Oliver Typewriter Company

The Oliver Typewriter Company was an American typewriter manufacturer headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The Oliver Typewriter was one of the first "visible print" typewriters, meaning text was visible to the typist as it was entered.[2] Oliver typewriters were marketed heavily for home use, using local distributors and sales on credit. Oliver produced more than one million machines between 1895 and 1928 and licensed its designs to several international firms.

The Oliver Typewriter Company
Company typePrivately held company
IndustryTypewriter manufacturing
Founded1895 (1895)
FounderThomas Oliver
Defunct1928 (1928)
SuccessorBritish Oliver Typewriter Company
United States
Area served
United States
Key people
ProductsSee Typewriters section
Number of employees
Footnotes / references
Thomas Oliver
Oliver 2 typewriter, 1896

Competitive pressure and financial troubles resulted in the company's liquidation in 1928. The company's assets were purchased by investors who formed The British Oliver Typewriter Company, which manufactured and licensed the machines until its own closure in the late 1950s. The last Oliver typewriter was produced in 1959.[3][4]



Thomas Oliver


Thomas Oliver was born in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada, on August 1, 1852. Having become interested in religion, Oliver moved to Monticello, Iowa, after the death of his mother, to serve as a Methodist minister. In 1888, Oliver began to develop his first typewriter,[5] made from strips of tin cans, as a means of producing more legible sermons.[6] He was awarded his first typewriter patent, US Patent No. 450,107, on April 7, 1891.[7] After four years of development, a "crude working model" composed of 500 parts had been produced.[5] Oliver resigned his ministry and moved to Epworth, Iowa, where he found investors willing to provide $15,000 ($549,000 in 2024) of capital, and leased a building in which to manufacture his machines.[citation needed]

While visiting Chicago to promote the machine, Oliver encountered businessman Delavan Smith, who became interested in the typewriter and bought the stock held by the Iowa investors. Oliver was given a 65% interest in the company and retained to continue development of the typewriter, at an annual salary of $3,000[8] ($110,000 per year in 2024). Oliver died suddenly of heart disease on February 9, 1909, aged 56.[9]

Illinois years


The Oliver Typewriter Company had begun operating in 1895, with its Chicago headquarters on the ninth floor of a building on the corner of Dearborn and Randolph Street. In 1896, manufacturing moved from Iowa to Woodstock, Illinois, when the City of Woodstock donated a vacant factory once used by the Wheeler and Tappan Company on the condition that the Oliver Typewriter Company remain there at least five years.[10] Manufacturing was divided into six departments: type bar, carriage, assembly, tabulators and adjustment, inspection, and an aligning room.[11] The company's headquarters moved to the Oliver Building, now a Chicago landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, when it was completed in 1907.[12]

Company ornamentation on the Oliver Building

Starting in 1899, the company established sales networks by encouraging customers to become local distributors. This method of marketing relied on word of mouth and emphasized sales made directly to neighbors (door-to-door) and, after 1905, sales on credit. In response to increased competition in the late 1910s, however, the company eliminated its network of local salesman and used the resulting savings in commissions to reduce the typewriter's $100 ($1,800 in 2024) price by half.[13] Sales increased and, at its peak, the company's labor force of 875 was producing 375 machines daily.[6] During World War I the company produced munitions for the British army and supplied typewriters for the military.[14] At the war's conclusion, the company subcontracted their factory to create car parts and movie projectors.[15]

In addition to its offices in Illinois, the company had branch offices in Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Kansas City, Minneapolis, New York City, Omaha, St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle, all of which closed when Oliver shifted to mail order sales in March 1917. A minor recession in 1921–22 caused a large number of customers to default on their payments, resulting in the repossession of their typewriters. The company opted not to borrow money and, in 1926, the board of directors voted to liquidate the company. Only one employee, Chester Nelson, was retained to oversee the company's liquidation.[6]

British Oliver Typewriter Company


In 1928, the Oliver Typewriter Company was sold to investors who formed the British Oliver Typewriter Company in Croydon, England and established a factory there.[3][4][6][16] Production of Oliver's original, three-rowed keyboard design was discontinued in 1931 when the company began to produce a rebranded model of the "Fortuna" typewriter, a four-rowed German design. In 1935, the company began to produce the Halda-Norden standard typewriter, another licensed design, as model No. 20. The company, however, had to retool its machines and return to the original Oliver design when the British government placed large orders for the three-rowed No. 15 at the outbreak of World War II.[17]

