Many happy returns
At 95, Manson Whitlock is still caring for New Haven’s typewriters.
There’s a cartoon taped to the wall in Manson Whitlock’s typewriter repair shop. It shows two young men looking quizzically at a manual typewriter sitting on a table, with one explaining to the other, “It’s an antique laptop.”
At 95, Whitlock is the guardian of New Haven’s stock of the vintage word processors also known as typewriters. It’s a labor of love. Seated at a table in his second-floor shop on York Street, where he is working on a black Underwood manual, he says, “I’m not even going to admit how much time I spent on this one.” He cannibalized a replacement part for it from an old typewriter in his basement, and he’ll charge the owner just $35 for the job.
Manson Whitlock, shown here seated at a worktable in his second-floor repair shop on York Street, says he used to have six assistants on his payroll; now, it’s just him. From the 1930s to the 1980s, he says, he worked on the typewriters of every student, professor, and office worker at Yale. View full image
Whitlock has been selling and repairing typewriters in New Haven since 1930. He counts the late Yale president A. Bartlett Giamatti ’60, ’64PhD, and the writer William Manchester among his more notable customers. Yale professor Erich Segal wrote the bestseller Love Story on a Royal portable he bought from Whitlock. From the 1930s through the 1980s, Whitlock also worked on the typewriters of nearly every student, professor, and office worker at Yale.
“The typewriter was essential in those days,” he says. “Every summer, students dropped off their typewriters to be serviced, cleaned, and stored while they were home.” In those days, the shop “was a good-sized store. I had six assistants. We sold ribbons by the thousands.”
Whitlock’s infatuation with typewriters began when he was a boy working in the typewriter department of his father’s bookstore on Broadway. A graduate of Hillhouse High School, he says he learned to repair typewriters by tinkering with them: “There’s no better teacher than taking something apart and putting it back together.”
Whitlock’s operation has shrunk since its heyday, but he’s hardly been put out of business. Today, his cozy shop, “just a hole in the wall,” is lined with shelves filled with Smith Corona, IBM, and Olivetti electrics and classic Underwood, Royal, and Remington manuals. While Whitlock gladly works on the electrics, his joy is the “old timers.” He’s happily observed a recent resurgence of interest in the manual machines. “They’ve become cool all of a sudden,” he says.
Whitlock has no plans to retire; he has bonded too closely with his work. “Has the typewriter remained in use because of me,” he wonders, “or am I still around because of the typewriter?”