En español | Before the days of laptops, tablets, texting and email, people drafted their letters on typewriters. There was no spell-check or delete button and you couldn't perform fancy functions like copy or paste.
While most of the world has moved on to embrace the latest technological upgrades, some remain devoted to the good old-fashioned typewriter. Others, particularly a younger generation, are newly discovering the appeal. The collectors’ market is thriving and some are opting to put aside digital devices to do their creative work on a typewriter.
Here are 11 ways typewriters are becoming cool again.
1. Tom Hanks is a huge fan
Hanks is extremely passionate about typewriters. At one point, he admitted to having over 250 in his personal collection — 90 percent of them in working order. In lieu of a computer, Hanks uses typewriters for the majority of his written communication: “I type almost every day. There is usually a memo I am sending to someone or a question or a thank-you note or an actual response,” he's said, joking that he hates getting email thank-yous and that typewritten letters mean so much more.
The two-time Academy Award–winning star wrote a book of short stories, each featuring a typewriter. And he recently visited Nashville Typewriter where he spent three hours with owner Kirk Jackson. “We nerded out over typewriters pretty much the whole time,” Jackson says. “Tom bought two: a Smith Corona Enterprise and an Underwood Four Bank, both green."
Hanks told Jackson he's been giving some of his typewriters to mom-and-pop typewriter shops in recent years to help jump-start business. And he's always trying to inspire those around him to give these vintage typing machines a try. “If somebody says, ‘Geez, I'd like to have a typewriter to write letters,’ I'm there. It's on their desk within 48 hours with a note from me explaining the typewriter to them,” Hanks said during his appearance in the 2016 California Typewriter documentary.
2. Other creative types are embracing them
Best-selling author A.J. Banner says, “I type all my first drafts on typewriters.” This includes her forthcoming book In Another Light, which debuts Oct. 5. She and her husband have more than 100 completely restored and usable machines and even have their own repair guy.
Singer-songwriter John Mayer likes to type his lyrics out on a typewriter, as does Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. “You're at sort of a safe distance where you can express yourself openly without having to edit yourself at the same time,” Mayer said in the California Typewriter documentary. And two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning writer David McCullough uses his 1960s typewriters to compose manuscripts.
3. Typewriters promote mindfulness and creativity
California Typewriter director Doug Nichol says using a typewriter is a great way for people to focus on a writing task without unnecessary distractions. “When we're on the computer, we can start listening to music or go see what's on Twitter or Facebook, all these other distractions that pull you,” Nichols says. “What's nice about a typewriter is there's nothing except you and that machine and writing."
Paulette Perhach, cofounder of the mindfulness and writing group A Very Important Meeting, calls a typewriter an “anti-distraction machine.”
"A typewriter is a way to dedicate yourself to one sound, one option, the simple sound of typing,” she says. “There are no dings, bings or pop-ups, so there's nothing to break that sense of flow that often accompanies mindful creativity.”
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4. Typewriter collectors are inspiring others
When people Zoom with Vinny Minchillo, 59, they see him sitting in front of his personal typewriter collection. It's sparked a lot of conversation and given the Plano, Texas–based creative director a chance to share his enthusiasm with others. “I've got a couple of really weird ones that are in the background,” he says. “I've got one that we call a batwing, an Oliver 5. It sort of looks like a little tiny pipe organ.”
Minchillo gladly loans his typewriters to people to try them.
5. They've gone Hollywood
There are plenty of older movies and television shows where typewriters play a central role (Misery, Citizen Kane and The Shining come to mind), but you can see these machines in more recent fodder, too.
That California Typewriter documentary follows a Berkeley, California, typewriter repair shop and charts how people are making typewriters relevant today.
The 2015 Oscar-nominated movie Trumbo, about a 1940s Hollywood screenwriter who is blacklisted for being a Communist, wouldn't be the same without scenes of star Bryan Cranston pounding the keys of his Underwood 5.
