He Remembers Good, Old Fashioned Technology — Before Computers

By Joe Darby

joedarbyI am always several generations behind the latest available device in computers and other electronic devices. We just got our first “tablet” a few weeks ago, but it’s an inexpensive one and sometimes doesn’t work very well.

Our basic computer is still a desk top and I understand that fewer and fewer people are using those these days. To be up to date you must have a small hand-held device, evidently. We don’t like change, though. Whenever Windows practically orders us to switch over to their latest version of software, we hate to do it. We had just gotten used to the old version, after all.

But, heck, you know what worked really well? With it, you didn’t have to worry about new software, didn’t have to worry about it crashing or freezing up and you didn’t even have to worry about a power outage.

Yeah, I’m talking about the good old manual typewriter. For those of you who may not know what that is, it was a fool-proof and speedy method of getting your thoughts down on paper. The QWERTY keyboard, still used on computers today, was actually invented for the old typewriters.

And grand old machines they were, too. They weren’t something you’d want to be lugging around, though. They were about, oh 16 or 18 inches wide, tall and deep, I would guess. And they weighed probably 15 or 20 pounds. They were made out of good, solid metal, you see.

So what you did was, you’d roll a piece of paper into them and just type away, the same as you do on a computer keyboard today. When you got to the end of the line, you’d flick a lever and drop down to the next line. Simple, no?

And if you wanted an extra copy, no problem. All you had to do was to insert a piece of carbon paper between two sheets of typing paper and you had your copy.

When I became a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1965, manual typewriters were still in use. And we couldn’t have imagined any other sort of writing device for the future, either. We used soft pulp paper to write on and made copies with our carbons. The top sheet would go to the city editor, who would edit the copy by making hand marks on the paper. If he (and they were all he’s in those days) wanted to make big changes, he would use scissors and paste to rearrange the news story.

The carbon copy would go into the “carbon box” on his desk and the original, once edited, would go to the copy desk, to be looked over once more and have a headline written for it.

Then it would be sent down to the composing room via conveyor belts. There, a linotype operator would convert the copy into metal type, using melted lead, and it would be formed into a column. it would be placed, along with other news stories and advertisements, into a page dummy that would end up on the printing press and become, say, Section 1, Page 5 of the next day’s paper.

I may have left out a detail or two of the composing room process, but the bottom line is that we were using essentially 19th century technology to produce a daily newspaper in the 1960s. And it all worked fine, day after day after day. There were occasional typos, of course, misspellings or other mistakes in the printed copy. But those were relatively rare, considering the many thousands of words printed every day.

My point is, it all worked, and darned well. A retrograde geezer like me cannot hope to hold back time. But sometimes I do think, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

4 thoughts on “He Remembers Good, Old Fashioned Technology — Before Computers

    • I was trained to keep it “tight,” that is short and to the point. My first professional mentor was a great old Associated Press bureau chief who taught me to write tight and fast (I worked part time for the AP in the summer between my junior and senior year at LSU) We had to beat the rival United Press and get our version out on the wire first!

  1. Amen Joe! I learned to type on an old Royal manual typewriter, they still had them in my H.S. in the late
    ’70s. I will say one thing the computer is better at is fixing errors. The manual typewriter forced one to be
    a bit more accurate on keyboard skills, and the writer had to be a good speller or have a dictionary close.
    I better not get started on what my Journalism teacher would think of today’s journalist, especially grammar.

    • Dear J. Very true on the need for typing accuracy. I do remember that we at the paper were surprised and delighted at the ease of editing and changing copy when computers came out. I can’t remember exactly what year the TP adopted them, probably the late 1970s.

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