There'll be a pair of Pasadena institutions along Colorado Boulevard for New Year's -- the Rose Parade, and a company marking 100 years in business. Anderson Business Technology, nee Anderson Typewriter Co., has bucked two trends: It's been a one-family operation all along, and it's managed to leap from the age of slammed return levers and carbon paper to ctrl.alt.delete. Don Anderson and his son, David, are chairman and president, the second and third generations in the firm. Change has been crucial to their century of success, and yet a romantic roll call of anachronistic mechanical brands -- Royal, Underwood, Smith Corona, Olivetti, Sholes and Glidden, Hermes -- still connects the Andersons to the "typosphere," where poet Charles Bukowski's manual Olympia stars on a mouse pad, and composer Leroy Anderson's whimsical "The Typewriter" stars on YouTube.
Your family has seen a lot of Rose Parades go by, literally, and Elmer Anderson, the founder, was once president of the Tournament of Roses. Did your company ever have a float?
Three generations and 100 years of a business founded on a device most people under 30 have never used.
Don: My dad was 22 and got apprentice training at the Woodstock [Typewriter] Co. In 1912, he came to Pasadena to visit his aunt and uncle, and brought his typewriter tool kit. He found nobody really repaired typewriters in this area. He repaired the typewriter [at] the Wrigley Mansion, and for [Theodore Roosevelt's vice president,] Charles Fairbanks, who came here in the winter and stayed at the old Maryland Hotel on Colorado.
We went through the Depression; I remember as a boy [in 1941] when war broke out, most typewriter manufacturers stopped making typewriters and started making machine guns and things like that. We existed on repair work.
David: When I joined the company, typewriters were starting to decline as computers were growing, so we were looking for other technologies. We moved into fax machines; from there we moved into copiers as they made the transition from analog to digital, and that's really our core business today.
And we don't sell anything we don't fix. That's how we market ourselves.
And there are still people who want you to repair typewriters. Where do you find people who can do it?
Don: We have two technicians from the old era; one of them just retired. We have a [typewriter] graveyard down in the basement. People trade in their old machines, and if they're still workable, we can still repair them, or [they] have parts that are workable. Pedro, who just retired, can fix them and keep them going.
David: He loves to come back in and work with them. He can even take a part off one machine and grind it down to fix another.
When did you change the name of the business from Anderson Typewriter Co.?
David: In the '90s, [when] the typewriter didn't really tell our story anymore.
I actually resisted changing because I thought it's going to be valuable, because it'll show your history, how long you've been in business. But it got to the point that my sales staff told me, "I'll call a client and say this is Anderson Typewriter and I'd like to meet about copiers, and they'd say, 'We don't use typewriters in our office.''' At that point I realized we probably needed to make a name change.
How does a family business stay a family business?
David: I actually didn't intend to go into it. I worked here in the summers. We had contracts to repair typewriters and clean them once a year. I'd go out with our technicians and get rid of the eraser dust and WiteOut. Later on, when I got my driver's license, I could do deliveries.
There was never any pressure to join the business. I majored in geology at UC Davis and worked for an engineering firm for a couple of years before joining the company.
Don: David's coming in when he did -- I'd say probably 99% of the old typewriter dealers we knew across the country are gone now because they didn't make a transition. David made [survival] possible with his engineering training.
David: You had to. Either you wind your business down and close the door one day and go home, or you transition.
Patt Morrison Asks: Two from the 'typosphere'
Don and David Anderson of Anderson Business Technology, nee Anderson Typewriter Co., talk about taking their business from typewriters to the digital age.
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