Selling keys to success

Former typewriter salesmen were friendly rivals for decades

Former typewriter salesmen were friendly rivals for decades

April 18, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

Their keys were the key to American business, across every sector, and were found in most households, too.

"It was sales and service, and service was very important," said Pat Lushbaugh, who sold Royal typewriters for the Office Equipment Company from 1947 to 1997. "Back then, every piece of paper that went out of an office went out on a typewriter."

Slowly, the manual typewriters they sold under the names of Royal, Smith Corona and Underwood evolved, first into electric versions and then, and fatally for Lushbaugh, Richard Long, and Jack McCarter Sr., into computers.

It was the beginning of the end for what the men considered a noble profession

"I felt the world was wrong, I felt they were wrong in going away from a typewriter to a keyboard," said Lushbaugh, 85, of Funkstown.


The men gathered April 8 at Lushbaugh's Franklin Street shop, Back Door Antiques & Collectibles, to reflect upon old times.

McCarter, 78, of Halfway, still repairs the machines at Office Services on Dogwood Drive in Hagerstown, with clients including Hood College, but Long and Lushbaugh have since moved on. They still share a common bond, forged over more than a half-century of friendly competition with each other.

"We've been friends, I've lost deals to Pat (Lushbaugh) and Dick (Long), and the next day we'd laugh over it," McCarter said. "It was an easy job, and it was a good business, and we three competed with each other for business."

The men got into typewriter sales in the late 1940s and early 1950s, taking on the same approximate territories for their own brands.

Lushbaugh left Fairchild Aircraft in 1947 to work at the Office Equipment Co.

Long started selling typewriters for his father's business, Albert M. Long Office Equipment, later bought it and changed the name to Richard M. Long Office Equipment, and then to Long's Business Equipment.

McCarter, after drifting about for two years after his U.S. Navy discharge in 1946, partnered with his stepfather in 1948 - Valentine's Day of that year - to sell Underwoods. That business was named for McCarter's stepfather, Cockrell Office Equipment Co.

Each had his own sales pitch, expounding upon the virtues of his machine and why his was better, more solidly-made, easier to use.

The Royals, Lushbaugh said, were designed to minimize the amount of force typists needed to use to hit the keys so they would strike the ribbon and leave an imprint on the page.

Lushbaugh said that on most typewriters, pressing a key would force the ribbon to rise upward, but with some resistance. On the Royals, he said, the ribbon would first drop down and then move up, picking up momentum on its way.

"I don't know who designed the typewriter action on the Royal typewriter, but it was unique," Lushbaugh said. "It had the lightest, most responsive touch."

Then there were the Smith Coronas, which Long said were equally smooth because they were the only ones on the market driven by ball bearings.

"I proved to them it actually took less energy on the finger," he said.

And there were the Underwoods, which McCarter said sold on the strength and reputation of their name.

"It was the older, more established name," he said.

"Underwood was the old machine," Long chimed in quickly, rekindling the competitiveness the three men enjoyed.

At the end of the day, though, each admits all were equally capable - no better, no worse, just different.

"We each had our own features that we built up big, but when it came down to it, they were all typewriters," said Long, 82, of Hagerstown.

These days the men have gone their separate ways. Lushbaugh works part time at his antique store, McCarter at his Office Services business.

Long is active in service organizations.

They hold a healthy disdain for the advances that put them out of business, but not uniformly.

Lushbaugh has a computer, which he uses, but not a lot.

"I play solitaire on mine, I get e-mails," he said. "If I'm going to make a (bank) deposit, I'm not going to do that on a computer."

Neither McCarter nor Long use the machines.

"Online stuff, I don't need that," Long said.

"I've got one in my business, but I don't plug it in," McCarter said. "I just never had a desire to own one, I never did change with the times."

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