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Imperial B - 1915

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Some time before 1901, a Spanish-American engineer, Hildalgo Moya, came to Britain.  In his luggage Moya brought plans for an innovative portable typewriter.  Moya was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1863 and is said to have worked for the Hammond Typewriter Company.  The purpose of his journey to England was to become manager of the Remington Typewriter Company's UK office but Moya's dream was to start his own typewriter company and to make and sell his own machine for the very low price of 5 guineas. Moya settled in Leicester.  There he found a local businessman, John Gordon Chattaway, willing to finance his machine and he set up a small factory in Garton Street Leicester on what is now the site of the Leicester Royal Infirmary.  Moya also found a wife, since he subsequently married Chattaway's daughter, Sophia. The Moya  Typewriter of 1902 uses a rubber type sleeve and bears more than a passing resemblance to the successful Blickensderfer 5, but was not completely visible.  A new version, produced in 1905, the  Moya Visible moved the ribbon spools to the sides to improve visibility, but neither machine was commercially successful and the Moya Typewriter Company foundered.  Fresh finance was needed and, together with two local businessmen, W. Evans and J.W. Goddard, Moya founded the Imperial Typewriter Company in 1908.  For the new venture, Moya dropped his original idea and instead designed an even more innovative typewriter, the Imperial A, a physically small downstrike machine with a curved keyboard similar to that of the first Hammond machines of 1884.  However, the most innovative part of Moya's design was that the keyboard and typebasket of the machine could be unscrewed and removed in a minute or two, and be replaced with another typeface.  This enabled the Imperial A to compete with replaceable type shuttle or type sleeve machines such as the Hammond and the Blickensderfer.  Though physically small, the model A with its cast iron base was far from portable, weighing 15 pounds without case.  In 1915, the model A was replaced by the slightly more  sophisticated model B shown here. Around the same time, Moya began to experiment with casting the frame in aluminium to make the machine more portable.   Some Model Bs - including the one pictured here - were made in aluminium and provided with a leather carrying case. This machine weighs about 9 pounds (about the same as the Underwood Portable of 1919). A magazine article published in 'Typewriter Topics' in January 1916, probably written by Moya, speaks of plans totypewriter manufacture the Imperial C as the aluminium version of the B in the Spring of 1916, and at least one magazine advertisement for the C appeared in print at this time.  However no machine marked in this way has so far been found. It is reported that typewriter manufacturing ceased at Imperial during the remainder of the First World War and did not resume until 1919, so it appears that plans to manufacture the Model C were shelved .  When typewriter production resumed in 1919, a new model was introduced -- a straight keyboard version of the portable B, usually referred to as Model D, although it is marked Imperial Standard.   In practice it is doubtful if the removable keyboard idea played a major part in market acceptance of the Imperial B, but there is no doubt that this little machine successfully laid the foundations  of the  Imperial Typewriter Company over the next six decades and the same principle was carried over when Imperial started to manufacture desk machines in 1927 with its Model 50, which offered interchangeable platens, carriages and typefaces.  Around 1928, the company  began to collaborate with German manufacturer Torpedo who had also introduced interchangeability in its desk machines.  One fruit of this collaboration was the Regent machine which eventually Imperial bought out entirely and re-christened 'The Good Companion' which remained in production in different forms until 1963.  To read the story of The Good Companion click here.  Like other typewriter manufacturers, Imperial began to struggle in the 1960s against cheaper far east imports and in the 1964 the company was taken over by US electronics giant Litton Industries, which also swallowed up Royal Typewriters, and after a brief revival, the Imperial name  disappeared completely.

 

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Photographs by Courtesy of The Leicester Mercury