Lee keeps typewriters going five decades strong

Published 1:18 pm Wednesday, April 24, 2024

By Lanell Downs Smith

William Lee began his career in office equipment repair in 1973, during a time when many people told him typewriters were on the way out of popular use. But now, five decades later, Lee sells and service typewriters from his Montgomery-based operation, American Typewriters, to customers in Crenshaw, Butler, Lowndes, Macon, Bullock, Lee, Montgomery and Dallas counties.

He is one of the few remaining shops dedicated to typewriter repair in Alabama.

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‘I don’t think there are any straight typewriter shops left,” Lee said. “A few people just opened a place in Birmingham but they are not directly in typewriter repair.”

The Lowndesboro native graduated from Central High School in Hayneville in 1971, then attended the former John N. Patterson State Technical College, now H. Councill Trenholm State Technical College. He set out in office equipment repair with his brother, Alonzo Lee in 1973.

The pair split their business ventures a few years later and Lee opened American Typewriters on Highland Avenue in Montgomery before relocating to his current location at 437 South Decatur Street in 1986.

For many years, Lee traveled to service all kinds of office equipment — copiers, printers, fax machines, shredders, typewriters and laminators and served accounts including the Lowndes County Courthouse, Troy University, Selma University, Butler County Schools, and many others. Customers bring their machines to him now, delivering or shipping them from states surrounding Alabama.

“Most of my customers bring [their typewriters] to me,” Lee said. “I get machines from people in Mississippi, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia.”

In the following years, when the market no longer supported Lee employing a helper, he narrowed the scope of his work to focus almost exclusively on typewriters. At age 72, he is still going strong, with no plans to stop in the near future.

“When the market started changing, I began to refrain from working on other equipment,” Lee said. “Now I refrain from anything except typewriters. And, when I leave typewriters, I’ll be going on to retirement.”

Lee continues selling new machines and keeps a catalog for Olympia and Nakajima machines close at hand. He services manual and electric typewriters, offering cleaning, repair and ribbon replacement among his slate of offerings.

“I’m no stranger to the old manual typewriter like this [Royal],” Lee said. “I serviced a lot of Smith Corona machines and was an IBM service center for years and also serviced Schwinn Tech electronic typewriters.”

Typewriter usage has declined, Lee explained, diminishing with the dominance of computers and the internet. But Lee maintains a loyal customer base of people who prefer the feel of a typewriter keyboard and the dependability the machines still provide.

“There are a lot of youngsters who don’t really have typewriters anymore,” Lee said. “All of them have keyboards, but there’s a lot of elderly people who still have typewriters and appreciate their typewriters.”

Lowndes County Commissioner Robert Harris grew up with Lee and describes him as a friendly person and good friend.
“He is a person who has a lot of wisdom and understanding,” Harris said. “He uses his wisdom to make business decisions and he helps others whenever he can. He’s educated as well and is just the kind of all-around good person, the kind you want to be around all the time.”
American Typewriters is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call Lee at (334) 269-6924.