The Oliver Typewriter

Theron Lorenzo Knapp

The downstrike mechanism of the first Standard Visible Writer was invented by Thomas Oliver, but the overall design was vastly improved over the years by a mechanical draftsman and engineer named Theron Lorenzo Knapp. Knapp was born in Toledo, Iowa on September 10th, 1873 to Benjamin Lafayette Knapp (1839-1911) and Lucy Manley Wright (1837-1931). He often went by Loren, a shortened version of his middle name Lorenzo, which was also his grandfather’s first name. His family and friends also called him T.L. for short.

From November 1893 to 1896, Knapp attended classes in Rolla, Missouri at the Missouri School of Mines, and remained registered as a student until 1897. He did not receive a degree from the school because he followed a “Special Course” program which allowed him to only take certain courses in which he was interested. These were primarily mathematics and engineering courses. Following his academic career, Knapp went on to work for the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in Detroit for a few years. However, by January 1901, Knapp was in Woodstock, Illinois working for the Oliver Typewriter Company as a draftsman. On November 2nd, 1903, he filed a patent for an auxiliary paper guide, the first of dozens of Oliver typewriter patents filed under his name. Knapp was a co-filer of many Oliver patents as well. It appears that he became the chief design engineer of the Oliver Typewriter Company. Patents indicate models 3/4, 5/6 and 7/8 were largely designed and engineered by Knapp. Many mechanisms implemented on these models were Knapp’s inventions, including the ribbon mechanism, paper guide and carriage, tabulator, key levers, shifting mechanism, and carriage hook safety loop. Knapp also came up with the support frame used on the 40” wide carriage. The dead key mechanism used for typing foreign language accents on even-numbered export models was also his invention. Most of Knapp’s design contributions continued to be implemented on Oliver models 9/10, 11/12, and British models 15/16.

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Knapp adorns a Burroughs Adding Machine Company pin in both of these photographs.

On August 8th, 1911, Theron Knapp married Evelyn Melvina Halbert in Rolla, Missouri. On June 8th, 1914, their daughter Lorraine Evelyn Knapp was born. Theron Lorenzo Knapp likely worked for the Oliver Typewriter Company until 1928 when it was liquidated. He eventually moved out to Pasadena, California. With him he brought his personal typewriter, an Oliver No. 11. On January 16th, 1961, Theron Lorenzo Knapp passed away at the age of 87. His Oliver No. 11 is now in Maine, owned by his granddaughter Maxine Evalyn Leber, the daughter of Lorraine Evelyn Knapp and Max Clinton Leber.

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The photo on the left was taken in 1927. In the photo on the right, Knapp is seen sitting with his wife Evelyn.

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Benjamin Lafayette Knapp (1839-1911) and Lucy Manley Wright (1837-1931) are seated in the front row. In the back row from left to right stands their children Charles Manley Knapp (1871-1931), Theron Lorenzo Knapp (1873-1961), Harlan Burr Knapp (1875-1954), and Arthur Benjamin Knapp (1880-1945).