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What is this? Typewriter

Learning activities


Through the activities described below, students will understand that before computers, typewriters were a useful tool for people whose work involved writing a lot of letters or stories, and be able to imagine a tool for communicating in the future.


  • 4-minute video about typewriters
  • a typewriter (if possible)
  • drawing and writing materials
  • images (click on the images below to enlarge for printing or display)


With your students, watch the video 'What is this? Typewriter'.

A black cartoon and text on pale coloured paper. A large typewriter sits in the middle of the drawing. A bear dressed in a tailcoat and peaked cap is typing. Typewritten text on the sheet of paper in the typewriter reads: ‘... throughout the world.’ Thumbnail image.

Advertisement for Remington typewriters. Courtesy of the Early Office Museum

Partly coloured, partly black and white drawing of a women using a manual typewriter and seated in front of a clock displaying 3 o’clock. She is wearing a pale blue long-sleeved blouse, a red scarf and a black skirt. Her hair is parted in the centre and pinned up on either side. Thumbnail image.

Advertisement for Monarch typewriters. Source: State Library of Victoria.

On the left inside a black border is a colour drawing of a bearded man with an anvil and a hammer. Text to the left of the man reads: ‘The embodiment of strength and simplicity’. On the right is a black and white drawing of a typewriter. Black and red text above the typewriter reads: ‘The Smith Premier typewriter’ . Red text to the right of the typewriter reads: ‘Grand Prize Paris 1900’. Black and red text below the typewriter reads: ‘The world’s best typewriter, 14 Gracechurch St. London, E.C’ . Thumbnail image.

Advertisement for the Smith Premier typewriter. Source: National Museum of Australia.

A black and white photograph of a woman sitting in an upholstered chair in front of a bookcase full of books. She has a portable typewriter on her lap and there is a sheet of paper in the typewriter platen. She is looking at the camera and resting her right hand on top of the typewriter. Thumbnail image.

Ruth Park, children’s author, using a typewriter, 1962. Source: National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an24574252).

A black and white photograph of five young women sitting at individual desks working on tabulating machines and typewriters. There are sheets of paper on each desk. The women are dressed identically in short-sleeved uniform dresses. They are seated in two rows with two in the left row working on tabulating machines, and three in the right hand row working on typewriters. On the left is a partitioning half-wall that has frosted glass sections on top. There is a door in the partition that is closed. Built-in cupboards line the back wall. Light is entering the room from three large windows. Thumbnail image.

Women typists working in an office, 1953. Source: State Library of Western Australia (236835PD).

A black and white photograph of five women in an office. Some have typewriters in front of them, some are standing, and all are looking at the camera. In the back left corner there are some box files on the top shelf of a set of shelves. There is a fireplace in the back wall with what appears to be a calendar propped up in the centre of the mantelpiece and a vase of flowers on each end. Another vase of flowers sits on top of a desktop filing unit on the right. Thumbnail image.

Seven women in an office, 1910. Source: State Library of Victoria (H2001.21/7).

A black and white photograph of four women dressed in military uniform sitting on the far side of two tables placed together in an L-shape in the corner of a room. Two sit at each table and all four are working at typewriters. Sheets of paper, a sheet of carbon paper, pens and various other items of office stationery are visible on the tables. There is a panelled wooden door behind the women. Thumbnail image.

Four members of the South African Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, Cairo, 1942. Source: Australian War Memorial.

A black and white photograph of six girls sitting at small school desks using tabulating machines and typewriters. They are seated in two rows with some empty desks visible on the left. The girls at the front of each row are working on tabulating machines and the remaining four are using typewriters. Some girls are wearing short-sleeved dresses and other short-sleeved blouses and skirts. A nun dressed in the traditional nun’s black and white habit is standing between the two occupied rows of desks looking down at the work of one of the girls. Thumbnail image.

Girls and a supervising nun at the Home of the Good Shepherd girls home, Ashfield, 1963. Source: National Library of Australia (nla.pic-an24493420).

1. Typing

If possible, bring a typewriter into the class so that students can each take a turn at typing some words on a page. Compare with typing on computer keyboards or phone/tablet touchscreens.

2. Investigating images of typewriters

Show students the array of images about typewriters, including early advertisements for typewriters, and photographs of people using typewriters. Invite them to consider:

  • When were typewriters used and by whom? Typewriters were used for about 100 years, from the late 1800s to the late 1900s. Many different kinds of people used them in offices, on battlefields etc, including secretaries, reporters, authors and people employed to turn speech into text. They were mostly used by women.
  • Look at the early advertisements, one by one: what worries do you think people might have had about typewriters when they were first invented? Maybe they would be hard to use? Maybe they would make communication less personal?
  • In what ways do you think that typing would differ from writing by hand? Typing was quicker, more uniform and easier to read, less personal because everyone’s handwriting is unique, but typewritten text is consistent regardless of the typist.
  • Look at the photographs of people using typewriters. In what ways do you think that typing would differ from writing on a computer? Would typing be more manual or tiring? There’s no ‘undo’ button on a typewriter – so it's more difficult to correct your work! Many typing tasks were not very creative – often the typist was making a copy of something already written.

3. Questioning

Having looked at the images and talked about them, ask each student to write down a question they have about typewriters.

Select some of the most interesting questions for further exploration. If you have a typewriter in the class, you could type up each of the most interesting questions on a page.

Rather than answering the question, invite others in the class to respond. If no one is able to answer the question, talk about ways you might find out the answer. If appropriate, ask the students to see if they can find out the answer by talking to their grandparents.

4. Imagining

Remind students that typewriters were used 100 years ago but that today they're hardly used at all in places with electricity because we have computers. Ask them to imagine how we’ll communicate our words 100 years from now – when the students are great-great-grandparents. Draw a picture or write a description of how the communication happens.


Go to What is this? and the teacher support video.

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