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20-10-2019 17:18:22  #1


Why such a wide cariage? ?

I am often seeing puzzled questions from the crowds of young, new, typewriter enthusiasts about why some typewriters have such long-to-huge carriages. What were they for?

Of course they had several purposes, but I recently came across an explanation that surprised even me. In his book, Why Things Bite Back, about unintended consequences, Edward Tenner quotes this anecdote:

“Officially, the [Soviet communist] regime campaigned to conserve materials. But it also set output goals by weight, not performance. Industrial quotas, meted out in metric tons, were filled with heavy stuff—sometimes incredibly sturdy, more often simply bad.  The alleged Soviet boast of producing the world’s largest microchips may be apocryphal, but Marshall I. Goldman, an economist who visited the USSR often, noticed an exceptional proportion of office typewriters with unnecessary extra-long carriages.”

Goldman, Marshall I., Gorbachev’s Challenge (New York: Norton, 1987), pp. 123–24
quoted in: Tenner, Edward, Why Things Bite Back (New York, Vintage Books/Random House, 1997), p. 349

 

21-10-2019 11:34:55  #2


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

My investigative curiosity would challenge Tenner's example and as a result, Goldman's observation.

For example, what was the function of the offices that the economist was visiting? There would have been offices where you would expect to see nothing but wide carriage models.

Alternatively, perhaps the phenomenon could be explained by cultural differences or opposing philosophies. Western societies are accustomed to ordering task-specific equipment, which results in many different models capable of performing slightly different jobs. The Soviets demonstrated in their history to favour simplicity and scale in their manufacturing, and it wouldn't be a surprise to me if they used a one-machine-does-all approach to typewriters. 

Along those lines, since I live in an area that has a very large number of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants I've often wondered why I've yet to come across one example of a Russian-made typewriter. This could say something about what was available to them (long carriage machines don't pack well), but more likely it has something to do with time period that most emigrated. 


"To save time is to lengthen life."
 

21-10-2019 20:46:39  #3


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

Those are good considerations, Uwe, and I'll further observe that it has long been Western practice to denigrate everything Soviet at every opportunity. I never tire of that old comparison of American ingenuity  in outer space note-taking, the Space Pen, vs. the primitive Soviet graphite pencil, often used to demonstrate Western expertise in high-tech vs. Eastern practicality but in reality having an undercurrent of American can-do vs. Communist backwardness.
Yes, there is some skating over detail in the short quote and the one-machine-does-all does fit with an economy that has no need to cut costs for profits. Still, the story does have a ring of believability to my possibility-indoctrinated ears.
There are many more Russian cameras here than typewriters, not entirely because of their smaller size and the older and larger classic camera market. But I'll bet there are more Russian cars in North America than Russian typewriters, too. We do see a few from other Iron Curtain countries. And there's the Москва occasionally and I have never noticed the width of their carriages.

     Thread Starter
 

22-10-2019 14:09:06  #4


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

That pen vs. pencil debate never gets old. There are a number of other good comparisons to point out the differences between Russian and Western design philosophy, ones that prove to the chagrin of engineers that sometimes simplicity and crudeness are better solutions to a problem than those that are complex and refined. 
 
I openly admit that I don't know a thing about Russian-made typewriters. Every machine I've come across that was equipped with a Cyrillic typeface was a domestically manufactured model, presumably either sold locally or intended for export. However, since a good portion of the typewriter century included the post-war years, one has to include models that were manufactured by Warsaw Pact countries that would have made their way into the Russian inventory. The history of those machines is something I'm far more familiar with.

I spent a few minutes trying to find typewriters being sold in Russia, and not surprisingly what I found were a lot of East German models - even some with wide carriages (below). https://cdn.boardhost.com/emoticons3/grin.png
And of course a Mockba. I'll have to invest more time to see if I can find unfamiliar models (to me).

Optima M12 in Russia
https://i.imgur.com/fHX0nLR.jpg


Seidel & Naumann Ideal standard in Russia
https://i.imgur.com/QKsIzRc.jpg


Mockba
https://i.imgur.com/lWpz5cv.jpg


"To save time is to lengthen life."
 

22-10-2019 19:42:07  #5


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

Uwe wrote:

.... snip ....sometimes simplicity and crudeness are better solutions to a problem than those that are complex and refined. 
 .... snip ....

I really enjoy my bicycle that doesn't need two sets of working batteries just to shift gears, or even the fussy adjustments to keep the indexing working. OTOH, I do appreciate having some gears, even though my old single-speed worked fine, too, and took me all over town. I guess the trick is to balance the technology with the actual, honest need, and there will be legitimate differences of opinion as to where that balance is. But not just "Because we can".

     Thread Starter
 

23-10-2019 02:59:50  #6


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

I can't say for sure, but the picture of the Mockba looks rather like the pre-war German Continental Standard.  There was a rumour that the Russians took the tooling from the Continental factory after the war, but were unable to produce the machines in Russia because they didn't realise that Continental had a lot of parts made by local sub-contractors.  Well maybe they overcame the problems associated with that and started making the machines in their entirety !

 

24-10-2019 11:58:30  #7


Re: Why such a wide cariage? ?

M. Höhne wrote:

… the trick is to balance the technology with the actual, honest need, and there will be legitimate differences of opinion as to where that balance is. But not just "Because we can".

How true. So many consumer goods now are solutions in search of a problem, and it's partly because our economy relies on the constant reinvention of the wheel to keep itself alive.

thetypewriterman wrote:

There was a rumour that the Russians took the tooling from the Continental factory after the war...

Given Chemnitz was behind the Iron Curtain, and that many German factories were looted and relocated to Russia, it seems extremely plausible. The Mockba in the photo is very similar to the Continental A, and yet differs in the level of refinement of its small components. This of course supports the rumour; those small components on the Mockba look like very much like ersatz pieces to me.  
 


"To save time is to lengthen life."
 

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