A Comprehensive History of the Royal Model P

nothing like medium format film and typewriters 

A number of years ago, I was perusing the Internet and looking at old typewriters.  I had been writing fiction for a while and was enjoying it a lot, and wanted to look into typewriters as I had seen one a couple days ago at a local antique shop.  I stumbled across a blog titled "Machines of Loving Grace," and saw two Royal Model Ps.  One in duotone red, and the other in duotone green.  I remembered from that moment on I knew I had to get my hands on one of them.  I'll skip all the lame details, because that isn't what I want to spend time talking about.  I want to discuss the history of the machine, and it's impact on the typewriter industry as a whole.  There are too few articles on the Internet, too few resources on typewriters, and I among many others wish to expand the available amount of knowledge.  So I'll present to you, a project a long time in the making, to the best of my poor grammatical ability, a Concise History of the Model P.

The Image I Saw That Started it All

The Royal Typewriter Company was founded in 1904 by Edward B Hess and his business associate Lewis C Myers.  Their goal was to set out and create a fully visible typewriter with a friction-free single ball bearing track.  They also designed a lighter type-bar action and a new paper feed system.  The pair was short on cash in the first couple years.  Their only production model, the Royal Grand, wasn't doing too well in sales.  It was overpriced, and strikingly similar to Remington copyrights, so they took their machine to wealthy investor by the name of Thomas Fotrune Ryan.  Ryan was able to provide Hess and Myers with $220,000 dollars in return for full financial control over the company.  With this money, the pair produced and sold their first typewriter: the Royal 1, built and sold out of Hartford Connecticut in 1906.  The Royal Grand however, with its enclosed ribbon spools and upright design, was pulled from the market, never to be seen again.

Royal Factory and Employees ca. 1906

Armed with their mounting success, the two purchased 5.25 acres of land in Hartford to produce a planned 250,000 square foot factory.  The estimated cost of the time was over 300k.  In 1908, they opened the doors and began producing typewriters.  I find it more than likely that the above photo is the 1908 factory, however the folks at Royal put the date at 1906.  Royal's last flatbed design was the Model 5, which began production in 1911.  At this time, dreams of smaller compact machines such as the Bennett (1906) were starting to creep into the market, but the company was more interested in the success of the larger machines.  The company's real big explosive success was the upright Model 10, introduced in 1914.  This was the epitome of standard desktop typewriters, and undoubtedly a 20th century icon.  It was the Cadillac of typewriters.  While the peasants were busy writing on the Underwood 5, the Nobility were gracing their fingers with the Model 10.

The Model 10 was a fantastic machine.  It featured everything one could need for writing in America, and was incredibly easy to use, fast, and responsive.  It was THE typewriter, and Royal reaped the rewards like never before.  In 1923, they ditched the double glass windows for single glass windows, and in 1931 they introduced basket shift before discontinuing the model in 1934.

This brings us to the Royal Portable.  In the early 1910s, the Corona Folding was taking the market by storm.  It was compact and lightweight, and it typed.  Nearly everyone had one, and those who didn't want to bother unfolding a machine had access to Lee Burridge's design in 1919: the Underwood 3-Bank.  With two monumental designs already on the market, and a four bank machine by Remington on the way in 1921, nearly everyone already had a portable machine.  It wasn't until 1926 that Royal ever got around to manufacturing a portable typewriter, but that doesn't mean they hadn't already begun scheming.  On January 13, 1921, Hess and Myers submitted a very detailed 20 page patent to the US patent office for a portable 4 bank typewriter.  On June 6, 1922, they received their patent.

Patent #1418440

These patent diagrams and descriptions were incredibly detailed and descriptive, yet not all of the elements on the page appeared on the machine itself.  In the four years since designing the machine, Hess and Myers put it through some very dramatic redesigning stages.  The biggest area of redesign was the carriage rail system.


The original machine patent design called for a single rail ball bearing track, much like the machines the two were accustomed to designing, however, the machine that hit the market in 1926 had two parallel bearing tracks.


