In 1895, the Canadian Thomas Oliver founded the Oliver Typewriter Company in Chicago, Illinois.
Among the most commercially successful models were:
- Nos. 3/4 (1902-7) – 148,000 units produced
- Nos. 5/6 (1907-144) – 311,000 produced
- Nos. 9/10 (1915-22) – 449,000 produced
Oliver typewriters with even numbers were built for export markets and shipped with foreign keyboard layouts. These models include four extra keys for languages that use accents (e.g. French).
Overall, the Oliver Typewriter Company sold more than 1 million typewriters.
Oliver “Down Strike” Typewriters
Oliver typewriters were well known for their “down strike” mechanism: once you hit a key, the type hammer moves down towards the paper, rather than up towards the paper (“up strike” method), as you can see in Mark Towns’ Oliver 3 Desktop Typewriter demo video.
Down strike keystrokes are more powerful than up strike keystrokes, which made Oliver Typewriters the ideal choice for carbon printing.
Sale to British investors, licensing, and production during WW II
The Oliver Typewriter Company was sold to British investors in 1928, and was since known as the British Oliver Typewriter Company.
The last model produced in the US was No. 11/12, with overstock being bought up and sold by the new British owners.
From 1929 and throughout WW II, the company supplied the British government with typewriters.
After 1931, the British Oliver Typewriter Company started licensing several designs from other European manufacturers in Germany, Italy, or Sweden.
For example, the No. 20/21 was actually a Halda-Norden typewriter, with a four-row keyboard layout (numbers and special characters have their own row).
During World War II, importing typewriters from Europe became increasingly difficult and British Oliver returned to producing its model No. 15 (1928 – 47), which featured the company’s three-row keyboard layout.
The Portable Typewriter and End of the Oliver Company
In 1947, British Oliver resumed the production of model No. 20/21, the licensed Halda-Norden. But the owners also began to license the Oliver brand to other European manufacturers and started to focus on portable rather than desktop typewriters.
The 1950s saw typewriters become less utilitarian in design. Manufacturers wanted see typewriters in people’s homes, not just typing rooms. Typewriters had to be practical and beautiful, as you can see with design-focused manufacturers like Olivetti.
The portable 1958 Oliver Courier typewriter was the last model the company released.
In May 1959, the last Oliver typewriters left the factories and production stopped.