The naked giant

by | Jan 23, 2016 | Underwood | 11 comments

I have been so busy with travels, work, and catching up on repair and service jobs that I haven’t had time to blog. Here’s a little post that I thought some readers might enjoy, illustrating my current job for the Urban Legend Institute. 

This has been my first chance to get up close with an Underwood M, the beefy and somewhat streamlined model introduced in 1937. I must say that, of all the Underwoods I’ve known, this is the smoothest and snappiest. This machine’s serial number dates it to 1942. 

Here it is fully clothed:

And nude:

As you can see, it’s essentially a good ol’ Underwood in a very big shell. But the mechanics have been refined over previous models, to judge from the excellent touch. 

Has anyone else had experience with this model?


  1. Miguel Chávez

    Somehow this reminded me of the streamlined Pacific locomotives of the 1930s, with a very modern casing covering an otherwise conventional and old-fashioned steam engine. What has always impressed me about these old machines is how sturdy they are; no wonder they are so heavy, but also no wonder they are so durable.

    Alas, I have not used an old desktop Underwood like this, but if the later Olivettis inherited some of their predecessors, this must be indeed a very snappy machine.

  2. Robin Heilschild ????

    It seems a good machine, even without its metallic shell…xD

    I think the shell was a necessity in order to avoid touching accidentally the delicate parts…xD

  3. RobertG

    That's very strange – even though the machine was perhaps refined, fundamentally it was obsolete. This would 've put them at a disadvantage to the competition. If not in user experience, at least in manufacturing cost.
    Could be seen as an indicator of a deep-problem at Underwood.

  4. Richard P

    I wouldn't say this model was fundamentally obsolete, but it was still using a carriage shift at a time when its competitors were using the easier basket shift system. I don't think Underwood "shifted" (ha ha) to that system until after the war.

  5. Typewriter King

    What may be thought of by some as fundamentally obsolete is usually thought of by others as reliable, comfortable, and easy to use. That means A LOT to those who are loyal to a brand. Underwoods are tops in my books anyday. In fact, this particular model is known as the "Master" model of 1939-1940. I've had two. One I sold to a dear old friend who, like me, typed on many typewriters. The other one I still own. I won't part with it. It has a very good touch and print. You don't find many of these anymore. One very interesting fact: In the New York World's Fair of 1939, they displayed a GIANT rendition of one of these that was fifteen feet high and weighed in at nearly sixteen tons!!! It actually typed on a giant piece of paper with typebars that weighed 45 pounds apiece!!!

  6. Typewriter King

    A very interesting fact–it was just after the war–May, 1946, that Underwood switched to the basket-shift system. Underwood called it the "Rhythm Shift." Yes, it was easier to use than the carriage shift. Externally, the machines were squarer at the bottom; the stainless trim slanted in the front; the keys were switched to a solid type of plastic; and the touch control was vertical instead of horizontal. Other than that, you had a machine that looked pretty much like the one that preceded it. The new machine did retain a two-part carriage that instead of shifting, it could be lifted to gain access to the innards so you could clean them (watch out and don't pop any springs). I also own one of these, and they're great machines that even though they changed format a little bit, they were the same old comfortable, reliable Underwood typewriters everybody knew and loved.

  7. Mark

    My 1946 (slightly newer body style) is also carriage shifted. Hardly an "obsolete" design as some have said. Royal didn't really change much after the KHM (or 10SX if you really want to go back) and Olympia made carriage shifters WAY after Underwood did.
    I have one from 1949 as well which is the newer basket shift.

  8. Typewriter King

    It's all relative–especially when you consider that it's capitalism at work here–whatever the customer will buy. And let's face it, a company that has made their typewriters one way, and then deciding to make them another way because they think their product will sell better will need to consider the costs of redesigning and retooling. Some companies, such as Olympia in war-torn Germany around 1949, didn't see enough need (and surely didn't have the money) to redesign their line until later. They were probably too busy re-building their shops and manufacturing typewriters to replace those that have been destroyed in the War.

  9. Typewriter King

    Apologies to Everyone!!! I was wrong!!! It wasn't the touch control that was vertical, it was the ribbon color selector, on the right-hand side, that was vertical. I had a look at my own 1946 Underwood–one I call "Mamma Kat." It was once owned by a music and writing teacher named Katheryn–hence, the name.

  10. Dwayne F.

    I've seen one of these beasts in person and would not have guessed a standard machine lurked under sheet metal and chrome. Thanks for exposing its naughty bits ;)

  11. Typewriter King

    About the last typewriter I have heard of made by Olivetti that remotely had to do with Underwood was the Underwood "TypeMaster." I'm not sure when they started or finished making them. They were an offshoot of the Underwood "TouchMaster 5," of 1963. If well-oiled, these machines performed quite well. Other Olivetties, however tough and reliable they may be, from just my experiences alone have led me to think they are all mushy and yucky (Bleah!!)


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