Hess submitted another patent in January of 1925, approved later in August, this discussed the paper feed system, and the method of releasing the pressure rollers.  In the two columns of his description, he mentions that the carriage rides on balls, and the design is meant to be of an "extremely compact construction."  Hess knew at this point that the machine he was designing was already going to be quite a bit larger than the other machines on the market, and in order to minimize the size difference and create a truly "portable" machine, the single track ball bearing was cut out and a double track was put in.  The double track ball bearing not only has a slimmer profile, but it also adds support to the carriage as a whole.  Something that was incredibly necessary to create a stable and reliable writing machine.  This was not the only major change that the machine underwent before production.  Perhaps the most significant change was the body style.  Hess designed both the original body and the 1926 production body.  These were known simply as "dust masks."


In 1921, Hess submitted a separate patent for the dust mask on the Royal Portable.  This design is shockingly similar to the depression era Royal Signet.  It features a very inexpensive and simple sheet metal design, with exposed ribbon spools on the top and an outward curving section in front of the key slugs.


In 1925, just a year before the release date of the machine, Hess submitted another patent for the design of the production model dust mask.  This body style, Generation 1, is what went into production in 1926, with very few minor changes.  The patent wasn't approved until 1927, about a year after the machine was already a success (spoilers).  This design features the recessed ribbon spools and two part body construction.  The only major change they made to the design was to flatten out the front section of the top mask piece.  Instead of an outward curving front face, the machine is flat with a downward curved cutout.  From 1926 to early 1930, this was the body style in use, often called the Model OT, or the Model P.  In reality there were no designated model types at this time, it was all the Royal Portable, so we'll consider this Generation 1.

I will note that there was a very early sub-variation of the first gen model.   This ran from 1926 to around mid 1927, but changes did not occur all at once.  This model was distinct in a few ways. First, the ribbon spools were painted to match the body, and a ribbon wider indicator was decaled onto the bottom of the cup.  Second, the machine did not have a ratchet detent, aka, a left knob button.  This means that you can not reset line spacing on this machine.  Keeping in line with the carriage area, this machine also featured a smaller escapement wheel, and non-perforated ball bearing tracks.  And finally, rather than having four feet on the four corners of the machine frame, this machine had two in the back, and two in the front corners of the key guard; much like early remington portables.  This also means that the screws for the case can't mount into the frame itself, rather they fit through the grommet style feet, and screw into a threaded washer type fastener.  These parts are easy to lose, so be careful.  The carriage rail stops are on the inside of the rails, though more notably, the neither of the two rails themselves are perforated.  Finally, the paper table tension spring is straight, rather than wavy, but this was the case up until the switch to the final variation in 1930.

note the non-perforated ball bearings, and double bearing stoppers.  Also the lack of a line space reset button.

ribbon cups, left is 1926, right is 1927.  They opted for a stamped arrow and it remained the same for nearly all future portables.

Finally the feet.  The 1927 models switched to feet in the corners of the frame, these were round, and fit over posts that were threaded to be mounted into the case.  Later, in 1930, they were made rectangular.  The original feet sat in the four corners of the machine, the front being in the corners of the keyboard.  These were hollow centered, and held a threaded washer to be attached to the base of the case.

1927 Royal P.  Notice the flat front face 
and recessed ribbon spools.

In 1930, the machine was once again, redesigned.  This time by an industrial designer working for Royal by the name of Bernard Joseph Dowd.  Dowd was responsible for the design of the second generation of the Royal Portable.  He was also responsible for the design of the royal KMM and the O model body style, as well as the inventor of Touch-Control for portable machines.  His first significant project, however, was the redesign of the Royal Portable, and he submitted the patent on March 21, 1930.  The machine immediately went into production under the new design, and the famous gull-wing ribbon covers were a smash hit selling nearly 70,000 in the first year.  When Dowd died in 1946, Henry Dreyfuss took over and designed the Royal Quiet Deluxe in 1948, signaling the end of any of Dowd's designs left in production.  

Dowd Design 1845402

Once again, the company didn't wait for the patent approval 
before manufacturing.   This mask underwent virtually zero change from
conception to production.

