John Steinbeck Must Have Used a Selectric

In this interview with John Steinbeck’s son Thomas conducted by the makers of Blackwing pencils, Steinbeck relates what happened when his father’s publisher informed him that his typist died. She had been the only person who could read his handwriting. He couldn’t turn in handwritten manuscripts; he had to get a typewriter.

He says his father bought an IBM that was so loud it rattled the walls. It must have been a Selectric. He mentions the ball the IBM Selectric used, which was a rapidly rotating, replaceable ball that traveled across the page typing the letters instead of keys.

From the video’s transcript:

“So he went out and bought balls in every language. Remember they had the ball? And he got balls in Finnish, and balls in Russian. Just to see what they looked like, you know?

“And just to get it back on his publishers, he one day wrote… sent them… three pages in Russian. Now he couldn’t speak or read Russian, he just used the Russian ball and made all these letters in Russian.

“Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

“And shipped it off and said ‘How’s this?”

“And they said, ‘You’re kidding.’”