After the first concept of the typewriter was introduced in 1714, many inventors set out to make their own version of the writing machine. By 1910, there were 110 companies manufacturing typewriters on the U.S. market. When Bill Shields began selling the machines in the 1950s, that number had dwindled to around five. Today, the manual writing machines may be a thing of the past for business offices, but Shields still proudly keeps a collection of around 30 typewriters.
“I’ve done a lot of business with typewriters,” says the 85-year-old retired salesman and former owner of Business Equipment in Henderson, Kentucky. “They were my livelihood.”
Typewriters have been an integral part of life to both Bill and his son Stan Shields, who now owns and operates Business Equipment. Some were gifts, some Stan pulled from his father’s warehouse before they were thrown out, and others Bill kept after they were traded in for newer models; all have been restored and still are in working order.
“I went into the service and they trained me in office machine repair during the Korean War,” says Bill. “I ended up coming back from Paducah, Kentucky, to Henderson and got a job with a Royal (typewriter) dealer over here for $35 a week. That’s how I got started in the business.”
The first typewriter Bill added to his collection was a No. 5 model Royal made in 1910. Pulling it off the shelf, he hits the keys and smiles as the letters move easily. “This is my favorite — this Royal,” he says. “I always was a Royal man.”
The oldest in the collection is an 1875 Williams typewriter, produced during a time when American inventor Christopher Latham Sholes was tweaking with what is now known as the first commercial typewriter design. The newest machines in their collection are from 1955-1956.
Father and son have kept their collection — which includes at least eight different brands of typewriters — pristine over the years, but both credit the work of a former employee, Bronce Plemans of Henderson, who passed away in 1996, for the typewriters working condition.
“He was a technician for us,” says Stan. “He was a World War II fighter pilot and he was the one who refurbished all of these for me, went through, cleaned them all, got them all working, fixed up, and looking real good. He was one of the most interesting men I’ve ever known.”
It’s been a few years since either man added a machine to the collection and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Though the company has not sold a manual typewriter in decades, the Shields still appreciate the writing machine that was once a staple in their business.
“To me, they’re not worth very much cash money, but they have so much sentimental value because dad traded them all in then Bronce fixed them all up,” says Stan.
For more information about Business Equipment, call 270-826-8341 or visit business-equipment.com.