USB Typewriter Conversion

I’m participating in Fun-a-Day, a daily art challenge through the month of January, committed to do a daily post here detailing some Big Art Idea or project that looms somewhere out in my future.

Though honestly, I’m not sure this counts as an art big idea. We’ll say it is a humble but laborious idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. I want to create a USB typewriter keyboard.

USB Typewriter

This is not trail blazing here. There are people who’ve done this and done it well. But damnit, it is so cool, it could stand to be done again. And plus I need it for other projects, the Decision-Maker for instance.

I’ve seen a lot of bad attempts at doing this, one in which someone added a tiny finicky reed switch to each of the 50 or so keys on the typewriter keyboard.  That sounds like hell.

Typewriter Crossbar

The best implementation I’ve seen is some clever genius who noted that nearly every key on the typewriter keyboard depressed a single long crossbar under the frame (it advances the carriage one space).  The designer created a custom board to mount underneath and secured contacts to this bar so that as each key came down, it grounded a specific contact sending a signal to the USB circuitry.  Clever!

Attaching the contacts

Our USB Typewriter circuitry can transform your manual typewriter into a retro-futuristic marvel. Use a gorgeous vintage typewriter as the main keyboard for your Mac or PC, or type with ink-on-paper while electronically recording your keystrokes! The USB Typewriter also makes an outstanding keyboard dock for your iPad or tablet PC.

Attaching the control panel

Such a beautiful idea, it is pretty much ridiculous. And a really elegant implementation.

USB Typewriter

My favorite typewriter in the world is the hulking IBM Correcting Selectric II, a beastly behemoth that weighs more than a modern economy car, yet so sensitive to your touch, it knows what you will type before you even type it. Many Selectric users have observed that their typewriter would already have completed their typing tasks by the time they arrived in the morning.

IBM Correcting Selectric II

I’d love to convert an old Selectric, but it would not be so simple to convert. This wonder of modern electro-mechanical engineering has little in common with standard typewriters (except that it makes letters on paper).

6 thoughts on “USB Typewriter Conversion

    1. I can’t really help, but I’m interested in the results of your experiments. Most electric typewriters are pretty mechanical and not easy to control. If you are only interested in typewritten results, track down a daisywheel printer. These are pretty old skool and use a serial connection, but there are USB to serial converters. There are so many great hacks on, I’ll bet you will be able to find something.

  1. You said you would like to convert the Selectric … if you look at the bottom of the keyboard, you will find that it reduces to (iirc) 6 bars that move as you type. The bars can be separated by removing the adjuster couplings and then you have a 6 bit encoded keyboard and a printer. The keyboard can be detected using micro-switches and the printer can be triggered with solenoids.

    In fact, this particular conversion was common when mini-computers started showing up in offices.

    1. LD Blake,

      My mother owns an old IBM correcting Selectric II, and has mentioned never finding a keyboard to match. I’m trying to convert it to a keyboard as a surprise for her. Would you be able to assist or point me in the right direction?

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