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Hooven Automatic Typewriter - The Machine & Story

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This Hooven, serial No 1629126-5, (indicating c. 1923) was before laser printers and before photocopying when the practical and inexpensive method of copying letters was with carbon paper or a mimeograph. Unfortunately, either method used produced a letter that was obviously a copy and readily identified as a form letter. While there were a few other inventions that duplicated a letter by rewriting it, the Hooven Automatic typewriter became the preferred technology during most of the first half of the 20th century.

The Hooven used the same punched-hole paper tape technology that player pianos used in 1912 when it was first introduced in Cincinnati by The National Automatic Typewriter Company. It was driven by electricity and was probably the most successful early electric typewriter. The first electric typewriter, George Blickensderfer's magnificent machine, was introduced just 10 years earlier. However, in 1902 electricity was still used mostly for lighting. In large urban areas it was only provided to residences during evening hours. So the Electric Blick was a typewriter that frequently could be used only at night. The Electric Blick was around for a short time and today is a very scarce machine and arguably one of the most sought after and most valued of all antique typewriters.

The Hooven, programmed by the punched hole paper roll (today, we would call it software) simply repeated and typed the same letter over and over while occasionally pausing for the attendant to type in personal information (name, addresses, dates, etc.) that gave the letter a definite impression of being an original. It was often used by Hollywood stars in answering their fan mail, including known Hooven users Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. It was advertised that one secretary could easily run three to four Hoovens at the same time and produce the results otherwise requiring a dozen typists.

There were two machines required. The Hooven Automatic Typewriter, which was a specially modified Underwood No 5 (Underwood installed heavy duty carriage return springs) which was attached over a patented Hooven mechanism on a special cabinet and stand to catch and hold the paper roll and side shelves to hold stationery. The second machine was the perforator which was about the size of a typewriter and punched (typed) the required holes into the paper roll. An advertisement in 1920 listed the Hooven Automatic Typewriter priced at $710 and the perforator at $75. Combined, this was about the price of two new Cadillac automobiles. A paper roll program could produce about 30 letters before needing replacement and the two machines, with a good maintenance program, would last for years.

The relative expensive cost of the machines kept the technology from many users until Hooven established a letter typing service in New York with outlets throughout the United States where people could bring or send their letters to be "Hoovenized". This made the technology available and affordable on a pay as you go basis. For an example, you could have a 100 word letter Hoovenized for only $.04 per letter, 200 words for $.0325, 300 words for $.0283 or 400 words for $.02625 per letter. There was a 5% discount on lots of 500 letters, 10% discount for 1,000 letters, and 15% discount on 5,000 letters. Of course there were special quotations available for larger quantities. Also, pen signatures were available for $3.00 to $5.00 per 1,000; carbon copies were $.01 each (Hooven supplied the tissue and carbon paper), addressing envelopes was $5.00 to $8.00 per 1,000 and foreign languages were 25% extra plus a roll-cutting charge. Today you can make a photocopied letter at Staples for about the same price it cost to have one Hoovenized nearly 100 years ago.

C. Earle Hooven was the president of the National Automatic Typewriter Company and remained president through several name changes including the 1919 change to The Hooven Automatic typewriter Company when the company moved into the old American Can manufacturing plant in Hamilton, Ohio. Mr. Hooven was president for over 30 years until he died in the early 1940s. He was also the longest resident to reside at the historic 1863 Lane- Hooven House which his wife had inherited. Today, it is a restored historical building and an important part of Hamilton, Ohio's heritage. The house is available for tours and possesses one of the other few still surviving Hooven Automatic Typewriters.

The Hooven Automatic Typewriter and Hoovenizing letter writing services were very popular until World War II. After the war, IBM and other electric typewriters offered affordable and less maintenance required technology that obsoleted the Hooven and today, very few specimens of this early electric typewriter survive.

This Hooven Automatic Typewriter has its side shelves and bottom cabinet and it comes with the last paper roll it used to type its last letter many decades ago. Due it its size and weight it would probably be best to either pick it up here in Vermont or for us to deliver it. Our suggested $300 delivery charge would cover us personally delivering it anywhere (and dead heading back home) within 300 miles from here in Vermont to New Hampshire, Mass, Conn or New York. We would consider other locations for an additional charge.


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