An Old Typewriter Speaks To The World

Typewriters are something which was once ubiquitous, yet which abruptly faded away and are now a rare sight. There was a period of a few years in which electric typewriters and computers existed side-by-side though, and it’s one of these which [Jonah Brüchert] has experimented with connecting to a computer for use as a printer or terminal.

The machine in question is a SIGMA SM 8200i typewriter, which is a rebadged version of the East German Erika S3004. It has an intriguing 26-pin connector on its side which provides access to a 1200 baud serial port. It uses its own character encoding dubbed “gdrascii”, for which there is a Python library that he could port to Rust. The result is a terminal in the old style, from the days when access to a computer was through a teletype  rather than a screen. All that’s missing is a punched tape reader at its side!

We’ve featured a lot of typewriters here over the ears, but this isn’t the first that has received a terminal conversion.

20 thoughts on “An Old Typewriter Speaks To The World

  1. In 1982 I worked in engineering for an FM radio station. There was a new (back then) small mainframe computer and for the bosses office they connected his ibm typewriter to the computer to type out messages and letters

    1. Interesting. So this is a product from former East Germany (that German un-Democratic Republic)?
      Why not use it as a serial teletype/terminal for a vintage operating system from East Germany? 🙂
      MS-DOS or DCP do have the CTTY command fir serial terminals.
      – DCP was pira.. -err- inspired from MS-DOS. 😁
      And the later versions also run on western PCs.

      1. If I recall correctly Lynx requireds cell control aka a video terminal of some sort. The closest you can get to make it use it with a teletype is with the -dump command line switch.

        1. I’ve never used it with a TTY. But the default setting makes you press a number to activate a link. I used that for 30 minutes in 1996 until I realized I could change the setting to “advanced”. But maybe it lets a dumber terminal.

  2. My second printer, in 1984, was a Smith-Corona. Daisy wheel, the reviews called it a typewriter with no keyboard but an interface. Bought to have printing good enough for letters. That’s when I stopped using my typewriter.

    Roll in the paper, print the page, roll out the paper, and roll in another for the next page. It was too fast to give you time to do something else, but so slow that you waited as the page printer.

    And the desk shook with every carriage return.

    I gladly replaced it five years later with a dot matrix, cheaper by then and near letter quality was good enough.

  3. My very first printer (for my TRS-80 model 1) was an Olivetti daisy wheel typewriter (can’t remember the model, but it was the first “electronic” typewriter that I could convince my parents buy me), so I could install a commercially available interface card (made by – I don’t remember) to turn it into a parallel port printer. I think it was about 10 cps printing speed….but it was a printer for under $1000 which was a big deal.

  4. “We’ve featured a lot of typewriters here over the ears,..”


    Reminds me of a joke I heard years ago…

    …A kid came to my door on Halloween dressed as a pirate. I asked him “if you’re a pirate, where are your bucaneers?” He replied “They’re under my buckin’ hat!”

  5. On my home system I had an s100 bus CPM. Wanting to write nice letters I bought a used IBM selectric made for computers. Wrote my own interface and got it to work. Wrote my own word processor. It produced letters I needed and it was a joy to watch that selectric ball dance across the paper. OK yes it was slow by today’s standards but screaming fat and beautiful type.

  6. Back in the 80s my dad and I found an article in BYTE magazine that provided instructions for building a printer interface for a TRS-80 Model II. He built it and hooked it up to an old IBM selectric. We used it for many years, printing out code or college papers for my mom. Good times.

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