Production of the No. 20 resumed around 1947, at which time the company began to license the Oliver name to several European manufacturing companies.[18] The standard desktop machine was eventually discontinued in favour of portable models; the company began to sell a German design, the Siemag Standard, as the Oliver standard. In 1958, Oliver purchased the Byron Typewriter Company, previously the Barlock Typewriter Company, of Nottingham. The licensing ventures were ultimately unsuccessful, and the company's machine tools were transferred to a factory in Germany.[17] Production of all Oliver typewriters ended in May 1959.[3][4]




An Oliver model No.9

The general design of Oliver typewriters remained mostly unchanged throughout the company's history.[13] The Olivers are "down strike" typewriters, meaning the typebars strike the platen (also known as the roller) from above, rather than from below ("up strike") or from the front ("front strike"). Unlike the "up strike" method, which prints text out of sight on the underside of the platen, the "down strike" is a "visible print" design, meaning the full page is visible to the typist as the text is being entered. The relatively greater striking power of the "down strike" design led Olivers to be preferred for specialty uses such as stencil cutting or "manifolding" (copying using carbon paper).[19] The "front strike" method, a competing "visible print" design, was patented around the same time (1889–91), but an effective machine that did not interfere with the typist's line of sight was not available until 1897 when, roughly three years after the introduction of the Oliver No. 1, the Underwood No. 1 appeared on the market.[2]

The Oliver's typebars are bent in a bow (forming an inverted "U" shape) and rest in "towers" on the sides of the typewriter. This design limited the machine to a three-row QWERTY keyboard as the typebars were stacked such that they grew progressively larger as more were added. The size and usability implications of adding additional keys and thus, more typebars, precluded the addition of a fourth keyboard row dedicated to numbers.[2] Although a four-row prototype was designed in 1922, it was shelved due to the company's financial troubles at that time.[6] The No. 20, No. 21 and portable models produced by the British Oliver Typewriter Company had four-row keyboards.[3][4]



Oliver typewriters were finished with olive green paint or nickel-plating and white or black keyboards, depending on customer preference. Beginning with model No. 3, machines were painted green except some variants to be exported to warm or damp regions, which were chrome-plated.[20] The colour was changed from green to black on the introduction of model No. 11.[13] Oliver typewriters made for the British war effort were supplied with a "war finish".[17]



United States

United States models were manufactured in the company's factory in Woodstock, Illinois.

The following models were produced in the United States between 1894 and 1928:[13]

Model Years Produced Number Produced Notes
No. 1 1894–1896 5,000 First model; completely nickel-plated; closed "O" in "Oliver" on name plates
No. 1½ 1896 Unknown Unofficial designation;[13] No. 2 with nickel plating and closed "O"
No. 2 1896–1901 30,000 Improved paper feed; added handles; open "O" (see logo)
Nos. 3/4 1902–1907 148,000 Larger size; colour ribbon
Nos. 5/6 1907–1914 311,000 Oliver name plates removed from sides; backspacer added
Nos. 7/8 1914–1915 57,000 Left margin release moved to right of keyboard
Nos. 9/10 1915–1922 449,000 Right and left shift keys; two-colour ribbon
Nos. 11/12 1922–1928 35,000 Last model produced in the United States; handles removed; black colour

With the exception of model No. 2, even-numbered models were produced with extra keys (32 versus 28 keys) for sale in countries with accented languages.[citation needed]

United Kingdom


The following models were produced by the British Oliver Typewriter Company between 1930 and 1942:[3][4][13][17]

Model Years Produced Number Produced Notes
No. 11 1928–1931 Unknown Stock obtained from American firm and those produced by British Oliver
Nos. 15/16 1928–1947 > 34,346
No. 20 1935–1950 > 88,600 Rebranded Halda-Norden standard typewriter
No. 21 1949–1959 33,129 Enclosed typebar "well"
Portable 1930–1959 > 83,500 Various portable models produced as Types 1–5



