1914, or a three-wheel motor-wagon, ca.1917. Not impressed yet? Then how about the Williams helicopter, ca.1912, which one of the first 'copters ever!
The Williams Typewriter Company was litigating legal problems almost from the very beginning, primarily patent infringement lawsuits. Couple the that with a more competitive marketplace which was flooded with better typewriters, and the fate of the company was easy to predict. By 1909 ownership of the company was assumed by Jerome Burgess Secor. He renamed the business and factory to the Secor Typewriter Company. The new company would no longer produces the Williams but, rather, a typewriter that was a complete departure, The Secor.
Questions? Comments? Have a Williams or Secor for sale? Please email me at Antikey.Chop@gmail.com