Whatever happened to …

… typewriting mathematics?

Since last weekend’s post about double spaces, I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about typewriting.

Sure, it was a skill that landed some folks a job but there is more than just learning to type the right keys.  So many self-taught people missed out on the academics of learning to type and document creation.  I note the parallel of the decline in typing with the fall in mathematics scores.  Is there a correlation?


Thanks, Morguefile.
Note:  Our typewriters were Underwoods.
A Mercedes typewriter would have been very cool.

Learning to type is more than just the tapping of the appropriate key.  In fact, it was packed with mathematics.

Of course, you needed a textbook – after all, we learned to type in high school where there generally was a textbook for everything.  You can buy one at a discount here.  I looked but could not find the one that we used.  I seem to remember it having a brown and tan cover.  Probably the lack of sales for textbooks is reflected in the fact that so much is online.  Like here.  It even includes timed writings – the ultimate test of speed acquisition in typing!  And, a great problem to be assigned for solution in a Computer Science class.

But, back to the mathematics.

Line Length:

Who can forget the instruction to “Set a 60 stroke line”.  Now, to the newbie, that appears to be easy.  Just set the left margin to zero and the right margin to 60.  Of course, since this is academia, that doesn’t work.  Whatever the instructions, you had to make sure that the final document was centred on the sheet of typing paper.  “Set a 70 stroke line”

White Space:

Speaking of centring, you always, always, had to make sure that you had an appropriate amount of white space on the resulting document.  This generally meant a one inch border, top and bottom, on the 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper.  I can remember us having to work it out with carriage returns and sample letters.  The reason why it worked ever time?  Mono-spaced keys!

To make things more challenging, we used to get cast aways from the Practice Office and we’d type on the back of them.  That made more opportunities to determine white space when we’d use 8.5 x 14″ sheets of paper or paper that had gone through the paper chopper so be odd sizes.

Timed Writings:

Typing is competitive.  Of that, there can be no doubt.  Who can forget.

“Hands on the home row, feet flat on the floor, eyes on your copy …. Begin

And we were off and typing.  Our teacher had a specialize clock with squeezable controls that he would start and a bell would go off when the typing was done.  At the bell, hands had to go up in the air so there were no extra letters after the bell.  Typically, our timed writings would be 1, 2, or 5 minutes in length,  Typing also involved finger stamina.  Nobody had ever heard of carpal tunnel syndrome.  Was it because of our proper technique at the time?  As I write this, my Chromebook is in my lap, I have my right leg under my left, my wrists are indeed touching the computer, and I’m reclined in my chair watching Formula 1 qualifying.  So much terrible technique.

At the conclusion of the speed test, the mathematics kicked in.  The textbook had the number of keystrokes off to the right of the text.  It was a matter of adding them up to get a total.  Then, heavy duty mathematics.  Results were always words per minute so some calculation was needed if you’re doing a 5 minute test.  Then, there were the extra keystrokes on that last line if you didn’t finish a complete one.


Yet another skill that gave us an appreciation for odd and even numbers.  To centre a title on the screen, you had to move the carriage to dead centre.  Then, left hand finger on the text to be centred and right hand on the backspace key and it was a matter of one backspace for every two characters to be centred.  See also page numbers…

This was a skill not to be limited to one point in time.  There was also typewriter art and reinforced at Christmas time typing symmetrical Christmas trees.  This was also easily transferred to a Computer Science activity.

Learning while typing

One of the things that could be accomplished was learning by submission.  I know that we were told not to read the content but to just read the letters and type.  I could never do that.  I always enjoyed reading what I was typing and I can remember a couple of the texts that included some bios of famous mathematicians.

Ah, the memories.  The things that today’s youth will never know and experience.  (or even truly understand!)  It’s interesting to see how these things that we learned manually are just a mouse click and/or drag away in a modern word processor.

How about your thoughts for a Sunday?  Please don’t get too serious; enjoy biting your tongue as much as I did as you share your thoughts.

  • Yes, so much of what we learned has now been relegated to a button in a word processor.  Are there any valuable skills that we’re getting rid of by doing this?
  • In any text, words have varying lengths.  In typing, a “word” is a strictly defined term that’s needed for determining those extra words on the last line.  How many characters are there in a “typing word”?
  • Do you remember the name brand of your first typewriter?
  • Did you have a typewriter at home?
  • How many strokes after the bell warning on a typewriter did you have before you hit the right margin?
  • At the end of the line, the left hand was used to press the return bar and move the carriage back.  How did you double space?  Or one and a half line space?
  • A no-no was to grab the paper and rip it from the roller when you were done.  It made a very distinct noise.  What was the proper way to remove your paper?

As always, I would encourage you to share your memories – this time about the mechanics of typing class and possible mathematics connections.  I challenge you to make it fun to read!

2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I never had much difficulty calculating my wpm – you could only count until you got to five mistakes and then you had to stop. I usually made a lot of mistakes so my wpm count only included the first few lines.
    If you want to talk to a fast typist, talk to Nancy Drew (no, not the detective. Doug knows who I mean.) She was so fast she used to be her school’s representative at typing contests at St. Clair College. I don’t remember our school sending anyone to a typing contest but maybe that’s because I was such a terrible typist that there was no hope of me ever entering.


Please share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.