Hey kids, want to solve a mystery with me? :D
Cue soundtrack (scooby doo)
Here’s the mystery:
On yesterday’s Fox page update, we see a note on the failed attempt by William H. Bennington of Bennington Typewriter to take over the ailing Fox Typewriter concern in 1922. Well, there’s a thread that needs to be tugged at. I’ve never heard of a Bennington typewriter, have you?
Well, neither has the TWDB, and that needs some fixin’.
Cue soundtrack (mission impossible)
First order of business, to the Google.
Hmmn, not much there. TWDB ranks #1, but with zero content. I guess my SEO programming chops are pretty good, but that’s hardly a service to the inquiring user. Now the mystery has a victim – the “inquiring user”, of which there are perhaps 0, considering the obscurity of the brand.
However, we see our friends AntiKeyChop and Robert Messenger have mentioned the Bennington Typewriter:
Robert Messenger brings clarity to Wesley H. Bennington and his reasons for attempting to absorb the Fox concern, which were his desire to produce a new “Xcel Word Typewriter”, along with continuing to produce the then-current stable of Foxes.
Allrighty, so we have something on Bennington’s plans to produce the Xcel in 1922. Let’s file that into evidence.
Now, Greg Fudacz’s page simply notes machines that haven’t been found, including a ca. 1904 “Bennington Word Typewriter” that looks remarkably different than the Xcel, as might be expected from the time difference. So Bennington’s been working on the “Word Typewriter” idea for quite a while. Apparently, not with an appreciable level of success. It doesn’t help that Greg mentions the inventor as “Weseley H. Bennington”, meaning that when it comes time to dig into the Tertiary Sources, we can expect to find disagreement in details. When it comes time to look in the patents, that’ll get straightened out. Maybe.
But first, the Google, ever so helpful these days in typewriter mystery research, tells us that the 1907 Typewriter Topics that it has scanned into Google Books has something to say about Bennington:
Business Equipment Topics
Ernest Merton Best – 1907 – Business
Plans for a building 250×600 feet have been adopted by the Bennington Typewriter Company, of Columbus, Ohio. It is supposed to cost $300,000, and will be…
Oh, excellent, so we’ll have some coverage from Typewriter Topics in 1907, and most likely also in 1922 – and if Bennington was an active concern in-between, then the scans from 1915, 1918 and 1919 should also be informative. We will have direct, contemporary industry reporting as the events happened. We will have delicious detail…
Next step is to hit the TWDB Patentbase for the patents.
We use the Patentbase first because it has only typewriter related patents in it, so it easier and faster to weed out the chaff. We fine-tune our search in Google Patents, because they got everything, if imperfectly OCR’d.
Well, there it is, assigned to one “Bennington, Wesley H.”
Publication number US762272 A
Publication type Grant
Publication date Jun 14, 1904
Filing date Oct 22, 1901
Priority date Oct 22, 1901
Inventors Wesley H Bennington
Original Assignee Wesley H Bennington
Feh. Ok, let’s take a look at the dang thing, it just says “W.H. Bennington”, so no help there. looking for other patents in that name I see a phonograph cabinet patent:
“W.H. Bennington” at the top, but “Inventor: Wesley H. Bennington” at the bottom. I can find no patents at all for “William H. Bennington” or patents matching “Bennington typewriter” other than patents filed by people in the city or county of Bennington.
We’ll file US762272 into evidence as the proper patent (looks like the 1904 machine, and might be what Bennington was trying to build in 1907) and “Wesley H. Bennington” as the inventor (probably).
Now it’s time to hit the Books. What do the “Big Six” Tertiary Sources say?
Source #1: Century of the Typewriter, Wilfred A. Beeching, publ. by the British Typewriter Museum, 1974, 1990
Nada. nothing. zip. No surprise there.
Source #5: Darryl Rehr, Antique typewriters, by Schroeder publishing, Los Angeles, 1997
Nothing in the book itself until the Annotated Index, where Bennington does indeed have a small annotation. We’ll file this into evidence.
Source #16: American Typewriters – A Collector’s Encyclopedia by Paul Lippman, 1992, Hoboken
Nada. nothing. zip. Surprising, usually Lippman is pretty Johnny on the spot.
Source #27: “Antique Typewriters from Creed to QWERTY” Michael H. Adler
A small blurb. We’ll file it into evidence.
Source #61: “Mechanical Typewriters – Their History, Value, and Legacy” by Thomas A. Russo
Nada. nothing. zip. Also surprising. Must be a pretty obscure brand.
Source #65: “Collector’s Guide to Antique Typewriters” Dan Post, Post-Era Books, 1981
Well, here’s the probable source for the other references. This is a reprint (the nicest one IMHO) of the famous 1923 Typewriter Topics compendium edition, which has been reprinted under different titles over the years. This blurb gives us some more detail, and gives us some expectation what we might find in the more comprehensive contemporary reports. Let’s file this into evidence too.
