After the pocket calculator comes . . . the pocket typewriter.

Called the Microwriter, it’s a slimline battery-operated electronic gadget, measuring 8-1/2 inches long, 4 inches wide and 2-1/4 inches deep, and weighing 24 ounces.

You type on it with one hand, because it has just five keys on the board, plus a sixth control key at the side.

Each letter is produced by touching a button or combination of buttons—like playing a chord on the piano.

To make the keyboard code easy to memorize, it is based on positioning the fingers to simulate the shape of the character or part of it.

Microwriter produces the full Roman alphabet, upper or lower case, numbers, punctuation marks and other normal keyboard symbols.

When you key the words into the machine, they are displayed on a lighted panel (like a calculator) and stored in a built-in memory bank, which can store up to 1,500 words at a time. An ordinary pocket casette-recorder makes it possible to transfer the contents of the memory bank onto a microcassette.

Although it has been hailed by one computer industry expert as “the biggest thing since man discovered the pencil,” it was invented not by some young computer whiz-kid, but by an American-born screenwriter, Cy Endfield, who wrote and directed the film, Zulu.

When Endfield began to write the novel of the sequel film, Zulu Dawn, it occurred to him that there must be a quicker way to put thoughts on paper other than handwritten notes, dictation or bashing words out on a conventional typewriter. He experimented until he came up with the prototype for Mi- crowriter—the original model is now on display in the science museum in London.

The Microwriter is designed for use with an automatic high-speed printer. When it is plugged into this printer, the latter produces the text at up to 10 times the speed of normal typing.

Microwriter can also be attached to a television monitor, enabling the writer to see 16 lines of text at a time. An adaptor plugs it into a domestic TV.—Wendy Payne

  1. Slothtrop says: March 6, 200912:16 am

    Ha, wouldn’t you know it… It’s right handed. Damn that Endfield

  2. Charlene says: March 6, 20091:34 am

    The Microwriter has its own Wikipedia page:


    Cy Endfield was living in England at the time because he’d been blacklisted by HUAC.

  3. Mike says: March 6, 20099:42 am

    They still used something silumar for inventory purposes very recently.

  4. Tim Ostler says: March 9, 20094:41 pm

    I still have one of these, as well as an “AgendA”, an enhanced and much smaller successor device that competes with the Psion Organizer for title of the first PDA. The typing method is very easy to learn and allows you to type rapidly with one hand while holding the device in the other, _without_ looking at the screen – so it’s great for writing conference and interview notes. When I used the AgendA regularly for my work as a journalist in the 1980s it was an absolute boon, with communication software for the Mac allowing me to plug straight in to Word. I would dearly love to see someone write software to use this on the iPhone, where it is at last feasible because of the multitouch screen.

  5. Andrew L. Ayers says: May 14, 201011:35 pm

    I wonder how old “chorded” keyboards are?

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