After 1935, the Royal Portable was branded the Royal Junior, and the Dowd design was dropped in favor for a modified Hess design with no cutout in front of the keys.  The machine was then downgraded to the Signet during the height of the Great Depression, and the model was afterwards dropped.

Today, on the Royal website (Royal.com), the company proudly features the Model 5, 10, and both generations of the Model P.

Hess Design in Woodgrain

Dowd Design in Duotone Red

So what helped make these machines so damn popular?  Honestly, a lot of it came down to the marketing genius of Royal President George Edwin Smith.  Smith did two huge things in 1926 and 1927.  The first was securing the exclusive $35,000 sponsorship of the September 23 Dempsey Vs. Tunney Boxing Championship in 1926.  This was the first nationwide radio broadcasted boxing event, and drew an estimated 20 million listeners according to New York's Daily News.  Who was the leading advertiser?  Royal.  This event launched them to the position of the Number 1 best selling typewriter brand, and on October 9th of just that year, they produced their one millionth typewriter.

In 1927, Smith's wild genius really shone through.  Some way, somehow, Smith got it into his head that the best way to promote the Royal Portable as the best typewriter was to chuck it out of an airplane.  The only issue with his plan was not having an airplane.  In August 1927, Smith purchased a $75,000 Ford-Stout triple motor airplane with a cargo capacity large enough to hold 210 Royal Typewriters.  It was the largest ever commercial airplane at the time, and was called the Royal Air Truck.  Robert Messenger over at the OZ blog got his hands on a book by Bruce Bliven Jr called "the Wonderful Writing Machine" that was commissioned for Royal's 50th anniversary.  In the pages of this book were several photographs of the Royal Air Truck in use in 1927.  The Company also hosts a few newspaper clippings in a collage on their homepage.

Ford only made 199 of these.  The Ford Tri-Motor was the first aircraft to reach the south pole.  Currently, there are only 8 operational left, and the Royal Air Truck is not one of them.

Check out the OZ blog to read more

The Royal Air Truck was a massive success.  Right after purchase, the plane went ahead and dropped 200 machines with crates and parachutes all over the east coast US.  In its time, the Air Truck delivered around 11,000 machines all over the United States, only damaging 10 as the crates struck the ground corner first.  These machines were discretely picked up and hidden from the press by Royal Officials...who I guess at this point we can call the Typewriter Police.  More than 2,000 dealers received their stock via air mail, and in the eyes of the American People, the Royal Typewriter was the strongest and bravest machine on the market.

The Royal Air Truck from above during flight

Not sure who these men are, but the one on the 
right looks a lot like Lewis Myers
EDIT 10/23/19 In a conversation with Ian Brumfield, an expert on the Royal Air Truck in 1927, I was made aware of the identities of the two men on the left.  For sure, the center man is the Pilot, John Collings.  The man on the left is likely the Co-Pilot, Howard West.

Imagine getting hit in the head by one of these.

Royal Air Truck in Popular Science Nov. 1927

According to Typewriter Technician Ian Brumfield, the Royal Air Truck, aircraft 4-AT-8 number NC880 was decommissioned in 1928 and sold to Stout Air Services.  This was the first regularly scheduled passenger airline in the United States.  On October 14, 1928 according to the Detroit Free Press, the Ex-Royal Air Truck crashed in the Detroit area approaching an airfield.  The aircraft was totaled, and there were no fatalities.  

See Source

Sadly, G. E. Smith was only president of the company from 1914 to 1929.  He had some...personal troubles.  As we all know when personal troubles go public it can never lead to good happy things.

*gasp* oh no he didn't...Oh yes he did.

Mrs. Smith valued her husband at around 500,000 dollars.  In March 1929 she pushed a lawsuit against Helen Meade for "stealing her husband."  According to Messenger at the OZ typewriter blog, Smith was instantly fired from Royal losing a 50k annual salary, 200k in annual royalties, and all his stock holdings worth around 1.25 million...and his mansion?  All for a new wife, as he married Helen and died basically penniless on March 3, 1936.

