1891 - 1909
Williams Typewriter Co.
Brooklyn, NY & Newark, NJ & Derby CT
Williams typewriters are stunning pieces of industrial art that salute the design mantra of form following function. They were invented by John Newton Williams (1840 - 1929), whose life was as interesting as were the typewriters named after him. John's writing machine, with its uniquely peculiar typebar arrangement, was an appeasement for the public's want for "visible" typewriters. That's because very early typewriters were blindwriters, which simply 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.
How does the Williams's form follow function? Well, 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.
John Newton Williams
The earliest 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 filigree. The Williams company first contracted the Brady Mfg. Co. of Brooklyn, New York to manufacture them and then the Domestic Sewing Machine Co. of Newark, New Jersey (J.N. Williams hadn't his own factory, yet).
Later Williams No.1's, starting in 1895, were produced with a straight, three-row keyboard. They were manufactured by the Domestic Sewing Machine Co. at first but production eventually transitioned to Williams's own factory in Derby, CT (shout out the Nutmeg State!). Straight-keyboard No.1s had no decals.
No.3's were the company's wide-carriage models. They were available throughout most of the company's tenure beginning with the straight keyboard No.1's. In fact, No.3's are nothing more than Nos.1, 2, or 3 with an elongated frame and carriage.
No.2's were first sold in 1897 and were nearly identical structurally and cosmetically to the No.1's with the straight keyboard. No2's did, however, get a typebar alignment upgrade. They were also labeled on the frame just below the spacebar with the proper insignia.
I should note that No.2's were also produced with variant names such as the Junior, Academy or Englewood. Other than their names, these variants had minor aesthetic, structural and mechanical variations that set them apart from a No.2.
The Williams No.4 was introduced in 1899. It was the company's first model with a four-row keyboard and a single-shift mechanism. As a result of the additional typebars and levers, these models had a bulkier, rounder frame.
There were no No.5's so the company's next model was the No.6, which was first made available for sale in 1904. It was nearly identical to the No.4.
As mentioned earlier, John 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. Not impressed yet? Then maybe a 3-cylinder motorcycle (The Williams Motorcycle), ca.1914, or a three-wheel motor-wagon, ca.1917 will impress you. No? What else? How about the Williams helicopter, ca.1912, which was one of the first 'copters ever!
According to old newspaper advertisements, John Williams was also 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 to have his celebrity commoditized. He was an influencer.
The Williams Typewriter Company was in litigation almost from the very beginning, primarily for patent infringement. Couple that with a more competitive marketplace 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 who 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.