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Video: Typewriter stays relevant in technology-saturated world

October 20, 2008 |  4:21 pm

The year was 1953, nearly four decades before the World Wide Web was invented. Jesse Flores had just arrived in Los Angeles from Chicago, where he worked as a farmhand, taxi driver and factory worker.

Flores, then 31 years old, became the equivalent of the information technology help desk. He fixed adding machines, typewriters, cash registers and pencil sharpeners at May Co., just before the department store chain became Robinsons-May. Instead of Dells, Hewlett-Packards and Xeroxes, Flores worked on Underwoods, Royals and Remingtons, keeping them in shipshape so the wheels of commerce could continue grinding.

When his employer declined to give him a raise, Flores gave notice and opened up his own shop in 1962 on Figueroa Street in Highland Park. Today, Flores' two sons and a grandson work in his shop, U.S. Office Machine Co., which now also services printers and fax machines.

But the typewriter part of Flores' business never went away. In some ways, it's even made a small resurgence. The simplicity of the typewriter is alluring to writers who may be overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) by increasingly elaborate technology. A typewriter is also appealing in its transparency -- whack a key, and watch the typebar smack a letter onto a piece of paper. Try figuring that out with a laser printer. Many people also find typewriters charming ambassadors of a bygone era. One recent customer asked Flores to fix her mother's college typewriter so she could type letters home when she went off to college.

All that helps to keep U.S. Office Machine humming at its inconspicuous corner of Figueroa Street and Avenue 58. Watch the video to see how three generations of the Flores family have helped keep the typewriting tradition alive.

-- Alex Pham

Disclosure: The author is the owner of an Underwood No. 5 manual typewriter that is currently being repaired by U.S. Office Machine.

Video by Alex Pham / Los Angeles Times

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