A Brief History of Typewriters & the Universal Typewriter Company Family
Universal Typewriter Company was founded 86 years ago, in 1937. Starting its journey in Lahore, and having traversed history through the partition, relocating to Independent India and eventually rising to become the largest traders of Typewriters across all brands through half a century across from the 1950’s to the late 1990’s - UTC had seen it all!
As fact is often stranger than fiction, no one could have imagined what lay ahead as the world moved into the new millennium. By the year 2000 most Typewriter manufacturers across the world had shut shop due to the declining use of the Typewriter owing to the invention of the Computer & Printer pair. By 2005 99.99% of Typewriter Traders across the world had either closed their businesses or moved to trading office electronics.
Here, I had a choice to make - to shut down my business or persist, transform and create a new identity.
And thus, Universal Typewriter Company persisted with the Typewriter. At UTC, we persevered with the Typewriter primarily due to my love and passion for this great machine which is known across the world as the father of the modern computer. The past 25 years have been an extremely turbulent journey, riddled with economic survival issues and challenges regarding availability of Typewriters, its parts and a dwindling market for Typewriters in general.
Nonetheless, today, UTC is the only Typewriter Company with a pan India presence with clientele across the world. UTC’s work has evolved in the last 2 decades into restoration and resale of fully functional vintage Typewriters - mostly catering to a niche marketplace replete with artists, literary luminaries, collectors, millennials, GEN Z, and even royalty - Queens & Kings of Princely states!
Apart from the very niche retailing of Typewriters UTC is also a cultural hub centred around ‘love for the vintage’, all things Typewriter, Space Design, etc.
UTC operates from a beautiful 4000 sq. ft. rooftop, overlooking the magnificent Lotus Temple. Amidst the scenic views which allow visitors to aerially view South Delhi, with the Metro whizzing by, and large swathes of beautiful green foliage all around, UTC hosts Typewriter events, workshops, exhibitions while hosting curated visits to its Typewriter Museum in the same space.
The UTC Typewriter collection in the present space is more than 500 Typewriters. These Typewriters are not for sale! The UTC Typewriter collection in storage in an Old Delhi warehouse contains an additional 1000 Typewriters.
The UTC Typewriter Inventory for sale to esteemed individuals is in the hundreds, and with the rotation that only UTC can manage - acquiring old Typewriters through vast networks, and restoring them for sale - UTC is confident of continuing its sale of Typewriters business for at least another 5 years.
In summation, the idea to persist with the Typewriter emerged from a love for this amazing invention - and even though my income reduced greatly, I continued due to the satisfaction I get from the intense process of keeping the Typewriter alive!
Additionally, the small Museum and Cultural Space I am operating, and the larger space I am working to build, are the legacy I am creating for future generations - and the emotions I feel while leading this creative process cannot be expressed in words.
At the end of the day, it fills my heart with joy to be known as “Mr. Typewriter UTC” by hundreds of Typewriter lovers.
As a family we have been with the Typewriter business for the last more than a century…
110 years ago, in 1912 my maternal grandfather joined Remington Rand Inc (US company) as a sales officer in the Lahore office of the company. Thus, we have been a typewriter family for more than a century. In 1937, again in Lahore, my father Late Sh. Dewan Chand Palta incorporated the name Universal Typewriter Co.
My father carried on with this successfully for ten years and as the partition of the country happened we had to leave Lahore. We relocated to Bombay (Mumbai) and Universal Typewriter Co re-started from scratch, 1947 onwards.
In less than a decade UTC had a new outlet at Central Delhi in 1954. UTC continues to be in the business from Bombay and Delhi to date. During this long journey UTC had branches in Ludhiana (Punjab), Faridabad (Haryana) and Noida (UP) as well. In other words we at UTC did remarkably well for many decades.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to note the status of typewriter trade and industry in India to gain a context into my history and current situation:
Till 1947 more than 25 brands of typewriters, from US and Europe were being marketed in the country. Soon after independence the Indian government decided to ban import of all typewriters. Thus all the companies marketing typewriters were asked to wind up. Only those companies who agreed to manufacture the machine in India were allowed to continue. Remington came forward as the first company to take on this challenge. Remington Rand of India was thus formed and the first plant was set up in Howrah, West Bengal, near Calcutta (Kolkata).
