This Day in History: The Typewritten Presidential Letter

It was 125 years ago today that one of the first type written letters left the White House. In February of 1880, the White House received a Fairbanks and Company Improved Number Two Typewriter. While Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Cleveland all ignored this machine, President Benjamin Harrison gave it a room. The typewriter shared two small rooms with a telephone and a telegraph and they had their own operator, Miss Alice Sanger.

The letter that President Harrison wrote on April 4th, 1889, and that is in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection, is the earliest known example of a presidential typewritten letter. The President sent the letter to a book bindery owner in Philadelphia to thank him for the gift of an olive wood box which he has made for the new President. Interestingly, while the typewriter was a great invention, it was a difficult one for historians who want to capture the penmanship of the presidents. As the typewriter became used more and more, the presidential autograph’s letter became virtually obsolete.

The letter showcased by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation says,

“Charles F. Heller, Esq.,
Philadelphia, Penna.

My Dear Sir: –

I take pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your favor of the 2nd inst. and also of the box made of olive wood. I beg to express my appreciation of this finely executed specimen of your workmanship, and of the friendly spirit which prompted you to make and send it to me.

Very truly yours,