The infamous Apple typewriter memo is 40 years old …

by | Feb 1, 2020 | Uncategorized | 9 comments

... and typewriters still aren’t obsolete!

A few memos about the memo:

Mike Scott served as the first CEO of Apple, from February 1977 to March 1981. His other fine judgments include trying to shut down the Macintosh project and firing 40 employees on so-called “Black Wednesday,” a move that he claimed would make the company “fun” again. He himself was fired as CEO shortly thereafter. However, “Scotty” has enjoyed a brilliant later career as an expert on gemstones. The mineral Scottyite, a barium copper silicate, was named in his honor.

• Scotty’s memo evidently was distributed on paper, using a pre-printed form. I assume it was typed on an Apple II, but I am not sure. Apparently his writing device didn’t have spell-check (note the misspelling “priorty” and the three spaces between “and” and “convince”).

• It’s possible that “Ken” was Ken Rothmuller, who was the Lisa project manager at the time. But Mr. Rothmuller tells me that he doesn’t recall the memo or using a DEC word processor, and that most of the Lisa team would have been using the Apple II for writing.  He is not aware of another Ken working at Apple in 1980, but it’s possible that there was a Ken in the main building; the Lisa team worked in a different building. Mr. Rothmuller adds that although Scott was the CEO, Steve Jobs was actually making a lot of the decisions.

• Ken’s Digital Equipment Corporation word processor probably looked something like this (source). (In the early ’60s, DEC had developed one of the first word-processing programs, humorously called Expensive Typewriter.)

• “Apple II-Apple Writer Systems”: Apple Writer (1979) was a word-processing application for the Apple II computer. It displayed text only in uppercase, though capitalized letters could be highlighted. What a beautiful advancement over typewriters, eh?


• “Apple high performance systems” just seems to be a general category that makes a vague promise about future advancements.

• Scott’s phrase “direct typing capabilities” doesn’t seem to exist anywhere outside this memo, but I think he meant the ability to type immediately onto paper, with no word processing intervening between the keyboard and the printing.

• Qume was a leading manufacturer of daisy-wheel printers. Did “Qume with Keyboard/Apple installations” mean a setup that allowed the Qume printer to function like a typewriter (immediately printing when you hit a key)? Qume did produce some computer monitors and keyboards at some point in the ’80s, but I imagine Apple wouldn’t be using those.

Four decades later, what has happened? Apple, of course, successfully developed the Mac, and found new prosperity and influence in the 21st century thanks to the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. There is an Apple II aficionado group on Facebook with over 7000 members. Typewriters have been relegated to the margins of business, but many businesses still keep one around. Electronic and manual typewriters are still manufactured. And the great, durable mid-20th-century typewriters are still clacking away….


  1. Bill M

    Even Century old typewriters are still working while 5 year old computers are failing and becoming obsolete, even Apple products.

  2. Unknown

    Typing teachers of the 80's would give an instant fail to those 3 spaces between "and" "convince.
    I hope all those typewriters didn't end up as landfill.

  3. Rob Bowker

    It took about 8 years from then before the typewriters began to vanish from my workplace. But then, it was a non-profit and those early IBMs were expensive!

  4. Ted

    The "Always getting the new thing" impulse in others is what makes perfectly functional 10-year-old computers and perfectly functional 50-year old typewriters obtainable by me for not much more than lunch money. I'm ok with benefiting from the foolishness of others. :D

  5. Indro

    Thanks for this story, i printed the memo and will frame it.

  6. Robin Heilschild ????

    My mechanical typewriter from 1979 (Olympia SG 3) works much better than computers from the early eighties, and even than actual computers and smartphones. And it can print what I write immediately. The machine was made before I were born (1991), and I think it shall be functional and useful after I pass away. On the other hand, during my lifetime I have used four computers (2001-2015, 2006-2017, 2009-2019 and the actual one from the year 2016), five cellular phones (2004-2007, 2007-2013, 2013-2016, and the actual one that dates from the year 2017) of which the last two ones were smartphones. :D

    I save a lot of money (when you compare inked ribbons with ink cartridges and the fact printers start to fail after four or five years… I save every spool. Everyone) and even I have a lot of fun writing FanFics, my own books and physical correspondence with it. <3

    So not, typewriters aren't obsolete yet. Not even in Mexico. :P

  7. Robin Heilschild ????

    It's like what happens with CRT screens, radio or post mail. It shan't become obsolete. xD

  8. DonN

    Around 1984 I switched from my Hermes 9 typewriter to an Apple II with dot matrix printer. This whole thing cost me $2500 at the time. The Hermes 9 was $5, used. It's highly probable that the Hermes is still going!


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