And Amazon Prime's Good Girls Revolt, which follows a group of women in a 1969 newsroom trying to get treatment equal to their male counterparts, puts typewriters front and center. “It's an excellent series with typewriters in every scene,” Banner says.
6. They have hard-core fans
Rock Harris, 55, runs a typewriters group in Missouri called Saint Louis Typers Union and organizes local “type-ins.” While full meetings have been on hold during the pandemic, Harris recently gathered a few new members and is gearing up to relaunch. “The idea was people come, they can either bring their own machines or I would bring a set of machines. And then people just sit and type whatever they want on them,” Harris said. “I usually get out one of the more interesting models from my collection and talk about it a little bit."
Richard Polt, who published The Typewriter Revolution, detailing the second life that typewriters are having in the 21st century, recently attended an event in Athens, Ohio, where people brought typewriters and exchanged stories about their collections. The group even found a way to blow off pandemic steam when they teamed up to destroy a cheap, new-age typewriter.
"We just took baseball bats to it,” he says, joking that the events are typically peaceful.
7. They can become hip accessories
Lego makes a 2,079-piece typewriter set that retails for $199.99 and is hard to keep in stock. And typewriters are also becoming decorative accessories, gracing bookshelves in the homes of those looking for a dose of nostalgia.
Antique typewriter keys have become popular for use in jewelry, with people buying necklaces featuring the letter of their first name. Vendors like EvaGiftedHands are selling these necklaces on Etsy, starting at around $35 . Other vendors sell typewriter key cufflinks, rings and bracelets.
8. Typewriters are being used to make art
Melanie Pappadis Faranello created a movement called Poetry on the Streets, setting up a typewriter in Hartford, Connecticut, and encouraging passersby to stop and write a poem. In 2020, she hosted a gallery show to display the poems.
Austin's Typewriter Rodeo is a group of on-demand poets who travel the country, hired by music festivals, weddings and parties to use “really cool typewriters” and “write poems on the spot, on whatever topics people give us,” according to the group's website. U.K. artist James Cook uses his vintage typewriter collection to create what he refers to as “typictions." He receives commissions to create everything from album covers to pet portraits, all made with a series of keystrokes. And the Boston Typewriter Orchestra uses the rhythmic clacking of typewriter keys to create music.
9. Typewriters have their own day
National Typewriter Day is June 23 and fans find creative ways to spread the word about their admiration for typewriters. Instagram is flooded with #NationalTypewriterDay posts, as people share details about their favorite machines. This year, ECL Society of Letter Writers posted this tribute in celebration: “For generations, typewriters have been the mainstay of poets and played a pivotal role in facilitating great social change. The vintage writing device remains timeless and is here to stay despite waves of advanced technologies. Happy National Typewriter Day!”
10. They can create tokens of love
Keith Willard, owner of Keith Willard Events in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has had brides and grooms hire on-site artists to create wedding keepsakes on typewriters. “The guests give the artist three words that best describe themselves. Then the artist creates a three-sentence poem using those three words, typed out on an old-style typewriter on paper that has the couple's logo on it,” says Willard.
And for her recent 20th anniversary, Colleen Lanin, 47, was given a pink typewriter by her husband. “It's on display in my home office, where I can see it every day as I clack away on my keyboard for my blog, TravelMamas.com,” she reveals.
11. Social media is rediscovering them
"In my own experience, one thing that's definitely driving interest is social media,” says Jackson. “I can tell from five years ago, the amount of interest in typewriters alone has at least doubled, if not tripled, and even the amount of people starting to try to learn how to fix and clean them up has greatly increased."
In Facebook groups like Antique Typewriters Collection, members share photos of their collections and exchange typewriter facts. There are even unique typewriter-centric accounts on Instagram including @typewrittenrecipes, which posts ‘50s-era recipes that are hand-keyed from her typewriter.
Nicole Pajer is a contributing writer who covers health, culture and entertainment. She has also written for The New York Times, Parade, Woman's Day and Wired.