First commercial typewriter hidden in library

By Paul Szaniawski

After you find the elusive Riderana Room hidden in the recesses of Moore Library, make a left through the first locked door, then pass through the faculty break room and walk through two more locked doors. That’s where room L301A can be found, sandwiched between two dusty conference rooms in a nearly deserted hallway. This is the lair of Rider’s most unsung treasure.

The mysterious valuable has been appraised for nearly a year’s worth of tuition. Only a fraction of such original items are left in the entire world.

It’s a typewriter.

“It’s nice because it fits what our school used to be,” said archive assistant Elise Dodeles.

Introduced circa 1874-1878, the Sholes & Glidden was the first successful commercial typewriter. According to the Moore Library Special Collections archive, fewer than 100 remain today.

“There were 5,000 produced and it was very possible that Rider had one or two of the originals,” said Associate Professor and Library Archivist Robert Congleton.

According to local collector James Knarr, the typewriter was appraised for nearly $28,000 at an auction. Besides being the world’s first successful commercial typewriter, it also introduced the keyboard style we use today.

“This is the originator of the QWERTY keyboard,” said Congleton. “QWERTY wasn’t standardized until the 20th century.”

With only the ability to print capital letters, the mechanical Sholes & Glidden typewriter used outdated parts like a cylindrical plane and a moving carriage. Standing taller than a foot and a half high, it looks like a trash compactor compared to modern typewriters.

“It feels like anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds,” Dodeles said. “It definitely wasn’t meant to be moved.”

The antique isn’t alone in Rider’s Special Collections archive. Located in the Antiquated Business Machines room, the Sholes & Glidden is surrounded by more than 70 other typewriters, shorthand writing machines,
mechanical adding machines and a music writer produced circa 1956.

The music machine, capable of printing out sheet music with notes on specific lines, was valued at almost $1,000 a few years ago. Today the device is obsolete because of computers.

However, there are computers in the Antiquated Business Machines room that can’t print musical score sheets.

The library started adding desktop computers to the collection two years ago and has acquired at least one representative for every DOS and Windows operating system introduced since the late ’80s. The oldest among these is the Tandy Apex TRS 88 produced by RadioShack.

Both Congleton and Dodeles were working in Moore Library when the Typewriter Room became the Antiquated Business Machines room. But the Sholes & Glidden typewriter appeared well before that. The seemingly ancient piece of equipment may have also slipped past Rider’s written history.

“I checked my records of how we obtained it, but I have no other information or anything,” said Congleton. “It could be something that someone left here long ago. It could have actually been something Rider used back in 1879. We just don’t know.”

However, Dr. Walter Brower, historian and alumnus from the early part of the century, seems to have connected the clues and solved the origin’s mystery.

“Yeah, we’ve had that one for a while,” he said. “We got that probably before the 1960s.”

Brower remembers Rider, then exclusively a business college in Trenton, receiving the typewriter well before classes were taught on the Lawrenceville campus in 1959. The 1948 Rider graduate could only recall that the donor was a man from Trenton.

“It was given to Rider for the collection,” said Brower.

Brower also ruled out the possibility of the obsolete typewriter once being used at Rider. He said the institution didn’t start teaching the skill of typewriting until the turn of the century.

Those students’ times may have passed, but the Sholes & Glidden typewriter’s hasn’t.

“We try to keep everything in regular working condition,” said Congleton. “It may just need a little ink.”

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