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Pocketcast: Sharp Memowriter

by | Feb 12, 2012 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

The Memowriter is a calculator combined with a 3-row “regulation” QWERTY keyboard and a tiny dot-matrix printer. I was amazed to find that the little ribbons for the printer (Epson ERC-05B ribbons) are still readily available. The one-pound device runs on an adaptor and also has an internal rechargeable battery pack, allowing it to store 40 “word memories” — 17-character files that can be consulted as digital reminders.

In essence, the Memowriter is a rudimentary personal computer. It has two built-in apps: the calculator and the word processor. You can create files, modify them, and print them.

Here’s a short video of the Memowriter writing “TYPOSPHERE 2012” (filmed and uploaded to YouTube with my iPad).

Here are two 1981 ads for the Memowriter. The first one refers to only 8 “memory registers, with an input total of 120 characters” (i.e. 15 characters per file). The second ad (Popular Science, October 1981) refers to 40 files with 17 characters each, which is the arrangement on my Memowriter. The gadget was not cheap: its price in the ad is $129.95 (over $300 in today’s money).


Notice the claim in the second ad that the gadget is “a lot of fun.” That’s essential. Is it actually more practical to use the Memowriter than to handwrite some notes on a conventional calculator printout? No. But is it more fun? Sure! Especially if you’re a nerd… This machine brings back some of the feelings I had when I got my first digital device: in the late ’70s my grandmother gave me a Casio watch with LCD screen, alarm, and stopwatch. It was pure magic!

I found these very schematic instructions online, but a full instruction manual would be nice to have. Notice that they are for the EL-7000; mine is the EL-7001. I don’t know how they differ.


Isn’t this “mobile device” cooler than a smartphone? Hey, you could even tweet with it. Print a 48-character tweet and mail it to your “follower.” Nifty! (A computer scientist at my university speculates that some hacker could rig this device up to connect to Twitter.)

Sharp, by the way, also made (and still makes) many conventional calculators. For years they also manufactured full-sized electronic typewriters, but no more.

So why do I say that the Memowriter wasn’t really the world’s first pocket typewriter? Well, as collectors know, in 1907 the Junior came on the scene, a little mechanical typewheel typewriter that was only a little bigger than the Sharp Memowriter, and a lot better: it was faster, it wrote on full-sized paper, and it could type lowercase, uppercase, and figures. The Junior used an ink roller; its more popular successor, the Bennett, used a ribbon. (Photo: Wim Van Rompuy collection.)

So were these the world’s first pocket typewriters? Not at all! Just ask Benjamin Livermore…he invented a pocket typewriter before the US Civil War!

Click on Mr. Livermore to read an article (PDF, 3MB) about his invention by Jos Legrand (first published in ETCetera no. 81). I wish I could have known Livermore; he and his relatives look like the happiest folks you are likely to find in any 19th-century photographs.

17 Comments

  1. Ton S.

    Ha, this is interesting. Really enjoyed this post.

    That Bennet looks awesome, first time for me to see it. Is it part of your collection?

    Reply
  2. Richard P

    I sold my Bennett a while ago but sometime will pick up another. They're easy to find — evidently they were popular a century ago — but they're rarely in great condition and the (very clever) mechanism is usually sluggish.

    Reply
  3. shordzi

    What an excellent machine! Wouldn't this be the best gimmick for smart-phones to have an actual small print-out for text messages, just like the one Sharp introduced in the 1980s? Way to go, Apple!

    Reply
  4. maschinengeschrieben

    That's a funny little machine.
    I know a Hermes engineer, he told me he was developing an inkjet typewriter in the late 60s, they even built a working prototype, but due to financial problenms, Hermes stopped the project.

    Reply
  5. notagain

    The official typewriter for Tweets?

    Reply
  6. Rob Bowker

    What a great find. Perfect for haiku writers? Most definitely a typecast… I think.

    Reply
  7. Ted

    The Typosphere is composed of people who appreciate writing technology of all levels, from dip pens to computers (after all, we all use computers to publish our posts!)

    To enjoy and even collect the interesting writing machines that appeared in the early days of word processing is certainly a valid and fun pursuit (I quite enjoy the Rat Shack Laptop computers of the 1980's myself), and the output from such machines, especially impact print on paper utilizing a ribbon, is absolutely a Typecast! :D

    Reply
  8. Bill M

    Both the Sharp and the Bennett are interesting machines. Thank you for the fine post. In 1981 the Sharp had to be quite an advancement.

    Reply
  9. Fernando Antunes

    That Sharp it's a very interesting machine. But the Bennet and the Junior are just amazing and gorgeous. They were to typewriters what iPads are now to computers. I've never known they existed. Thanks for sharing this :)

    Reply
  10. Martin A. Rice, Jr.

    Looks like everything's been said and I'm a tad too late again!

    Reply
  11. Dwayne F.

    This brings back (mostly) fond memories of my Commodore 64. I had a third party accessory inkjet printer with output fairly similar to this machine. That was a somewhat primitive means to accommodate editing a program or simply get some kind of tangible output.

    I would count this as a typecast. It is direct input without additional processing or a spell check safety net.

    Reply
  12. Tom Furrier

    Goes to show you, typewriters come in all shapes and sizes. My first thought is that it's a calculator with alpha keys on it. Cool post!

    Reply
  13. Fer Andrade

    Great post. I like the bennet. It´s a very small an amazing typewriter.

    Reply
  14. Phil

    I have a Sharp Memowriter. Al Goldstein (?) once had a newsletter called "Gadget" (I think) and criticised the Memowriter, so I wrote him a short letter on my Memowriter, which he reproduced on the front page of the next issue. My claim to fame.

    Sharp also had a full sized desktop printing calculator, which had a drawer under the keyboard which was a full keyboard, allowing you to describe any entry with alpha characters. I have a brochure someplace. I never had the machine

    Reply
  15. Phil

    I should have mentioned that I bought my Memowriter new, so I should have the Instruction Manual filed away someplace. I could copy it for you, if I can find it.

    And in the above comment about the full size desktop printing calculator, it was a full typewriter keyboard in the drawer under the calculator keyboard.

    Reply
  16. Richard P

    Thanks, Phil, very interesting. If you find the instructions I would be glad to have them, and I can even post them on this page.

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Just seeing this now. Wow, it's like it was made for Twitter before Twitter. Love the "Pick up Bob at the airport" snippet in their ad. Like you'd actually whip this thing out to jot down a note like that for yourself. That's a huge nerd alert. :)

    But it does look fun. I'll give you that. :)

    Reply

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