Out & About: Windsor exhibit shows evolution of typewriters, sewing machines

  • A Hammond Multiplex No. 12 Typewriter is one of the typewriters and sewing machines that will be on display at an exhibit at the American Precision Museum from Aug. 26 to Sept. 1. (Alice Cable photograph) Alice Cable photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2021 9:30:03 PM
Modified: 8/25/2021 9:30:06 PM

WINDSOR — The American Precision Museum is known for preserving the important role Windsor, along with the rest of the Connecticut River Valley, played in the machine tool industry’s earliest days.

But machine tools — which were used to make rifles for the Union Army during the Civil War and to develop interchangeable parts — are far from the only items in the nonprofit organization’s collection. It also holds dozens of typewriters and sewing machines that have rarely been put on display.

That changes Thursday when “Letters and Stitches: Temporary Exhibit” opens at the museum. It will be on view for only a week, through Sept. 1.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 196 Main St. in downtown Windsor. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens age 65 and older, $5 for students and free for children younger than six. Family passes are available for $20. The museum is asking visitors to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

“We wanted to have another special event before we officially close for the season and we realized we had so many of these beautiful objects we need to get them out from under the dust cloths and let people see them,” said Alice Cable, associate executive director at the museum.

There are about 100 typewriters and 20 sewing machines in the collection. While not all of them will be on display due to space constraints, many of them have never been shown at the museum before.

“These machines were either donated, or collected by the museum founder Ed Battison,” Cable wrote in a follow-up email. “He had a special interest in the intricacies of machines and the precision required to make the parts. Machines that had made firearms in the 1850s were now used to make parts for sewing machines and typewriters.”

After the Civil War, more attention was turned to mass-producing items that could be used by the general public. The sewing machine came first, followed by the typewriter. The earliest sewing machine in the museum’s collection is from 1856.

“Some are hand-powered, and we’ve got an early electric model from 1916 that actually has an oil can on top,” Cable said.

The exhibit shows how the machines evolved, including how long it took for the “QWERTY” keyboard layout commonly used today to catch on. While it was invented in the 1870s, it was far from becoming the standard.

“Some of the keyboards that you’ll see will have alphabetical order or a couple of completely different layouts,” Cable said. There’s one type writer where the letters “DHIATENSOR” are along the bottom row, with the idea that those letters make up 85% of words in the English language.

Another typewriter has one row of all lowercase letters, one row of all uppercase letters and a third row that’s just numbers.

“We have some that are just beautiful examples and some that are very strange,” Cable said. “It really took people a while to standardize.”

There will also be a few typewriters on hand that visitors can try out. While the sewing machines and typewriters themselves hold interest for contemporary viewers, it’s important to remember what their introduction meant for people at the time.

“Another (thing) to consider is how much time was saved for people who didn’t have to hand-stitch or handwrite letters anymore,” Cable said. “They’re so cool.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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