Despite his dramatic fall from grace, the Royal typewriter company continued to do very well without him.  For the next 50 years, Royal remained the number one typewriter company in the world, and produced many fantastic machines.  The Model P, after being re-branded the Junior and Signet went out of production by 1938, and was replaced by the Speed King, O model, and Deluxe, which were designed mechanically by Hess, and cosmetically by Dowd.  Hess passed away in 1941, followed by Myers in 1951.  The Royal Portable left a lasting mark on the typewriter industry as a versatile machine that could withstand anything.  In the later 1920s, both Underwood and Remington released four bank models similar to the Royal, and by the 1930s, three bank machines were a thing of the past.

Before I move on, I would like to discuss two other major things that launched the popularity of the Model P.  The colors, and the coveted ultra-rare Vogue typeface.  First to address the Colors.  Royal offered a standard glass enamel black finish in addition to faux wood grain, and duotone red and green.  The colored finishes were not glass enamel, but were instead airbrushed paint finishes that could be done by custom order.  According to Royal advertisements of the day, these custom colors were offered free of cost.

Warning label inside a duotone model p case

The second major customization-able feature was the typeface, which can be traced back to 1927 Germany, and a designer by the name of Rudolf Kock who designed an angular sans-serif typeface that he called "kabel."  Kock was a well known type designer who graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg.

Kock graduated High-school and moved to Hanau where he took some evening art classes with the intent of studying to become a teacher.  During this time, he also apprenticed in metal working.  When dreams of teaching fell through, as nearly all dreams do, Kock moved to Leipzig and worked as a graphic designer until 1906.  It was then when he joined the Klingspor type foundry near Frankfurt and devoted the rest of his career to typography design.  In 1908, he assumed a part time teaching job at the Offenbach College of Design where he designed his first typeface: Maximilian.

After the First World War, in which Kock served as an infantry man, he proceeded to design 30 more typefaces for Klingspor.  His most notable included Kabel in 1927, and Neuland in 1923.

In addition to designing Kabel, Kock also helped train several well-known typeface designers, teaching a type class as well as a woodcutting workshop (print woodcuts).   Kabel eventually morphed into a more ugly font, but its true form was preserved in America through the Royal Model P.

$60 in 1927 - $851 in 2019

"Everyone wants one"
"For the home, Royal Portable Typewriters may be had, at no additional cost, 
in a variety of beautiful colors to meet your personal taste and
harmonize with you room furnishings."

It really was true, everyone wanted one.  The Royal Portable typewriter was and still is an absolutely amazing machine.  It is fantastically engineered and will survive just about anything.  Out of all the machines I have ever used and serviced, the Royal Model P has been by far the best.  So that sums up the brief history of the machine, and now I would like to discuss some of the additional information, such as the mechanics.

As I stated earlier on, the Model P was produced in two variants.  The Hess design, and the Dowd design.  Generation 1 and 2 respectively.  Between the two models, there are only a handful of very slight mechanical differences.  I will not be comparing stylistic elements like paper guides, knob styles, the front line scale brackets, or the height of the rear number scale.  These pieces are merely cosmetic, and it can be assumed that the bulk of the mechanical parts between the two are compatible with each other.

  1.  The first Generation does not include a left hand carriage release, and in early models there was also no ratchet detent.  Also: did I mention, different paper table spring?
  2.  The Second Generation does not include a stencil lock
  3.  The First Generation uses a knurled knob for the ribbon reversal system, whereas the Second Generation has a leaver.
  4. The First Generation backspacer is located towards the front of the machine, rather than the rear as it is in the Second
  5. Generation 2 featured an optional tabulator
While it is not necessary to show the missing leaver on the original, I did want to point out that the original right hand release leaver is created in two parts.  The leaver itself, and the stopper.  The screws bolt into the bracket which in turn is attached to the pinion rack underneath the carriage.  On the Second Generation, the release leaver on the right is a single piece, with a tab of metal hanging off the end as the stopper.  This design is interchangeable with all newer models, and the older models provided that the bracket is also changed.  This requires the removal of the carriage, as well as the disassembly of the paper feed system.  The rod that rotates with the paper release leaver must be pulled out, and the pinion rack needs to be removed as well.

I will note, that in 1930, right between the change in body style, the older body model P did include dual carriage release leavers, but this was only present for a short while until the body style was also updated.

