Freddy’s Little Ball

This is a poem written about the Writing Ball, on a Writing Ball, by (none other than) Friedrich Nietzsche.

The Writing Ball was invented in 1865 by the Dane Rasmus Malling-Hansen as a device to speed up and mechanize writing. The initial designs were a little too large and clunky and lost out to the more sleek and simple Sholes-Glidden designed typewriter produced by Remington. But by the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878, things were a little different. One journalist compared the two devices.
“In the year 1875, a quick writing apparatus, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, and manufactured by Mr. Remington, was introduced in London. This machine was superior to the Malling-Hansen writing apparatus; but the writing ball in its present form far excels the Remington machine. It secures greater rapidity, and its writing is clearer and more precise than that of the American instrument. The Danish apparatus has more keys, is much less complicated, built with greater precision, more solid, and much smaller and lighter than the Remington, and moreover, is cheaper.” (source)
This is the 1878 model.

It looks cooler, was more ergonomic, faster, lighter and cheaper…so what happened? The problem was that it was hand-crafted in Denmark and shipped individually. Before producing typewriters, Remington produced sewing machines and fire arms. They not only had factories that could mass produce their product, they had an established market, and could display examples of their machine in windows of stores. Between Remington’s marketing, mass production and possibly home turf of the English-speaking market, the Malling-Hansen design, though better, didn’t stand a chance.

In 1881, while living in Genoa, Neitzsche ordered a Writing Ball from Copenhagen because he was going blind. However, that poem aside, Freddy never really used the machine all that much. Apparently it was damaged on the trip to Italy, and then further by the mechanic who was supposed to fix it.

The poem reads:

Schreibkugel ist ein Ding gleich mir: von Eisen
Und doch leicht zu verdrehn zumal auf Reisen.
Geduld und Takt muss reichlich man besitzen
Und feine Fingerchen, uns zu benuetzen.

Or in English:

The Writing Ball is a thing like me: of iron
Yet twisted easily – especially on journeys.
Patience and tact must be had in abundance
As well as fine [little] fingers to use us.

visualization of Nietzsche's Writing Ball made by a German student, Felix Herbst

More photos and info here and here.


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