My love of typewriters:
The seed for the USB Typewriter was planted a few years ago, when I found a clunky old Royal typewriter out on the curb near my Philadelphia apartment. I can't stand seeing things go to waste -- especially wonderfully intricate technological artifacts that have been around for almost 100 years -- so I took it to Hive76, my friendly neighborhood hackerspace. Using their shared tools and supplies, I was able to clean and fix that old royal up. After a little spit polish and elbow grease, I was amazed how beautiful the machine was underneath its century's worth of rust and dust. And even more amazing: it still worked.
After the excitement of getting this old clunker back into shape, I found I really enjoyed the time I spent writing on it. Unlike writing on a computer, there was no frenetic flicker of a screen, no distracting messages popping up, no pavlovian impulse to check my email...but the real joy was being able to see my words printed with real ink on real paper, at the touch of a key. Each time I sat down in front of this machine, I was transfixed: despite the exciting clatter of the keys, whirr of the carriage and ding of the bell, I found a sublime inner focus that made me feel more creative, centered, and mindful.
The Very First USB Typewriter I Made
The Birth of USB Typewriter:
My experience with that old Royal led me to realize just how much time I was spending in front of electronic screens—for hours at work; then watching TV at home; writing emails; surfing the web. Addiction is a strong word, but when I realized I spent more time than not staring at some type of electronic screen, I became worried this habit was doing damage to my soul. I wanted to be able to access to that simple joy I found when typing with ink on paper, even when I needed to write emails, fill out spreadsheets, and generally function in the 21st century.
Early Prototypes of the USB Typewriter Circuitry.
I realized I would never be able to sever the ties that—for better or worse—bound me to my digital devices, so instead I decided to make a hybrid: an analog typewriter that could also operate in the digital world. It would connect to computers when necessary, and give me the option to unplug when I needed a break from the digital world. It could even save my ink-on-paper work to memory so I could have the option of working on it later using a computer. After several weeks of experimenting, metalworking, soldering, and programming at Hive76, the first USB Typewriter was born.
How I Work:
Scenes from my old home workshop, before moving to the farmhouse
Instead of patenting and mass-producing my invention, I decided to release the designs as an open source project. That way, I could help people all over the world rescue typewriters from garages and attics, and put these beautifully intricate pieces of technology to use again.
I sell a do-it-yourself kit that can add an SD card slot, a USB port, and an optional Bluetooth radio to almost any typewriter. The kit is designed to be easy installation, without any special tools or electronics knowledge. I also sell a range of lovingly restored and USB-enabled typewriters.
Since the USB Typewriter project's inception, it has helped to rescue more than 1,000 typewriters from obsolescence, while constantly improving the conversion process to make the invention accessible to as many people as possible. The USB Typewriter has been featured by NPR's Morning Edition, The Martha Stewart Show, CNN HLN, WIRED, Gizmodo, and many others. It was named one of the "Top 10 iPad Accessories" by PC Magazine.
I'm a hacker/engineer/designer from Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from Drexel University with a degree in electrical engineering, I helped found Philadelphia's first and only hackerspace, Hive76, which is where I invented the USB Typewriter. I live and work in an old farmhouse in Orefield, PA with my wife and children (ages 5 and 7). I also love old bicycles, electric pianos, oscilloscopes, and board games.
I love hearing from any and all typewriter lovers and lovers of old things in general:
Jack [at] usbtypewriter.com