Considering the time period we’re examining, we should take a look at the other early sources that cover that time period. It’s here that we’re likeliest to get a hit, if a hit is to be found.
Source #78: “The History of the Typewriter” by Geo. Charles Mares (Gilbert Pitman, London, 1909)
Bingo! In 1909, Mares has a dismal opinion of this apparent vaporware product.
Secondary Sources, then. Let’s hope for a serial number age list.
Source #31: The Business Machines and Equipment Digest, publ. 1927 by Equipment-Research Corporation
Nada. nothing. zip.
Source #59: American Digest of Business Machines, 1924
Nada. nothing. zip.
Source #24: H.F.W. Schramm, Liste der Herstellungsdaten deutscher und ausländischer Schreibmaschinen, 11th edition, 1962
A small hit. just tells us 1903.
aaand, I think that’s it for the books. I can’t think of any other sources offhand that are remotely likely to have mention of something this obscure.
And now, on to the Primary Sources, the reports on the ground. In this case, Typewriter Topics and American Stationer, every compilation I have, and don’t I love the fact that these are very well OCR’d by The Google. Than you, O Wise and Powerful Google Books!
The first mention of Bennington I find is in American Stationer in February, 1906:
Source #95: “The American Stationer” 1906
In it, an “A. H. Bennington”(sic), president of Bennington Typewriter Co., is sniffing around Columbus, Ohio looking for a site for a factory and drumming up capital.
Second mention is in American Stationer in May, 1907:
Source #96: “The American Stationer” 1907
It’s just a tiny blurb, mentioning that a “George Watkin” was now in Middleton, Ohio looking for a site to erect a factory to manufacture the Bennington.
Then there’s also a mention in the May Typewriter Topics of 1907:
Source #83: “Typewriter Topics: Vol. 6-7 1907” by The International Office Equipment Magazine
This blurb mentions that building plans have been adopted for a specific size factory at a specific cost in Columbus.
By August of 1907, another mention of change of plans, this time the factory will be located in Columbus.
… and then that’s it until 1922. Not a peep about Bennington in any other year.
March of 1922 Typewriter Topics informs us of the plan for Bennington to take over Fox. At this point, Bennington’s name is reported as “William H. Bennington”. Later in the same month, the announcement is made of a charter being granted to the Xcel Typewriter Co., with a stock valuation of $3,300,000. At this point, Fox is still worth about $450,000 and will soon be worth $45,000.
Source #82: “Typewriter Topics: Vol. 50-52 1922” by The International Office Equipment Magazine
And then the next month in April of 1922, we are presented with the motherlode. I encourage you to read this whole article, the Xcel sounds like a marvelous and extremely unique machine. It has a return lever mounted *inside the keyboard*, It’s a FIVE bank, with a smiley row of word keys. It has keys for advancing and reversing the linefeed. It even looks awesome! The article ends with some fluff about Bennington’s “stick-toitiveness” (no kidding!) and mentions specifically that an example of the machine is on display at the company’s Ligget Building offices at 41 East 42nd Street, New York City. It really sounds like it’s something that got made in some quantity, because it doesn’t look much like a rough prototype. Also, Bennington’s name is now “Wesley Henry Bennington”. Is this a case of brothers working together? Did William Bennington change his name to “Wesley” sometime between March and April 1922? What the heck is going on here?
Was it really made in any quantity? the 1904-1907 version, probably not. It doesn’t seem like Bennington was able to actually get his factory built on his first try. Was there a prototype made? maybe. There’s a lithograph of one in Mares 1909, but who knows where he got it. It looks like a real machine, so just maybe it was from a contemporary ad.
The 1922 attempt apparently yielded at least one and maybe more of the Xcel. If so, I’d place the Excel pretty near the top of theoretical collector’s want lists. It’ll be a hella rare and super fascinating mechanical and historical example. (:
Anyway, it seems like I have enough to whip up a page finally for the Bennington/Xcel, so let’s solve the mystery and earn that Scooby Snack!
6 CommentsAdd a Comment
A typewriter with ready-to-go words!
That is some fine detective work and a fascinating machine!
Brilliant. Thanks for modeling the research process. To be sure, a Bennington or Excel would be a fabulous find!
One source you didn’t check: ETCetera! Issue 82 includes a letter on Bennington letterhead. The machine pictured there has a somewhat different design from the one in Mares. I’ll e-mail you the letter, which comes from Martin Howard.
and that one’s a doozy! It appears to show there was a THIRD prototype in 1903, different than the 1907 one in Mares. Very nice, thank you! (:
off-topic, but easy – 1926 (: