July Question of the Month – an irregular series

Thank you for enlisting the help of The Seattle Public Library to identifythe history and use of the “floating shift” typewriter key you saw for sale in the FriendShop at our Central library. I am a librarian in the Business, Science and Technology department and I am happy to provide a little background information on this fascinating technological development.

According to popular advertisements of the 1930s and 40s, the “floating shift” key was a revolution in typewriter technology pioneered by the L.C. Smith and Corona company some time after the Smith and Corona companies merged in 1926. The earliest clear explanation we have been able to find for the function of this key is in an advertisement on page 11 of the September 13, 1936 issue of The Seattle Times.

The advertisement reads as follows:
“When you press the shift key (a) on other portables (to type capital letters), the entire heavy carriage (b) is lifted. When you press the shift key on CORONA, only the light type-segment (c) is moved—and it is lowered, not raised! Not only that, but the shift operated on ball bearings, almost without effort. CORONA’S ‘Floating Shift’ means faster, easier, quieter operation… perfect alignment… and genuinely lessened work.”

This innovation was likely fueled by intense competition among typewriter manufacturers of this era, as an article entitled “Flying Truck Here: Crowd Sees Tests,” we discovered on page 15 of the August 5, 1927 issue of the New York Times attests. This article describes a stunt organized by the Royal Typewriter company (an industrial underdog) to demonstrate the high caliber and durability of their portable machine by parachuting thousands of typewriters out of an airplane.

If you would like to view these and other historic newspaper articles about the amazing typewriter, head over to the Seattle Public Library website at www.spl.org. Click on the link “Articles & Research,” then the category “Magazines & Newspapers,” and scroll down to select either Seattle Times Historic Archive (keywords: corona floating shift) or New York Times Historic (keywords: 1927 flying truck typewriter.)

Thanks for submitting your question to The Seattle Public Library!

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