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The Selectric Typewriter (ibm.com)
30 points by bookofjoe 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments



I have a Selectric II, bought for $15 at a second-hand store. It's a glorious machine for writing, the keyboard is second to none and words just seem to flow out of my hands when I type on the thing. It's wonderful.

The problem is, the whole house can hear it. Every keystroke, especially every carriage-return (those are like thunder). It beggars concerns about super-clacky PC keyboards disturbing people. I cannot imagine what typing pools and newsrooms sounded like in the 60s and 70s.


The Selectric keyboard touch and feel was vastly superior to the best mechanical keyboard you can get today.

Truly fabulous.

I really wish there had been a terminal or keyboard based on that. I like my UNICOMP clacky, but I'd gladly pay $1000 for a Selectric-feel unit.


> I'd gladly pay $1000 for a Selectric-feel unit.

The DasKeyboard Brings Back the Feel of an IBM Selectric https://www.pcworld.com/article/251792/the_daskeyboard_bring... "If you remember what it was like to type on an old IBM Selectric typewriter, you know about what the experience of typing on the DasKeyboard ($129) is like. The company actually had a couple of old IBM Selectric typewriters at their booth."

Turning A Typewriter Into A Mechanical Keyboard https://hackaday.com/2015/08/27/turning-a-typewriter-into-a-...

Relatedly: Turning An IBM Selectric Into A Printer https://hackaday.com/2012/06/13/turning-an-ibm-selectric-int...


> The DasKeyboard Brings Back the Feel of an IBM Selectric

No. Not even close. Das use Cherry MX switches of various kinds, none of which feel like a Selectric.


Daskeyboard, like most mechanical keyboard makers, uses plastic cherry mx keyswitches or the generic chinese cherry clones. Those will feel nothing remotely like either a selectric or a good mechanical keyboard such as a model F/M. The person who wrote that article has no idea what he's talking about.


Ha! I'm writing this on a DasKeyboard and have an IBM selectric ii on the desk next to me - they are worlds apart.


I read that the Model F keyboard were supposed to emulate the feel of the Selectric keyboard. Haven't bought one before, but heard a lot about these: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/store/


I learned to type, and to program, on a Model F.

My mother also had a Selectric, and I used it sometimes. I mostly remember it being loud.

I don't recall the keyboards being especially different, but I was just a kid. I do know that it utterly spoiled me for dome keyboards, which I always hated; I hauled that Model F around for about fifteen years, before going full-laptop for awhile. I still have it.

At which point the mechanical keyboard renaissance was in full swing, so I use an Ergodox now. Cherry-type switches are good enough, but if someone made an Ergodox type board with Model F type buckling spring keys (fat chance), I'd have my grail.


Between the Selectric and the Model F was another IBM keyswitch design known variously as the "Beam Spring" or "Keyboard B" which was much closer to the Selectric in feel. It even used the same keycaps as the Selectric. The Model F was introduced as easier to manufacture and more compact.

See: https://deskthority.net/wiki/Beam_spring


If money is no object, the closest you can get is a "Beamspring" board from a '70s IBM terminal.

There are adapters you can bolt on to make them speak USB, but a lot of them are a significant effort of cleaning/derusting/repairing since many of them are "barn finds" in iffy condition. A nicely restored one will be in the 1-2k range.

I wonder if an alternative would be to take an actual Selectric, which are likely cheaper and more available, and tap into some part of the mechanism that parses the keystrokes and convert that to modern signaling. I could imagine a comical assembly that's basically one of the old typeballs with a few dozen contact switches, all wired to a Bluetooth keyboard module


Have to strongly disagree here... they were the best touch and feel for the typing speeds of those days, but that kind of touch would not be suitable for today’s 100+ wpm.


Have you tried a model F? They feel closer to a selectric than a model M / unicomp


First job I had after leaving the Air Force was at an office supply store as a technician. I learned how to clean this typewriter with carb cleaner and lube it back up with Teflon oil. They last forever if cleaned yearly.

My mother could type over 100 wpm on one back when she was a young woman.


You cannot imagine how high tech looking those 'IBM ball' typewriters were when they came out. Nobody called them selectric.

I remember when all the administrative staff got them at our school. When I got to high school we wanted them for the school newspaper but got rejected. We were told they were a 'serious tool' and far too expensive for mere schoolchildren to be able to use.


Pretty interesting, though I disagree with the videos on www.engineerguy.com that Selectric was a digital to analog converter. It converted a digital signal - a key pressed - into a digital output - a glyph printed, though tilt and turn take specific values from continuous range.



There's a zoning ordinance still in effect in downtown Chicago from the 1960's that reserves a prime block of land for a 24-story IBM typewriter repair facility.

https://www.chicagoarchitecture.org/2019/12/12/odd-chicago-z...



I am inquiring about an IBM Selectric 251 typewriter[1], I believe it may be in your back room.

[1]. https://fringe.fandom.com/wiki/Store_Owner


The parent site IBM 100 lists many of IBM's historical highlights.

"Over the past 100 years, hundreds of millions of IBMers, clients, customers and business partners all over the globe have helped IBM make the world work better. To every single individual, thank you. We pledge boldness in IBM’s second century to create a company that never stops moving toward the future. Ever onward."[0]

Lofty speak, and not to be a party-pooper but I can't help but think, if we're getting all nostalgic about IBM history, then part of me just can't help but bring it up. IBM collaborated with Nazis and helped enable the holocaust which has been well document by Edwin Black. [1]

As the Nazis invaded a country they would perform a census to identify the undesirables to be removed to concentration camps. This was an industrial scale data management and logistics problem that IBM was uniquely qualified to facilitate. The fact that they did so is not contested although it is not spoken of often and surely does not condemn today's IBM. We should however take it as an object lesson in the double edged sword of technology and the warning that we must restrain firms that would have us think they won't be evil.

"...in the 2012 reissue Black presents a letter dated 1941 from IBM that directed a Dutch subsidiary to work with Dehomag — years after business with Germany was supposed to have ceased. Furthermore, according to Black’s 2012 evidence, Watson took a one percent commission on all profits made in business with the Nazis, and had to personally approve all expenditures on said business, such as bomb-fortifying Dehomag installations."[2]

"What Hitler has done to us through his economic warfare, one of our own American corporations has also done . . . Hence IBM is in a class with the Nazis . . . The entire world citizenry is hampered by an international monster." - Economic Warfare Section Chief Investigator Howard J. Carter [2]

[0] https://www.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/ [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_and_the_Holocaust [2] https://allthatsinteresting.com/ibm-nazis-ww2/3


> We should however take it as an object lesson in the double edged sword of technology and the warning that we must restrain firms that would have us think they won't be evil.

Somehow that makes me think of the motto of a big tech company.

History is so inconvenient.




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