Additionally, I have included an image of the missing button knob on pre-mid-1927 machines, as well as the difference in paper table springs.

This model is from 1926, as you might notice, it does not have the ratchet
mechanism built into the platen, or the left knob.

Old style flat spring, up until 1930.

Note the perforated carriage rails

note bearing stop (this is a pre-mid-1927)

Note the non-perforated rails

(Post mid-1927)  On later model machines like the QDL
this part is not possible to remove without damaging something,
such as your sanity.

Installation of the carriage is a very tricky feat.  There are four 1/4 inch ball bearings each with a small gear that fits around the diameter.  These gears slot into the holes along the carriage rails to prevent the bearings from slipping out.  Installing these requires a special tool.

This tool has two openings at the end, each opening has a slot.  The slot holds the assembled bearings on each side (resembling the rings of saturn) as they are inserted into the carriage.  From the left of the machine, the carriage is fed onto the machine, and the tool is inserted along the machine rails until the pin on the handle is in contact with the end of the rails on the right.  This aligns the bearings in their proper position.  Once these two are in, the machine is immediately flipped upside down and the other two bearings are hand inserted into the other end of the rails.  Bearings are held in place with two small set screws at either end of the rear rail.  It is pertinent that the last bearing is the one placed closest to the back of the machine.

As far as the stencil lock goes, the early Generation 1 had a locking leaver similar to the ones found on the Royal 10 standard.  The Second Generation portable didn't have this.  Instead, the leaver was pushed down and slid over to stencil.  The only issue with this system arises in the case that the leaver is bent downwards already during servicing.  This would render the whole "locking" system redundant.  The issue with Generation One is the fact that the locking leaver often gets stuck with old grease and grime, and must be taken apart for cleaning during servicing.

The ribbon reversal system is the next major difference.  In the first generation, there is a rod with two knurled ends.  The knurling allows the user to twist and advance the ribbon from one spool to the other.  Pushing one end in changes the direction of travel.  The Second Generation Royal Portable had a leaver on the left of the front face.  This leaver reverses travel of the ribbon, however there is no built in winding system.  One must open the cover and spin the spools with their fingers.  Both machines feature the same automatic reversal system using knots in the ribbon or an eyelet.  

1927 Backspace

1930 Backspace

The backspace mechanism was designed by George F. Handley for the second generation of portable typewriters.  He submitted his patent in 1928, two years after the the original had already been in use.  The main issue they were having was with machines of greater pitch than 10 or 12.  Pitches that required larger distances between the teeth in the escapement starwheel caused slipping of the backspace pawl.  This issue caused inconsistent backspacing.  As far as I am aware, the Model P wasn't produced in any other pitch besides Pica, or pitch 10.  This backspace design was created to prevent any backspacing issues with pitch change.  When the machine was redesigned in 1930, the backspacing mechanism was kept virtually the same, but flipped to the other side of the escapement.

Handley - 1792012

The final change to the later Model P, the Second Generation, was the inclusion of an optional tabulator.  This feature later became standard on models such as the Quiet Deluxe.  The highlighter yellow Model P I worked on a few months ago had a tabulator.

Myers - 1818860

Figures 7-10 detail the tab stops themselves, which
are spring loaded and slid to set, not removable.

This invention was the brainchild of Lewis Myers.  His goal was to create a reliable tab system made for small compact typewriters.  This machine provided "Key operated means for releasing the feed rack from the escapement pinion."  It was essentially a key operated carriage release.  The carriage would shoot over and hit the tab stop.  This patent was filed in 1929 and approved in 1931.  There are no Generation 1 machines with tab, but the Generation 2 machines had the option of tab, and perhaps this is why the backspacer was moved.  Although it is further back in the machine, it actually sits lower, giving some additional mechanics a little bit of extra room.

One more thing to add, well...two.  More pet peeves than anything else.  The felt strip that the slugs rest on is bolted into the ribbon spool cups.  This connection is padded with a felt washer that helps minimize vibrations during typing.  Second, as detailed in the patent info, there are two dust mask screws on the bottom of the machine!  I have seen time and time again, these screws missing and the body panels bent away in that area.