Oliver typewriter designs were licensed for production in several countries. Variants of model No. 3 were produced by The Linotype Company of Montreal and A. Greger & Co. of Vienna.[21][22] Models produced by licensees were marketed under various names including "Courier" (Austria), "Fiver" (Germany),[18] "Stolzenberg" (continental Europe) and "Revilo" (Argentina).[19] The Argentinian licensee used Revilo, Oliver backwards, to avoid royalty payments on the Oliver name, which had already been registered in Argentina.[23] A heavy, 28-pound, nickel-plated model No. 3 was designed to avoid rust in warm, damp climates; by 1907, Mexico was importing them, with a market value of around US$100 in 1910 (the equivalent of about $2,100 in 2013).[24]



The 1915 novel Los de Abajo by Mariano Azuela was about the declining value of a pillaged typewriter for Mexican revolutionaries who had to carry the heavy device on their journeys; it featured an Oliver Typewriter model No. 3.[24]


  1. ^ Brockman, Paul (April 9, 1999). "Delavan Smith Papers, 1868-1921". Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c Campbell-Kelly, Martin (December 2005). "The User-friendly Typewriter". The Rutherford Journal. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Sale to British investors, licensing and production during WWII". AllThingsTypewriter.com. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Rebranded Desktops". OliverTypewriters.com. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Pitman, Isaac (1899). Pitman's Journal of Commercial Education. Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., p. 707
  6. ^ a b c d e Rehr, Darryl (February 1989). "The Unknown Oliver" (PDF). ETCetera. Early Typewriter Collectors Association. pp. 1, 4–5. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  7. ^ "United States Patent: 0450107". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved December 28, 2007.
  8. ^ Rehr, Darryl (May 1989). "More on Reverend Oliver ..." (PDF). ETCetera. Early Typewriter Collectors Association. pp. 8–9. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  9. ^ "Thomas Oliver" (PDF). The New York Times. February 10, 1909. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  10. ^ Baker, Nancy L. (2006). Woodstock. Arcadia Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 0-7385-4080-3.
  11. ^ Hoke, Donald (1989). "Product Design and Cost Considerations: Clock, Watch, and Typewriter Manufacturing in the 19th Century". Business and Economic History. 18: 125. ISSN 0894-6825. JSTOR 23702888 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ "Chicago Landmarks". City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks Division. Archived from the original on June 30, 2009. Retrieved 2007-12-20.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Rehr, Darryl (December 1992). "The Beginner's Oliver" (PDF). ETCetera. Early Typewriter Collectors Association. pp. 10–11. Retrieved November 11, 2007.
  14. ^ Baker, Nancy L. (2006). Woodstock. Arcadia Publishing. p. 34. ISBN 0-7385-4080-3.
  15. ^ Baker, Nancy L. (2006). Woodstock. Arcadia Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 0-7385-4080-3.
  16. ^ Jones, Geoffrey; Bostock, Frances (1996). "U.S. Multinationals in British Manufacturing before 1962". The Business History Review. 70 (2): 235. doi:10.2307/3116881. ISSN 0007-6805. JSTOR 3116881. S2CID 154603895 – via JSTOR.
  17. ^ a b c d Beeching, Wilfred A. (1974). Century of the Typewriter. St. Martin's Press. pp. 206–208.
  18. ^ a b Adler, Michael H. (1973). The Writing Machine. George Allen & Unwin Ltd. p. 322. ISBN 0-04-652004-X.
  19. ^ a b Mares, George Carl (1985). The History of the Typewriter: Successor to the Pen. Post-Era Books. pp. 114, 171. ISBN 0-911160-87-6.
  20. ^ Lewis, John (December 1995). "Not Your Ordinary Oliver" (PDF). ETCetera. Early Typewriter Collectors Association. p. 3. Retrieved February 12, 2008.
  21. ^ Decker, Don (July 1988). "Oddest of Olivers?" (PDF). ETCetera. Early Typewriter Collectors Association. p. 1. Retrieved February 12, 2008.
  22. ^ Frey, E. (1926). Luegers Lexikon der gesamten Technik und ihrer Hilfswissenschaften (in German). Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. p. 117.
  23. ^ Hammerton, John Alexander (1915). The Real Argentine: Notes and Impressions of a Year in the Argentine and Uruguay. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 228–229.
  24. ^ a b Bahena Uriostegui, Mario (Fall 2013 – Spring 2014). "From Wonder to Disappointment: A Typewriter's (Crashing) Value and the Limits of Discourse in Los de abajo". The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association. 46–47 (2/1): 77–79. JSTOR 43264541 – via Jstor.

Further reading