The Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company was established in 1889 and quickly became famous for the Blick Model 5 typewriter – the “Five-Pound Secretary.” Introduced at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, the design eliminated individual type bars attached to each key and replaced them with a type wheel. The metal wheel rotated and struck the paper to create the typed letters, similar to the IBM Selectric type ball introduced in 1961. The type wheel allowed for the number of parts to decrease from 2,500 to 250, reducing the weight of the typewriter to one-fifth of the average typewriter. The Model 5 became the first lightweight portable typewriter with a full keyboard and wooden carrying case. In 1906, the introduction of an aluminum frame for its typewriters further reduced the weight.
George Blickensderfer (1850-1917) began his career as a dry goods salesman and later designed and patented cash and package carrier systems used in many of the largest retail stores. After selling his company he and his wife moved to a house on Bedford Street where he designed his first typewriter. Blickensderfer felt there was a need for a portable typewriter based on his experience as a traveling salesman and the paperwork required for sales. His other patents included a speed control mechanism for revolving doors, the “Bulls Eye Sparkplug,” a belt-loading device to feed cartridges into machine guns and the first electric typewriter manufactured in 1902.
Blickensderfer first rented space on Garden Street to manufacture his typewriters and then relocated to his own factory on Atlantic Street in 1896. The factory included a three-story brick building and several outbuildings. The basement had two furnaces for heat-treating metals. The floors above housed the machine shop, stamping department, assembly and inspection departments, shipping area and offices.
The type-wheel design allowed for international marketing as the characters on the type wheel could be stamped in any language. The “oriental” models allowed for the return carriage to move from the left for Hebrew and Arabic typing. Distribution branches were located in the UK, France, Germany and Russia. At the height of production, 200 – 300 workers were employed at the Atlantic Street factory.
However, The Great War devastated typewriter sales, as the company was dependent upon international sales. During the war, the company began manufacturing the machine gun loading devices and exporting them to the French Government. After the war, Blickensderfer typewriters were manufactured until the sale of the company in 1919 following George’s death.