Earlier today, I began to disassemble my Hermes Rocket in preparation of it's cleaning. I've done this with all of my machines, but the engineering involved with creating a manual typewriter still amazes me. After removing the outer shell, I spend a good 15-20 minutes messing around with all of the exposed parts. I push buttons, watch the levers move, see where the linkages connect, etc. It makes me think of Luke Skywalker's bionic hand in Star Wars.
I apologize for the lousy photo. I was lazy and took it with my iPhone.
I realize that typewriter engineering wasn't always as impressive as a mid-century Hermes Rocket. Like most technologies, early typewriters weren't reliable and widely varied in design. It took several decades of tinkering to get it right. Old or new, it still bends my mind that this many tiny parts are able to operate not only in unison, but with an enormous degree of accuracy and reliability. Further compounding my amazement is that all of this design work was done in an age without computers.
In this era, we take for granted that we can plug a bunch of mathematical formulas into a computer and virtually design a complicated mechanical machine, like an automobile, without picking up a wrench. How in the hell did engineers manage to create a typewriter, with hundreds of tiny moving parts, without a computer? All of these moving parts are sculpted with impressive accuracy. Linkages wrap around each other, gears spin, rubber platens move up and down, carriages slide laterally, hinges rotate... And none of it interferes with the operation of the device as a whole.
I like to think of myself as mechanically inclined. I can assemble and disassemble many things, teaching myself how they work as I go. But, I cannot fathom designing a typewriter from scratch and achieving a near-zero percent margin of error. If I was wearing a cap right now, I'd tip it to the countless typewriter engineers that, against all odds, made it work so beautifully.