Almost simultaneously, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spoke to noted industrialist Mr. Godrej and asked him if he could manufacture a Typewriter indigenously. Mr. Godrej took this as a challenge and in early 1950’s Godrej produced the first indigenously manufactured Typewriter of India. Halda, a brand from Switzerland also set up a Typewriter manufacturing plant in Madras (Chennai). Now Remington, Godrej and Halda were the three brands available in India, and Remington largely ruled the Indian Typewriter business for more than 25 years. Godrej, starting with indigenously manufactured typewriters, subsequently collaborated with Optima brand from Germany. The year 1979 was important for the Indian Typewriter trade and industry, as a fourth brand Facit from Switzerland now also set up a company Facit Asia Limited for manufacturing Typewriters, in Bangalore (Bengaluru).
It was in this year 1979, that Godrej and Facit introduced new models and started marketing them aggressively. In a matter of few years the Remington brand supremacy was successfully challenged. By the mid 1980s Godrej turned the tables on Remington and became the number one Typewriter brand in India. 1990 was the best year for Typewriters in India as the country with all four brands combined - Remington, Halda, Godrej and Facit - was producing nearly two hundred thousand Typewriters annually.This was also the period when computers gradually made inroads into the country along with Electronic Typewriters.By the end of the 1990s computers started to erode the market of Typewriters very substantially. Remington was the first casualty and they shut production in the Howrah plant, soon followed by Halda shutting the plant in Madras.
Interestingly, with the popularity of computers, Electronic Typewriter manufacturing took a beating much faster than Manual Typewriters. In the year 2000 Facit also decided to wind up their production of manual typewriters, thus leaving Godrej as the only manufacturer of Typewriters in the world. In the year 2009 Godrej also declared that the small demand of the number of typewriters (less than ten thousand per year) was not proving to be financially viable for the multi-product company to continue manufacturing manual typewriters. This was the final curtain drawn on the Typewriter industry globally.
During this tumultuous period, like millions others, my siblings too moved on to other businesses.
I had joined the family business in the year 1975 at the outlet in Central Delhi. I have been with the business for more than 45 years now, and am the last man standing for the past 20 years.
Today, UTC is aiming to grow higher, and create a Typewriter themed Cultural Space including a Typewriter Museum, in India.
I am already operating a space which displays my collection in an ‘interim’ museum, and we host Typewriter events, workshops and curated visits to the museum.
Nonetheless, I am hoping to create collaborations to raise awareness and bring together Typewriter lovers, supporters of the arts, philanthropists, and in general all good people to come forward, to help me create a larger cultural hub revolving around ‘love for the vintage’, and a full scale Typewriter Museum with the entire collection of over 1500 Typewriters - the World’s largest Typewriter Museum.
The full scale UTC Typewriter Museum has already been fully curated & designed and the blueprints are drafted! This Museum is designed to be the first and only Typewriter Museum in the world with a series of firsts:
-The largest Typewriter Museum in the world with more than 1500 Typewriters.
-The only Typewriter Museum in the world with all Typewriters fully functional and in an open display format for visitors to type on.
Despite having all aspects ready - from the proposals, to the blueprints - and a collection of over 1500 Typewriters, I currently do not have the financial resources to build this visualised space - and I am hoping you will help.
I have recently launched a shopify based e-shop for my sellable Typewriters - and this website also contains all other information about my work and future plans.
It is through this website and Instagram & Facebook that I am hoping for your help to help me create a true Typewriter Revolution.
