People credit it with launching their careers, making them stars in high school, inspiring awe among today's children and being integral to their proudest achievements. That's a big mantle for a typewriter.
But when we asked readers for their stories about the IBM Selectric typewriter, arguably Lexington's most famous product, that's what they said about it.
The typewriter, which turned 50 on Sunday, started a revolution in offices around the world when it was introduced July, 31, 1961, and made fans far and wide in the years since.
As of Friday there were dozens of Selectrics, in a variety of colors and styles, for sale on eBay for as much as $410 for a 40-plus-year-old Selectric I, the first model. At one time, a new Selectric sold for nearly $1,000.
The Selectric innovation that created such ardent fans was its ability to prevent jams. Its predecessors had characters on bars that each flipped up as the keys were struck. If you typed fast enough, you could jam the bars together. The Selectric eliminated the possibility of jams by using a sphere about the size of a golf ball that contained all the characters and that also made memories for these area residents.
Andra Langston Gyor of Lexington, who became a Selectric user as a child in the 1970s: "My father, Don Langston, worked at IBM in Lexington for 30 years. ... I was about 9 years old when he took advantage of the employee purchase program and brought home our first IBM Selectric.
"I was immediately drawn to the new 'toy' and taught myself to type. ... In ninth grade, I joined the newspaper staff as a typist. We used the manual typewriters at the school and mimeograph paper to produce our editions. ..."
When "I entered Tates Creek High School, I was recruited by the Masthead staff as their typist. It was the first time the newspaper was entirely student-produced doing all the typing and layouts. My Selectric typewriter was identical to the machines at school, so I could take my typing home and work in the evenings. ...
"At the student awards ceremony on the last day of my sophomore year, I was shocked and honored when my name was announced as the winner of the Kentucky Kernel Most Valuable Staffer Award. The Masthead staff had voted me — and my trusty Selectric — as the most valued member of our team. It was an award usually given to the editor of each Lexington high school's newspaper.
"The Selectric typewriter my father brought home had a major impact in my life. It enticed me to learn and perfect a skill that gave me the ability to become involved in student publications in junior high, high school and college. It provided a source of income — I was paid to type papers for students throughout high school and college. It helped me develop the confidence and ability to perform under the pressure of a deadline."
Susan Stramer of Lexington, who gives the Selectric much credit for her career path: "My adventure with the IBM Selectric typewriters began in my home state of Illinois during the latter part of the l970s ... at one of my first large employers, Kemper Insurance Co. ...
"Due to the efficiency of my dancing fingers and the speed at which the great Selectric could generate correspondence, etc., I was quickly promoted, and the journey continued on and on.
"Over the years, I had the privilege of working for some very high-profile individuals, as well as companies, and I always attributed the good fortune in part due to the IBM Selectric.
"First, there was the terrific taupe machine, the blazing black one, and the moody blue one; the robust red was always elusive.
"When speaking of the IBM Selectric, one must remember the constant hum while it was turned on. Imagine the musical syncopation of six to 12 units. Add to this orchestra the paper advance, the prolonged period and the jitterbug of the element. ...
"With each IBM Selectric I used, from job to job, from state to state, my love for this great machine was undaunted. ... My moody blue Selectric is close at heart, even though it is now a beloved fixture on the garage shelf.
"By the way, it's an interesting coincidence, that for many years my neighbor was Robert Twist ... of Lexmark, who called himself the 'world's last typewriter salesman.'
"Perhaps if I had known this fact, that robust red Selectric would be all dolled up and at my home sweet home."
Ben Calvert of Georgetown, who processed Selectric orders: "I worked at IBM in the order department when the Selectric typewriter was announced. My job was to assign a factory order number to each order and any attached paperwork. This was done by hand with a manual numbering machine. I then sorted the orders by model, color, etc., for processing.
"On Mondays, we would have stacks of orders at least a foot high, sometimes covering an entire desk. The U.S. government ordered the Selectric by the hundreds. ... Business was good and overtime was abundant."
Maribeth Williams Schmitt of Lexington, whose father helped develop the Selectric: "My father, Preston Williams, transferred from Endicott, N.Y., (where IBM was founded) when the Lexington IBM plant opened. ... He was a type engineer and was involved in the development of the Selectric. I do not know what his specific role was because he worked in a restricted area and never discussed his job at home.
"But this I do know: The day the Selectric was unveiled appeared to be one of the happiest and proudest days of his life. He brought home a square Plexiglass paperweight with a floating type sphere with the inscription 'IBM Selectric 1961.'
"I still have that paperweight even though my father has passed on. ... I'm proud of my dad for his role in technology and the history of this country."
Mike Langfels, president of Alliance Custom Business Products in Lexington, who still gets requests for the Selectric: "I have been in the office products industry for 33 years. ... I still have calls from customers and consumers wanting to purchase (Selectrics) for their general office use." The Selectric was retired in 1986.
Mary Frate of Versailles, who still uses a Selectric: "I am the administrative assistant at St. Leo School in Versailles, and we have a Selectric typewriter.
"Up to about two years ago, the only way to fill out the teachers' annual contracts was to use a typewriter. Although I have yet to check to see if it is still working properly, I will use it to type each new student's permanent folder.
"At our old building, my office was next to the second-grade classroom. About four to five years ago, the teacher brought all her second-graders into my office to see the Selectric. They had never seen a typewriter. Even at that young age, they were only familiar with the computer keyboard. Their eyes became wider, and they were sort of amazed that this machine even existed."