IBM Selectric typewriter

From Academic Kids

The IBM Selectric typewriter (occasionally known as the IBM Golfball typewriter) is the electric typewriter design that brought the typewriter into the electronic age starting in 1961.

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IBM Selectric

Instead of typebars it had a pivoting typeball that could be changed to use different fonts in the same document.

The ability to change fonts, combined with the neat regular appearance of the typed page, was revolutionary and marked the beginning of desktop publishing. Later models with selective pitch and built-in correcting tape carried the trend even further. Any typist could produce a polished manuscript. By 1966, a full typesetting version with justification and proportional spacing was released.

Due to their speed (14.8 character/s), immunity to clashing typebars, and reliability, Selectric models with an RS-232 connector were also widely used as terminals for computers, replacing Teletypes.

The machine had a key lockout feature that smoothed out the irregular finger strokes of the typist. When a key was pressed a narrow metal tab was pushed into a slotted tube full of ball-bearings under the keyboard. These balls were adjusted to have enough horizontal space for only one tab to enter at a time. The typist could press multiple keys at the same time and was guaranteed that they would cycle the machine in the order they were pressed (and held down). This gave some users the impression that there was a storage buffer. (See typeahead for more information.)

The Selectric typewriter was first released in 1961 and is generally considered to be a design classic. After the Selectric II was introduced a few years later, the original design was designated the Selectric I. The Correcting Selectric II differed from the Selectric I in many respects:

  • The Selectric II was squarer at the corners, whereas the Selectric I was rounder.
  • The Selectric II had a Dual Pitch option to allow it to be switched (with a lever at the top left of the "carriage") between 10 and 12 characters per inch, whereas the Selectric I had one fixed "pitch".
  • The Selectric II had a lever (at the top left of the "carriage") (option available only on dual pitch models) that allowed characters to be shifted up to a half space to the left (for inserting a word one character longer or shorter in place of a deleted mistake), whereas the Selectric I did not.
  • The Selectric II had optional auto-correction (with the extra key at the bottom right of the keyboard), whereas the Selectric I did not. (The white correction tape was at the left of the typeball and its orange take-up spool at the right of the typeball.)
  • The Selectric II had a lever (above the right platen knob) that would allow the platen to be turned freely but return to the same vertical line whereas the Selectric I has the same feature, but with a different lever design. This feature is found on almost every typewriter, manual or electric. It can be used for typing super- or subscripts, although accurate alignment is difficult.

Both Selectric I and Selectric II were available in standard, medium, and wide-carriage models and in various colors, including red and blue as well as traditional neutral colors, and both used the same typeballs, which were available in many fonts, including symbols for science and mathematics, OCR faces for scanning by computers, script, Old English, and more than a dozen ordinary alphabets. The typeballs came in two styles: Original models had a metal spring clip with two wire wings that squeezed together, later models had a fragile flip-up black plastic lever that could break off, which was later redesigned to have a substantial plastic lever that did not break. Over the years, there were several different styles for the ribbons, even in the same model Selectric, and they were not interchangeable. Selectric I models used either a cloth cartridge ribbon or a spool film ribbon. Correcting Selectric II models had a cartridge film ribbon instead of the spool style, although the non-correcting models used the earlier cloth cartridge.

In 1966, IBM released the Selectric Composer, the first desktop publishing system. The hybrid typewriter produced camera-ready justified copy using proportional fonts in a number of font sizes and styles, using the typeball. The machine required that material be typed twice. The first time was to measure the length of the line and count the spaces, recording special measurements on the right margin. The second time it was typed, the operator used the measurements to set justification for the line.

In the 1980s IBM introduced a Selectric III and several other Selectric models, some of them word processors or type-setters instead of typewriters, but by then the rest of the industry had caught up with the trend, and IBM's new models did not dominate the market the way the first Selectric had.

The Selectric III features a 96 character type element vs. the previous 88 character element.

Selectric Trivia

Capitalizing on the then-new Selectric typewriters, the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair was a large theater shaped and styled like a very-much over-grown Selectric type element. The audience seating area was lifted up into the type element theater for the presentation.

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