The Royal Ultronic typewriter

by | Aug 1, 2014 | electric, Royal | 34 comments

You guys are good! Nick B. nailed the identification of the “mystery machine” in my previous post 21 minutes after it was posted. Yes, it’s a Royal Ultronic. (Nick, let me know what sort of ribbon you’d like to have as your prize.)

The serial numbers for Ultronics may not fit the sequence for standard manual and electric Royals. In that sequence, according to the available information, 7541666 would date to 1963, but as we’ll see below, the Ultronic was introduced in 1966.

A close-up showing the unusual tab rack (upper left):

Let’s take a quick look at the history of the Ultronic. (Please add more facts if you know them.)

“The Ultronic, a fully-electric portable typewriter designed to bridge the gap between full-scale office electrics and partially electric portable models, has been launched in the U. S. by Royal. Market tests indicate that about six in every 10 Ultronics will be bought for the home.” —Office Equipment and Methods vol. 12, 1966

LIFE, Dec. 9, 1966: The Ultronic is released in time for Christmas as an “office electric for personal use,” advertised flanked between Royal’s midsized portable and ultraportable manuals. Clearly the company’s response to those “market tests” was to sell the machine as a non-business typewriter, specifically for students.

LIFE, May 12, 1967: The Ultronic is promoted as a graduation gift for “college-bound” high school seniors. This ad calls the machine “personal” yet “husky.” It emphasizes the electric carriage return as a unique feature. Does anyone know when Smith-Corona introduced portable electrics with the same feature? It couldn’t have been much later, and the Smith-Corona really is portable (though heavy).

LIFE, May 26, 1967: The idea of the Ultronic as a graduation gift is pushed even harder. Both of these May 1967 ads list the suggested retail price as $199.50. It was important for Royal to stay below the $200 line.

LIFE, Dec. 8, 1967: Now the machine is promoted as a Christmas gift for the kid who went off to college—”the one you haven’t heard from in a while.”

LIFE, May 31, 1968: “1. The Ultronic is big. 2. Heavy. 3. Husky. … Carrying case optional.” Obviously all pretense of portability was thrown out the window.

Despite the ad copy, here’s a photo I’ve found of an Ultronic in a third color: green.

This one is labeled “Custom Ultronic,” and has a faux-bois panel, much like this white Custom Ultronic that sold on Etsy. What did “Custom” mean? Was it just a matter of appearance?

[PS, August 2019: I recently had a chance to work on a Custom Ultronic in the photo below. I can report that it has several special features:

• Lights indicate that power is turned on, and shine blue, white, or red to indicate the ribbon position.
• A Line Meter system is marked on the left end of the platen.
• The plastic paper guides are hinged.
• There is a paper bail.
• The typewriter comes with a large, plastic carrying case with a rotating, lockable clasp.
• Select-A-Type (a changeable type slug system) was available, according to a marking on the segment, but was not installed on this machine.]

I haven’t found any ad later than May 1968 for the Ultronic, other than ads listing it among “discontinued” models. It seems that production may have lasted little more than a year and half, a disappointing performance for a typewriter that tried to fill a market niche that didn’t need filling.

You can download the user’s manual here.

PS: The Ultronic was succeeded by the Jetstar (1968-70).


  1. x over it

    It's funny how almost every feature introduced to make typing easier take an according amount of fun out of the experience for us today.

    …and that cardboard box is pretty funny. Just enough to carry it back from the store, I guess!

  2. Ton S.

    Looks cool! I learned about it while looking up the Royal Electress. I wonder if there's any major difference between them. I haven't typed on either.

  3. Erik

    Slick! It would have been right at home on the set of A Clockwork Orange.

  4. Richard P

    I know what you mean. I enjoy playing with electrics, but eventually I always go back to the manuals, which wait patiently to be activated by my own body.

  5. Richard P

    I believe the Electress is a behemoth, the electric version of the Empress. There's similar styling but the Ultronic is considerably smaller and mechanically different — I think!

  6. michaeliany

    thats my favorite movie of all time and that's exactly what i was thinking! …if alex used an ultronic to kill that cat lady….

  7. michaeliany

    took a look at ebay sold history and recently one sold for $29.99 and another for that same amount or less. i guess nowadays, royal can stay under $30 rather than $200.
    also, studying yours and the ebay pics:
    1) there is a pic of a plastic case that supposedly came with the Ultronic. Yours was the more environmentally friendly packaging.
    2) i really think that vertical RETURN key is actually quite cool. It's massive and would beat up the Selectric's return key.
    oh and i like that powder blue rather than the white color. the color helps keep that typewriter trapped in that period.

  8. John

    Gosh, I would like to get my hands on one of those babies, just to sit along side my Royal Electress. And you are right, those standard office electrics are really heavy, I don't how I carried the mongrels when I was working. Younger, I guess, heh heh.

  9. Nick Bodemer

    It does look like a Pacer. Personally, I think the Custom Ultronic looks like a Pinto Squire (my favorite car, apart from the gas tank)

  10. Anonymous

    Really cool! I imagine that there were a lot of people who wanted them, but could afford the $200 sticker price (a lot like those of us in the early 90s who wanted computers or flat screen TVs).