No, don't do this.  Please.

These screws are there for a reason!  And an additional note on screws, the 1930 Model P has only four types of body screws.  The four large ones in the rear, the two tiny ones in the ribbon cups, the two flat ones on the segment, and all the rest are the same, even the ones that screw into the tiny nut.  On later models, there are two long screws with nuts at the front of the machine that hold ribbon cover struts.  These are the only variations.  The First Generation Model P does not have screws on the bottom.  Four round in the back, Four large flat ones on the sides (two each side, lower section), four small ones on the sides (two each side, upper section) with two behind the ribbon cups, and the tiny and flat ones by the ribbon spool cups and segment.  

This leads me to feet for a moment:

Please note, there are only feet in the rear frame of the machine for machines dating before mid 1927!!  The front feet are part of the key guard on the body panels.  These are grommeted style feet. No press on feet will work.

3 from 1930, and one from 1927

There's my highlighter yellow one with tab.  SOLD

courtesy of Xoverit This one is in vogue

My first ever model P

Hasselblad Polaroid

happy customers

restored for a client 

I have blogged several times about these machines and the processes I went through to restore them.  The Royal Model P has a long and complex history that is rarely touched up on.  The genius of the machine is down to Hess, a prolific inventor who died with over 140 patents in his name.  There isn't much more to say about this machine that I already haven't.  I mean, the best way to clean the segment is to take the segment wire out and take the type bars off.  Each type bar has a number that corresponds to the hooked wire linkage below it.  Once the segment is fully cleaned, these machines take on a new life.  They are incredibly responsive and very fast for as compact a machine as it is.  Back in the day it was seen as a larger machine, but now next to beasts like the Hermes 3000 and the Remington Quiet-Riter, it is quaint and packs a powerful punch, not quite unlike the boxers in 1927.  I've often been told not to include additional information in a conclusion, but whatever.  Royal typewriter is still in business, after changing hands several times in the late 1900s, it is once again a private American company: Royal Consumer Information Products Inc.  In it's history, Royal has made machines that have serviced many people, including Ian Fleming, Earnest Hemingway, and Scott Fitzgerald (his wife Zelda had a Vogue).  These machines were so well made that they will continue serving future generations provided there are still service people around to take care of them.

EDIT:  10/18/19 Here are some of my Model P videos:


Ugh god...here we go.


  1. Lucas, thanks for putting this together--it represents an invaluable resource that I'm sure I'll return to when I need authoritative information about the Royal P.

    I've actually been looking hard for a P (or other Royal) with the Vogue type face for a year and a half, even going so far as to look carefully at the photos in unremarkable eBay listings to check the photos of the type bars. No luck so far! I'm beginning to be convinced that the only remaining Vogue Royals are in the hands of those who know exactly what they've got, and how to get top dollar for them. But I haven't given up yet. And your writing about the ruggedness and functionality of the Royal P in general has opened my mind to maybe getting one with the standard type. I'll keep looking.

    1. I am very glad you enjoyed the article! I myself have been looking for vogue for close to seven years. I too scour odd ebay listings and nag sellers for typeslug photos. They are out there! I know they are. You and I both will find one one day. In the mean time, I do recommend a standard type machine :) I do have 2 pretty decent ones for sale, feel free to contact me on facebook or instagram.

  2. Thanks for the fine work and wealth of information on the Royal P. I've been searching for a nice Vogue for about 10 years and may well never find one. Then I could unexpectedly find one like I found my Hammond Multiplex in it's padded velvet case with about a dozen shuttles.

    1. It is a shame, they are too few and far between. Nice find with the Hammond though!! I love how easy those machines are to work on, but you gotta make sure the right shuttle is in the machine! Jon Posey would know more about those than I!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. quick correction: in the sentence "The Royal Grand however, with its exposed ribbon spools and upright design, was pulled from the market, never to be seen again.", the Royal Grand was notable for *not* having exposed ribbon spools.

    1. absolutely! Thank you, my mistake. Ill edit it out!

  5. Wow! Great post and a lot of work involved obviously. Interesting to read, even if its not my collecting and research area. ;)


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