The Manufacture of Type for Typewriters in Switzerland

The Manufacture of Type for Typewriters in Switzerland

Between the 1940s and the 1990s, three companies manufactured type components for typewriters in Switzerland: Caractères SA, Setag and Novatype. During more than fifty years, they supplied the biggest manufacturers of office machines in Europe and around the world, such as IBM, Remington, Olivetti, Paillard-Hermès or Triumph-Adler. Having held a leading position worldwide, the three manufacturers played a key role in the design, development, and production of type components and typefaces for typewriters, as well as for all kinds of impact printers.

Research project (2024) with Sophie Wietlisbach

Type design

By looking in details at their production methods, the research observes what influence did the manufacturing processes and the mechanical characteristics of the typewriter have on the design of the typefaces. Additionally, it takes interest into the surprising role played by the criminal police. Specialized in the dating and identification of typewriter typefaces for judicial and criminal purposes, forensic experts developed over the years specific methods and compiled rich documentations on typewriter typefaces. Being in direct contact with the type manufacturers to gain first-hand information, they even interfered in the design of some lettershapes. Based on oral history and archival research, this project aims to shed light on this little-known part of the industrial and typographic history.

Main applicant

Sophie Wietlisbach, researcher

Research team

Davide Fornari, scientific supervisor
Roland Früh, scientific supervisor



Supported by

ECAL / University of Art and Design, internal research grant
DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion, DNP Graphic Culture Research Grant 

Measurement of the height of a typewriter typeface with a magnification tool. © ECAL/Sophie Wietlisbach
Digging through the Federal Archives in Bern. © ECAL/Sophie Wietlisbach
IBM Typeball produced by Setag. ©ECAL/Sophie Wietlisbach