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IBM Selectric Typewriter, Star of 'Mad Men,' Turns 50, Gets Stamp

Selectric

First Posted: 07/22/11 04:33 PM ET Updated: 09/21/11 06:12 AM ET

Fifty years ago this month, the IBM Selectric typewriter was introduced to the public.

In the 25 years that followed, more than 13 million of the typewriters were sold. The machine, designed by Eliot Noyes over a period of seven years, transformed typewriting by allowing the use of different fonts and dramatically increasing the speed at which most people could type.

In the 25 years since the Selectric went out of production in 1986, the machine has become a cultural icon. It is part of the collection of the Computer History Museum, seen in countless shots in the AMC hit show "Mad Men" and now even has a stamp bearing its image. (The stamp, issued in June by the United States Postal Service, was designed by Noyes' daughter Derry.)

"At IBM, good design was and is about clarity and appropriateness of form," Lee Green, vice president of brand experience and strategic design at IBM, told The Huffington Post. "At the same time, great design is often combined with innovation, as in the Selectric."

The major innovation of the Selectric was the golf ball-like type head that took the place of type bars. This change allowed users to swap in italics or letters with accents or just different typefaces, and also made the machines less vulnerable to jamming than traditional typewriters.

Noyes' focus was on aesthetic design -- both of the machine and in his general role with the company. He had served since 1956 as IBM's first true director of design, and became involved in everything from the design of the company's offices to the Paul Rand logo that remains in use by IBM today. Noyes wanted the Selectric to be a machine that would be highlighted -- not hidden -- on desks. He probably never could have imagined the Selectric's ultimate reach. The iconic Selectric type balls were even incorporated into the work of jewelry designer Nancy Worden.

Now, of course, Apple is known as the technology company with the most relentless focus on good design. But IBM doesn't want to be ignored. In his interview with HuffPost, Green pointed to the firm's servers as an unlikely but important example of its continuing focus on design. The servers have a unique system that uses LED lights to walk a technician to the physical source of any problems with the machine.

"We think about design as being very purposeful," Green added. "It's not about decoration. It's not about embellishment."

Click below for more images of the IBM Selectric:

More Views of the IBM Selectric

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