From a business point of view, today UTC offers sale, service and most importantly restoration of vintage and antique typewriters, from all over the country. The process of restoring a Typewriter today is almost like remanufacturing a Typewriter. With almost no availability of components globally, I even undertake fabrication of parts when necessary, and apart from that I depend on components from machines cannibalised in my workshop for the sole purpose of giving life to another machine.
Though the lessons learnt along the journey are infinite, what stands out most is the fact that persistence, creativity, out of the box thinking, along with planning, humility and unabashedly seeking help when necessary are sure to move mountains - or in my case not only keep alive the Typewriter but also give it a re-birth.
As I mentioned earlier, in 2009 the final curtain was drawn on the Typewriter industry globally.
This was a big blow for hundreds of thousands of people who made their livelihood as sellers & repairers of Typewriters and parts & accessories of Typewriters.
To illustrate my point, just imagine, that 1 city in the country - Delhi - had more than two hundred and fifty dealers of Typewriters. They all were left with no option but to switch to some other business or simply shut down.
It was a matter of survival for UTC as well. We took the hard decision to continue and face the challenges. The reasons mainly were these three:
1. To continue a century old family tradition and the passion.
2. Moral responsibility towards the staff who has been with us for more than three to four decades.
3. To face the challenges of doing something that is getting tougher by the day and hence getting the reward in terms of satisfaction more than in terms of financial gains.
It will not be out of place to mention here that there was a stage when we regularly used to give unserviceable Typewriters to scrap dealers, selling them by weight.
One such random day my children were over and I had taken out some very old machines from the store. Before I could decide to give them away as scrap, they asked me if I could get them restored. On their insistence, when I got them restored and made them fully functional, thanks to my spare parts inventory and experienced technical staff, my children introduced me to the world of restored vintage typewriters through the internet. In America and Europe, these machines were really expensive and hard to get, while a definite, though small, demand existed.
Inspired by this I took the tough decision to continue in the business.
Today we are literally producing ‘gold’ from ‘junk’.
The profile of Typewriter buyers today is very different from the buyers of the 1970’s / 80’s. It speaks volumes about the kind of uses this machine is being utilised for. The father of all computers, and what I consider to be the best invention of the last century, a Typewriter has more than two thousand five hundred parts - all working together almost magically to type beautiful words onto virtually any paper. The Typewriter which was used to produce all written communication for business, trade, industry, government etc, has transformed from the indispensable ‘office automation product’ of a few decades ago, to being a rare medium to create literature, art. Today, the Typewriter commands its own niche subculture. The Typewriter has become the choice of creative writers, designers, artists, and all those who are looking to truly go analogue, discard ‘copy paste & spellcheck’ and enhance their own mental faculties, strengthen their brain and unleash their creativity. This machine is also revered by collectors - those who value the antiquity, charm and mechanical melodic magnificence of this wonderful device called the Typewriter.
People come to me from all over the country for the specialisation that I have in the restoration of old & vintage typewriters. I can bring to life any Typewriter brought to me in any condition.
I have been doing this my whole life, and In the process, my personal collection of rare vintage and antique typewriters has grown manifold. As I mentioned earlier, I want to take this further into a Typewriter Revolution, and towards this goal, I have launched our website recently, and am trying to grow my footprint on social media as well through facebook, instagram & youtube - all under the name mrtypewriterutc.
Our website universaltypewritercompany.in, the only one of its kind in India, is being developed for complete information on the subject of Typewriters, as well as for online shopping of Typewriters.
Tracing where i started - from selling thousands of Typewriters a month, to literally facing the ‘death’ of the Typewriter, and yet choosing to persist - to where i have now reached - mr typewriter utc, the last man standing as i am known - and where i plan to go - to pioneer a Typewriter Revolution, with your help - all of this - my whole story is one of resilience, inspired by the most resilient - the Typewriter.
Mr. Typewriter a.k.a. Rajesh Palta