The IBM Selectric typewriter turns 50

IBM sold 13 million Selectric typewriters which also served as a precursor to early computer terminals

ibm selectric
It has been retired for 25 years but IBM will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the iconic Selectric typewriter on July 31.

According to IBM the introduction of the Selectric on July 31, 1961 was seven years in the making.  "With 2,800 parts, many designed from scratch, it was a major undertaking even for IBM, which had been in the typewriter business since the 1930s."  (For a look at the "art" of the Selectric take a look at our slideshow)

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According to IBM some the Selectric's unique characteristics and history included:

  • Its "golf ball" head let typists' fingers fly across the keyboard at unprecedented speed. An expert typist could clock 90 words per minute versus 50 with a traditional electric typewriter.
  • The golf ball moved across the page, making it the first typewriter to eliminate carriage return and reduce its footprint on office desks.
  • Interchangeable golf balls equipped with different fonts, italics, scientific notations and other languages could easily be swapped in.
  • With magnetic tape for storing characters added in 1964, the Selectric became the first (albeit analog) word-processor device.
  • The Selectric formed the basis for early computer terminals and paved the way for keyboards to emerge as the primary way for people to interact with computers, as opposed to pressing buttons or levers. A modified Selectric, dubbed the IBM 2741 Terminal, could be plugged into IBM's System/360 computer, enabling engineers and researchers to interact with their computers in new ways.
  • It was created by Eliot Noyes, the famed architect and industrial designer who served as IBM's consulting designer for 21 years. The Selectric is featured in the new "Pioneers of American Industrial Design" stamp series from the U.S. Postal Service, which cites Noyes as among 12 important industrial designers who helped shape the look of everyday American life in the 20th century. For the Selectric, Noyes drew on some of the sculptural qualities of Olivetti typewriters in Italy. The result was a patented, timeless shape, and a high-water mark for IBM's industrial design and product innovation.
  • In 1971, the Selectric II was released, with sharper corners and squarer lines, as well as new features such as the ability to change "pitch" from 10 to 12 characters per inch and, starting in 1973, a ribbon to correct mistakes. The final model, the Selectric III, was sold in the 1980s with more advanced word processing capabilities and a 96-character printing element. But as personal computers and daisy-wheel printers began to dominate, the Selectric brand was retired in 1986.
  • IBM sold 13 million Selectrics.

For an interesting take on all things typewriter, check out the "Adventures In Typewriterdom" blog.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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