  11. Richard P

    Mine is the one that sold for $29.99. I couldn't find the pic of a plastic case.

  12. Ted

    That is one seriously sexxy looking machine :D

  13. Unknown

    What fun! I've never had the pleasure of seeing one of these machines. Looks like a fun typer!

  14. Scott K

    But what a box!

    You know… every time I see one of these somewhere (and that isn't very often) I am reminded of two things:

    1: I need to go on a diet before I look like everything spills out the side – like this machine. Just a blob laying on a desk.
    2: People who wore just as silly helmets were in control of the Imperial Star Destroyer in Star Wars. http://s926.photobucket.com/user/Dr_Dengar/media/Star%20Wars/StarDestroyerCommander.png.html

    Other than that, this is a pretty awesome find!

  15. Typewriter King

    The Royal Ultronic and the Royal Electress are two very different machines. First thing different is size–the Electress is an upright (desktop) machine, whereas the Ultronic is mid-sized (between desktop and laptop). Also, the Ultronic shift is carriage-style (unseen on Royal since 1933), and the Electress is basket-shift. The tabulator on the Ultronic has to be held down until the carriage completes its "jump," to where a tab stop is set. The Electress's tabulator requires a single press, and the tab is locked down until the "jump" is complete. Another interesting factoid: The Electress was the first typeweriter to have been completely designed by a computer.

  16. Richard P

    Thanks for these insights.

  17. Typewriter King

    I have to correct myself on something: Carriage shifting was used on many Royal portables for quite sometime, including and especially some of the Royal portables made in the Netherlands. I have a very nice Royal Eldorado (I forget where it was made. I'll have to look). Pardon my error, folks.

  18. Unknown

    Sorry to comment late to the party, but…

    I definitely know what you mean, and feel both tugs. There is a feeling of relief moving to a machine that is not finicky about your pinkies exerting exactly the same stroke as your index fingers to produce even results – but there is exactly the same challenge on pianos. You want the visceral satisfaction, you have to accept the entire discipline of the thing.

    I also feel I am heading down the slippery slope to computers – the ultimate labor saving typewriter!

  19. Richard P

    Of course, everyone writing and reading on a blog is already a computer user. I couldn't do my job or enjoy many aspects of life without a computer. But I would be very sad if I didn't get the opportunity to return to a typewriter every so often. They are good for my mental and physical health.

  20. gthawk

    Hi, Richard,
    I picked up a Royal Ultronic in oyster white for $25 today. It needs a cleaning and some adjustments. The serial number is UE7117568 (with the UE I imagine standing for Ultronic Electric, and there's RC stamped above that number, to indicate it was reconditioned. There's actually a metal label on the underside held on by four rivets that says Factory Reconditioned by Royal Consumer Products, Division of Litton Industries, Springfield, Missouri.
    BTW, when you get a chance can you scan the user's manual and add it to the roster you have available.

  21. Richard P

    Done. For some reason I had the manual scanned onto my computer, but not on the website. Congratulations on your machine!

  22. gthawk

    Thanks.I've downloaded it.
    I now have cleaned the Ultrasonic up and it's working fine except the period doesn't seem to hit the platen as hard as the other keys. I don't see any adjustment. I presume it's just from wear on the drive roller.


  23. Richard P

    I have the same problem with some characters on my machine. Adding a backing sheet helps a bit.

  24. gthawk

    I've been using a backing sheet.
    I hate when the program "corrects" Ultronic to Ultrasonic…

  25. gthawk

    I wonder if the Custom Ultronic is custom because it has the ability to take Royal select-a-type. Your Ultronic and mine have a long arrow on a white panel just below the typing point. The only Custom Ultronic I've seen instead has select-a-type printed on that white piece.

  26. Richard P

    Thanks. Interesting possibility.

  27. Anonymous

    Hi – My research uncovered interesting things about these machines.It seems that in the early 1970's the Federal Trade Commission was investigating a complaint that Litton purchasing TA and Imperial and others constitutes an attempt to form a monopoly, and in these documents the history of Royal, especially recent history that helps put the purchases in context – why Litton was buying these companies – was discussed. It specifically states that the Ultronic was an attempt to electrify the Royalite, and having worked on the machine, I can say that the escapement is very much like the Royalite. The serial number fits squarely into the Royalite serial number sequence from the 1966-68 time period. And it also describes what an utter disaster this model was for Royal. They had to do a crash redesign because it was so poorly designed. That probably resulted in the Jetstar (and trying to distance the Jetstar from the Ultronic would be a good reason for the radically different body the Jetstar has). I can can offer links to these FTC documents, or search for FTC Decisions of 1973, ftc_volume_decision_82_january_-_june_1973pages_897-1018.pdf (and the previous pages as well – all of this contains fascinating statistics and facts about the typewriter market from the postwar period, touching on far more than just the Ultronic and Royal.)

  28. Richard P

    And here is the preceding document. Together, they explain that the FTC held that Litton/Royal's acquisition of Triumph/Adler was not monopolistic because together they had no chance of dominating the market. IBM overwhelmed other companies when it came to office machines, and Royals (especially electrics) were of poor quality. I've been skimming all this and it's full of interesting, even entertaining, data. Thanks again.


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