Smartphones are today's dominant communication device, and they come with default fonts. The iPhone uses San Francisco Pro, while Android phones use Roboto.
The typewriter was a dominant communication device of the 20th century, and they too came with default fonts. The standardized type of mechanical typewriter, which emerged around 1910, featured keys connected to individual typebars:
These typebars were metal arms that terminated in small individual blocks featuring embossed characters. When you pressed a key, the corresponding typebar swung up and over to strike the ink ribbon, printing the character on the page. Replacing dozens of typebars was not trivial, so the font you used was the font your typewriter came with (typically Courier).
However, in 1961 IBM released something crazy: An electric typewriter that would allow you to change the font in just seconds.
Designed by industrial designer Eliot Noyes, the IBM Selectric didn't have typebars at all. Instead it had a single golf-ball-like element, or typeball, that electrically tilted and rotated to strike the desired character onto the page.
This design made jams impossible. (On older typewriters, if you hit two keys at nearly the same time, both typebars would swing towards the page and become stuck together.) It also meant changing the font was as trivial as inserting a different typeball.
This was a mind-blowing innovation, proof of IBM's complete technical dominance of the era. To office workers of the time it must've seemed like science fiction. Here's IBM's 1960s commercial for the Selectric, demonstrating how it works:
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The Selectric sold 13 million units over the next 25 years or so, before typewriters (and IBM) went into decline in the mid-1980s.
Today, typewriter nerds can still find typeballs for sale on Etsy and eBay.
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