It was a revolutionary device that brought the printed word into the 20th century. And it was manufactured in Tompkins County. In this week's your hometown, Tamara Lindstrom takes a look at how the typewriter helped write the history of the Village of Groton.
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GROTON, N.Y. -- By today's standards, it's a simple machine. But one that helped launch the country into the information age. A piece of history staged right here.
"At one time Groton was called the typewriter capital of the world," said Lee Shurtleff, Groton Village historian.
"It seemed like almost every household or every other household, there was somebody that worked at Corona or relied on the workers of Corona to support their business," said Alan Christopher.
It all started in 1909 with Benn Conger. An enterprizing politician facing unemployed constituents and an empty warehouse after the new automobile industry drove out the Groton Carriage Company.
Shurtleff said, “As the story goes, the senator was on a train and saw this person using a folding typewriter where the carriage folded into the frame and it could be carried. And it was one of the first portable typewriters. And he was intrigued with it, searched out the manufacturer, bought the patent and the company and brought the workers here to Groton."
With that, the Standard Folding Typewriter Company was established. Their flagship product, the Corona typewriter, flew off the assembly lines.
"I think over 30,000 typewriters were sent overseas in WW1. And so the Corona model name became synonymous with the factory and they changed the company name to Corona," said Shurtleff.
In 1932 Standard Typewriter merged with L.C. Smith Brothers, forming the Smith Corona brand. A company that would shape the next half century of the small town.
Former Smith Corona employee Company Alan Christopher said, "They provided homes. They actually built a lot of homes for the people that worked there. They called them Corona homes."
A Corona theatre and gymnasium kept workers in shape and entertained, as did the company's semi-pro baseball team.
“The reason my father came here after World War II was to play on the ball team. There's an interesting game that people still talk about now days. Went 22 innings with absolutely no score, so they had to call it because of darkness," said Christopher.
Between whistles, the factory kept 1,500 pairs of hands hard at work.
You'd see parts of the typewriters on conveyor belts traveling up and down. It was always quite intriguing to watch that," said Christopher.
"Pay was good. Time was good. You're in at seven and out at 3:30."
Over the years, the plant put out more than just typewriters. In the 1940s, when other factories turned to building weapons and equipment to help the war effort, the Smith Corona employees out their talents to good use building decoders to help the US military transmit secret messages.
Historical Association President Florence Allen said, “When World War II happened, they used this decoder to send messages and they believed that nobody could break the code in it. You put in your message and it comes out something else."
Adding machines also made their way off the assembly line.
"I work at the bank and I remember back in the days we had one of those calculators and it took forever for it to calculate. It made a lot of noise, and finally it would spit out the answer. But then when the pocket calculators came along, they're instant. It put the merchant part of the business out," said Christopher.
That was just the start of what would prove to be the end.
Allen said, "I think we got stalled when we went into the technology, computer world. I think Smith Corona forgot to keep up."
After 75 years, production ground to a halt.
"They would come, they would shut down a line and say you're job is being sent to Cortland. And because of your seniority you either go to Cortland and work, or you're laid off," said Allen.
Most people found work outside the village, leaving a bustling Main Street silenced.
Christopher said, "The community became more of a bedroom community."
By 1984 the stalwart structure that housed decades of industry would have to come down.
"They didn't have much choice. It was a building that could never be brought up to code,” said Christopher.
Shurtleff said, "They were obsolete after the factory moved out. I remember that going, going, gone when the final building went down."
Though the demise of the factory left a quieter community in its wake, remnants of the typewriter empire remain.
"I remember when, I guess that's what my mother and my father would say. I remember when that typewriter came out, or I remember typing on that in school," said Allen.
And a legacy to be keyed on the pages of history.
If you'd like to take look at those early machines, you can head to the Groton Historical Association’s website at historicgroton.com.