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From writing to typing, Cokato Museum exhibit shows the slow death of cursive
Dec. 9, 2013

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

“The Keyboard that Killed Cursive” is the new temporary exhibit on display at the Cokato Museum, opening Tuesday, Dec. 10.

The museum chose to show how cursive and handwriting, in general, has been gradually replaced through the years with type.

“After all, how many people write in cursive anymore?” asked Cokato Museum Director Mike Worcester. “It’s a form of handwriting that isn’t taught anymore.”

Though the reasons why have varied, “it’s centered around how we so thoroughly automated not just our offices, but our lives,” Worcester said. “Who writes letters anymore?” he asked, noting messages are sent via e-mail and text as opposed to through the postal service.

Through the exhibit, museum staff have taken items from the collection to show the “progression from precise penmanship to our modern method of correspondence, which is type, and click send,” Worcester said.

The exhibit chronicles the advancement of writing/typing. It begins with a heavy emphasis on perfecting the Palmer Method of cursive writing, moves into the early manual typewriters, which later became electric; and then shows the early computers that would be the predecessor to today’s more compact and advanced processors.

Because of the common use of computers, “there isn’t the need for emphasis on handwriting anymore,” Worcester said.

On display are examples of early penmanship, including a handbook and grading chart on the Palmer Method, a standard in schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The handbook teaches how to properly position one’s hand for writing and other techniques that would help one learn good penmanship.

In addition to the handbook, the American Handwriting Scale is displayed on the wall of the exhibit to show different levels of penmanship used as a guide for grading students.

If a student passed the penmanship test, he or she would actually receive a certificate acknowledging the completion of the Palmer Method of writing.

Along with the Palmer Method, the display shows examples of different writing tools used throughout the centuries, such as quill pens that were dipped in ink, to early No. 2 lead pencils.

Among the early typewriters on display is one made in 1897, by the Blickensderfer Company out of Stanford, CT.

“It’s the only one in our collection that doesn’t have the standard key arrangements,” Worcester said, noting these particular typewriters are not common to find.

Early typewriters didn’t have a standard key arrangement. For example, with the Blickensderfer, the most commonly used letters are on the bottom row.

Museum assistant Johanna Ellison explained that because of the layout of the early keys, typewriters would frequently jam.

It was later determined that surrounding the most frequently used keys with those that weren’t used as often prevented the typewriters from jamming.

Early typewriters – made in the 1900s to the mid-1920s – were extremely heavy, since they were made with solid metal.

Anyone who would’ve owned a typewriter during those times would’ve had one made by one of three companies – Remington, Smith Corona, or Royal.

Then, the exhibit moves on to the early years of office and home computing.

On display are several examples of electric typewriters which were used in the mid-1930s to the mid-1980s.

There is even an opportunity to test one’s typing skills on an electric typewriter on display.

Worcester noted that in the mid-1970s, early computers started appearing in the office setting. However, it wasn’t until the early- to mid-1980s when they began showing up in the home, because they were so expensive.

The exhibit, Worcester pointed out, also shows how technology has become significantly advanced.

“There are light years of difference in computers just in the last three decades,” he said.

The exhibit runs through March 22 at the museum.

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