How fast can you go?

They must have been cast-offs from another school before they even arrived at mine. 

manual typewriter

When I took a typing course in grade nine, my high school was still using manual typewriters, and I endured daily torture seated at one of those machines. My typing class was period 9, second last of the day, and at my non-semestered school it ran for a full ten months. The room was on the second floor and faced the afternoon sun, so it was always too hot.

1940s typing class

The teacher’s name was Mrs. Reynolds. She was older, near retirement, and had probably taught thousands of students how to touch type. With our fingers carefully placed on home row, she would stand at the front of the room and intone:

“j space jj space jjj space”

fingers on home row

We were instructed to watch the textbook from which we copied rather than our hands or the letters printing out on the paper itself, and if we did look at our fingers she would tape a sheet of paper to the typewriter to cover them up.  If anyone still dared to peek she’d rap their desk with a wooden metre stick.

“f space ff space fff space”

Manual typewriter keys are directly linked to the metal plate that strikes an inked ribbon before making contact with the paper. Hit the key hard, get a darker letter. Hit two keys at once and they get entangled, requiring you to separate them and usually resulting in ink all over your fingers. We didn’t have the luxury of a backspace button; a mistake meant getting out the liquid paper, rolling up the carriage, brushing on the white goo that was inevitably too thick or too runny, waiting for it to dry, and continuing on. Mistakes were costly.

jammed keys

“j space jj space jjj space”

My class was not a particularly unruly bunch, but by ninth period everyone was ready to be done for the day. We got bored. We typed notes to pass to our friends in the halls. And we chatted, turning our metal-legged chairs to face each other, scraping along the humid linoleum floor.

“f space ff space fff space”

One day in late spring everyone was chattering and sliding their chairs around. The noise level crept higher and higher and finally Mrs. Reynolds lost it. She grabbed an empty chair, started scraping it repeatedly across the floor, and banged her hands on a typewriter and singing “La la la! I’m talking during class!” (bang! bang!)  “Listen to me! La, la, la!”  The rest of us stared in disbelief, watching this woman unravel in front of us and already mentally preparing how we would relate this marvelous story to our friends, especially those who had this same teacher in second period. She would be the subject of adolescent ridicule for weeks.

“j space jj space jjj space”

But thanks to her endless intoning and her perseverance at what must have been a terrible course to teach, at the end of it all I was a fully competent typist churning out 52 words a minute. Today, all these years later, an online timed typing test tells me I can do 80 words per minute, a forgiving laptop keyboard making me even faster than I was on those manual machines so many years ago.

“f space ff space fff space”

Typing was seen as an easy credit and no one had any idea how crucial the skill would become in the next decade as everyone moved away from pen and paper and onto computers. Who knew we would do almost all our composition at a keyboard?

fast typist

So how fast can you go? Test your typing speed

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57!! :)

We learned on electric typewriters. My lowest grade of grade nine. I hated that quick brown fox!

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