R.C. Allen Musicwriter

R.C. Allen Musicwriter

Usage conditions apply
Description (Brief)
One (1) R.C. Allen musicwriter
Mechanical typewriter with beige body with brown keys. Four-line keyboard. 14" carriage. Keys are musical symbols and numbers.
Inscription: "R.C. Allen", "Musicwriter" On back label: "Musicwriter Patented Typewriter - U.S. Paten No. 511,941; Great Britain, No. 712,430, Nov. 3, 1954; Switzerland, Patent No. 298,526; Germany DBP 909,101." "MUSIC PRINT CORPORATION Denver, Colorado, U.S.A."
This Musicwriter “typewriter” was manufactured by R.C. Allen of Grand Rapids, Michigan during the mid 20th century. The Musicwriter was used to compose sheet music. Instead of a letter-writing typewriter, each key could print a different type of note, which could be raised or lowered on the musical staff.
R. C. Allen was founded in 1932 as a manufacturer of cash registers, adding machines, and altimeters. R.C. Allen purchased the Woodstock Typewriter Company of Woodstock, Illinois in 1950 and began manufacturing typewriters and musicwriters such as this machine.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
ca 1960
R. C. Allen
location of prior holder
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
overall: 9 in x 20 1/4 in x 14 in; 22.86 cm x 51.435 cm x 35.56 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
serial number
8C-2105274 14
Credit Line
James C. Benfield
See more items in
Work and Industry: Mechanisms
Computers & Business Machines
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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My father was a freelance music engraver (he still is, though he has been retired for around 30 years.) He used a Musicwriter until he found out about computer programs such as Finale in the early 1990s, at which point he bought a computer and the program and taught himself how to do this art all over again, electronically. So he has been using computer software ever since to do the work he originally trained himself to do on the Musicwriter. I don't know how to use this machine myself, but as a child I often went to sleep at night to its distinctive "clunk-clunk" sound coming from my dad's home-based office. When we had those special reports to do at school where we got to explain what our parents did for a living, I always felt I had something unique to share, as none of my friends (or, usually, teachers) had ever heard of music engraving as an occupation.
My father was a trained handset music typesetter/typographer in the 40s-50s, head of the music typesetting department, Baptist Sunday School Board. He was sent to Colorado to view the "new" Musicwriter. Brought one home and eventually the entire typesetting department at the BSSB was shut down. I actually still have some of the discarded type, cases, and galleys that he salvaged. He went into business for himself, setting the type for companies like Tree Publishing, whose songwriters could not write music, just played it. But in order for their music to be copyrighted, it had to be in print version. He designed clean, type-set leadsheets for hundreds of artists and publishing companies. He also set many hymnals. With the advent of Finale software, of course, the Musicwriter became part of the printing industry history. He was contacted by the Smithsonian concerning the artifacts and his knowledge, but he passed away before that came to fruition. I am probably one of few left who was trained on the Musicwriter.

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