Garrett Fuller

IBM Typewriters

When you heard the name "IBM", you often think of mainframe computers, ATMs, and (sometimes) the personal computer. However, many don't think of the more "civilian" IBM products. IBM's first consumer-oriented product was their typewriters, but IBM had other products such as time-keeping equipment (clocks) and small electronics such as dictation machines.

The Early Days (1935-1960)

IBM introduced their first typewriter, the Model 01, in 1935. This was IBM's typewriter produced up until 1946, when they introduced the Model 04 in 1946.

The Model A was introduced in 1948, and was replaced by the Model B (1954) and eventually the Model C (1959) typewriters.

These typewriters were similar to competing typewriters which implemented a typebar arrangement, as you would see in Underwood typewriters of the time.

Selectric Typewriter (1961)

SelectricThe Selectric electric typewriter was revolutionary when it was introduced in 1961, as it eliminated the typebars. The typebars created problems frequently by jamming. However, the new "typeball", introduced with the Selectric, eliminated jamming issues found in the older styles of typewriters featuring a ribbon printing system.

The original Selectric also was followed by the Selectric Composer, released in 1966. The Model D was released in 1967.

The Selectric was produced at IBM's facility in Lexington, Kentucky.


Selectric II (1971)

Selectric IIThe Selectric II was released in 1971, as a replacement for the original Selectric released a decade earlier. The Selectric II was bulkier, and was not as stylish as the original Selectric. However, it contained the same internals as the original Selectric. The Selectric II was much wider than the original Selectric, which came in 13 and 15 inch models, rather than the 11 inch size, which the original Selectric came in.

A correcting model of the Selectric II was released in 1973. This model was identical to the original Selectric II, but it contained a correction ribbon mechanism, eliminating the need for White-Out or other correction fluids to fix mistakes.

When my dad was in high school (1972-1976), he took a typing class which had Selectric II typewriters. He can remember typing on the Selectric II electric typewriters, which were much fancier than the old mechanical Underwood typewriter he had at home.

Magnetic Tape and MagCard Typewriters

In addition to the traditional Selectric models, IBM sold typewriters that could actually store documents - such as a boilerplate template - into a type of memory and later retrieve it for reprinting. Thus, word processing as we know it today was born.

The first machine of this capability was the MT/ST - or Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter - that was introduced in 1964. In 1969, the Magnetic Card Selectric Typewriter - or MC/ST - was introduced. In addition to serving as a typewriter with the ability to write data to magnetic tape or magnetic card, the MC/ST was also offered in a "communicating" model that could act as as a terminal for an IBM mainframe.

By the early 1970s, the "MagCard" series of typewriters was born out of the MC/ST. The MagCard and MagCard Executive used the same typewriter chassis as the standard Selectric II, but could read and write data to a magnetic card. A large metal box (about the size of a small filing cabinet) was hard-wired to the MagCard to read and write to the magnetic card.

In 1973, the MagCard II was released, which provided additional memory.

Later, the WheelWriter and QuietWriter models used their own internal memory mechanisms for storage. Somewhat like the MC/ST Communicating model, some Wheel/Quietwriter models had a serial connection allowing them to print characters from a computer.

Selectric III and Wheel/QuietWriters

The Selectric III was the third and final version of the Selectric, released in 1980. It was similar to the Selectric II correcting typewriters. (One year later, the IBM PC 5150 was released.) The Selectric III, however, did have some additional features over the previous Selectric models. The Selectric III had 96 characters, rather than the 88 characters which the previous models contained. Therefore, the typeballs which were compatible with the Selectric and Selectric II were completely useless on the Selectric III.

WheelWriter IIThe first WheelWriter was released in 1984, and the Series II was released four years afterwards in 1988. The WheelWriter became one of the most popular later typewriters, before advanced word processors and microcomputers (such as the IBM PC and PS/2) showed up on the scene.

These later electric typewriters had additional functions which made it competitive against word processors and computer-based word processing programs available at the time. Underline, automatic bolding, and other formatting options were introduced. In 1985, IBM also introduced an additional EEPROM which had a dictionary of commonly-used words, plus up to 300 user-added words, for an early version of spell-check.

These later typewriters also could be expanded easily. There were "expansion packs" which could be swapped for additional memory and formatting capabilities, as well as spell-check and other options. An LCD screen could be added on for spell-check and correcting capabilities. You could type a line of text onto the screen, check it, then have the typewriter automatically print it. The later models could even have a CRT monitor connected for proofing complete pages, rather than line-by-line.

The Wheelwriter and QuietWriter typewriters are completely different, both internally and externally, from the Selectric models. The Selectric model was an electric typewriter only because it had an electric motor which drove the print mechanism. However, the Wheelwriter and QuietWriter typewriters had a microprocessor which either directly printed the character, or stored it in memory for spell-check and proofing.

Similar to the MagCard typewriters that came before, the Wheelwriter and Quietwriter families could store entire documents into memory for later retrieval. However, unlike with the MagCard, Wheel/Quietwriter models equipped with a LCD display could support typing an entire document into memory without actually printing it. You could come back and make edits before printing it. Some Wheelwriter/Quietwriter models could be connected to a computer via a serial connection, which allowed it to be used as a daisy-wheel printer. [It has been rumored that any PC with a serial port can print to a Wheelwriter/Quietwriter, as it can be controlled using a generic print driver.]

Wheelwriter vs. QuietWriter

The Wheelwriter and QuietWriter were essentially the same typewriter chassis with one difference: the print assemblies. Nearly everything else, including the keyboard and firmware and even the case design was identical on both models.

Daisy WheelThe Wheelwriter used a daisy-wheel printer. Daisy-wheel printers are known for their exceptionally high print quality, despite being a cheaper assembly. The trouble is that daisy-wheel printers are loud, since they require the head with the proper character to actually strike the paper, similar to the assembly in most typewriters. Also, there was little customizability with a Wheelwriter since the characters were etched into the print head assembly (each character was arranged in a wheel-shape.) You could underline, but special characters required changing the daisy-wheel assembly.

The QuietWriter, on the other hand, used a non-impact print assembly (thus, the name Quietwriter) The Quietwriter actually works similar to a laser printer.

Daisy-wheel typewriterIn 1991, IBM sold its printer, keyboard, and typewriter operations to form the company Lexmark. In 1993, Lexmark continued the WheelWriter series with the 1000-7000 series. These new models included "Wheelwriter by Lexmark" under the IBM logo on the badge.

According to Batchelor Business Machines' website, Lexmark still manufactures the WheelWriter series. Lexmark still owns the facility in Lexington, Kentucky which the Selectric and Wheelwriter and Quietwriter typewriters were produced. [map]

(The above picture is of a Wheelwriter Model 3 Series 2, dating from either 1988 or 1989, which I found in our high school library. I actually got to type on it, and below is the print quality for those interested. Pardon my errors, though. There is a PDF sample located here. Here is another sample, which discusses the history of the IBM PC.)

Wheelwriter Print Quality

Last updated 08/07/2017 ; T420 (originally created 01/24/2017)
click here for additional information (external page)
©2014-17 Garrett Fuller. Learn more about this website.