On this day in 1902, Hidalgo Moya applied for a US patent for the typewriter we know as the Moya Visible.
Moya’s place in typewriter history was secured by his subsequent, typebar-class designs, those for the Imperial Models A and B, upon which Moya started work in 1908. Yet, as boldly radical as these compact typewriters were, with their detachable keyboard and typebasket, they still failed to make serious inroads into British and Continental markets that were dominated by much more mainstream machines. In other words, ultimately, Moya’s Imperials didn’t really change a thing, they were no more than a passing diversion in the course of typewriter development. So what has perhaps appealed most to typewriter collectors and historians about Moya’s typewriters is just that they were - like Hammonds, Olivers and Blickensderfers before them -different.
The Moya story indicates that he arrived in England from the US at the turn of the 19th century determined – if he was going to put his name on his own typewriter - not to simply follow the path of applying technical advances to existing, conventional designs, but to come up with something entirely new: to join that upper echelon with James Hammond, Thomas Oliver, Franz Wagner and George Blickensderfer. Among the things Moya toyed with in his earliest typewriter design was a type-disk – or, as we know it today, a daisywheel.
One of the violins made by Moya
Moya may have been prepared to make violins along well-established Mirecourt or Strativarian lines, and try out conformist means of manoeuvring and propelling air-balloons. But when it came to typewriters, his aim was to take a walk on the wild side.
Moya's "Aerial Vessel"
As well as being regarded as something of a genius in typewriter design, Moya also patented an airship (“aerial vessel”) in 1910 and was a Mirecourt-trained violin maker who in 1916 co-authored a book called Violin Tone and Violin Makers: Degeneration of Tonal Status, Curiosity Value and Its Influence, Types and Standards of Violin Tone, Importance of Tone Ideals, Ancient and Modern Violins and Tone, Age, Varnish, and Tone, Tone and the Violin Maker, Dealer. Together with an Account, Biographical and Critical, of the Principal Violin Makers of the Various Schools and Their Works.
According to Wilf Beeching in his Century of the Typewriter, Moya’s hot-air balloon was deemed a failure after it crashed into a tree.
Like his balloon, but unlike so many other great typewriter inventors, Moya’s Halcyon days were relatively short-lived, covering a period of, at the very most, 14 years, from 1901 to 1915. He departed the scene, leaving England, and the Imperial company he had established with it, to return to his native US even more abruptly than he had arrived. In typewriter terms, he was never heard from again.
As for the typewriter for which Moya applied for a patent on this day 110 years ago, the inventor was at pains to point out in the introductory paragraph of his specifications that the Visible, aka the Moya 2, was designed to be a distinct improvement on his first typewriter. The Moya 1 was not a commercial success, despite meeting at a targeted five guineas market price, as it was said to be “uneconomical to produce”. But it seems Moya did not need to see the sales figures to know it could be improved upon. Moya had applied for a patent for his first typewriter on January 10, 1902, and just 8½ months later put in this second application. Quiet aside from the mechanics, and adjustments to allow more visible typing, Moya went for a more stylish look, adding a top cover and a bar winding around the front of the machine.
Will Davis and the late Tilman Elster, on the European Typewriter Project, say the Moya Visible “displays the revisions to design that allowed the machine to have some sales success in England, as well as license-built success in France and Germany. Still, the design was not one which lent itself to large market share, as typebar machines were, for the most part, the most well-accepted for general use (particularly in the profitable office machine sector). Moya decided to develop a new machine, and obtained working capital from investors. This led to the formation of the Imperial Typewriter Company in 1908.” Thus the Visible and the Moya 3 only had, at best, three-year and two-year production lives respectively.
Moya did meet greater success with these typebar machines and Imperial forged on with them for another 13 years – interrupted only by the First World War. The Model A was followed by the B in 1915 and the D in 1919. But October 1915 marked the end of Moya’s input into Imperial designs.
From the beginning of the Imperial company in 1908 and the consequent step-up in production following six years of Moya-labelled machines, Imperial had found itself restricted by difficulties in recruiting British staff with any typewriter-making expertise.
In 1910 Imperial managed to track down a Swedish-born mechanical engineer called Eric Julius Pilblad (born Köping, April 12, 1880; died 1963), who was at that time working on a Canadian government contract with the Sutherland Rifle Sight Company in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Pilblad, who had immigrated to the US in October 1900, had apparently had considerable experience working in the typewriter industry in America. In 1911 Pilblad began working alongside Moya, and later with an English engineer, Arthur Tomlinson, before returning to the US in 1925.
As if so often the case in such enterprises, the changes at Imperial came about because, in order to get itself established and to expand, it had sought fresh capital. Until 1908, Moya and his father-in-law and backer, John Gordon Chattaway, had run the Moya company on their own, with Moya designing and overseeing the building of machines and assigning half the rights to his patents to Chattaway, as a way of reimbursing Chattaway for his investment. When further financial support was required, the new investors naturally demanded a say in the way the company operated.
J. Wallis Goddard
Both Joseph Wallis Goddard and Goddard’s brother-in-law William Arthur Evans were successful businessmen in their own right (like their friend Chattaway) who were members of hugely successful business families (the Goddard name still appears on silver polish).
Evans immediately took over as Imperial board chairman, a position he was to hold until his retirement in 1933. His son, Roger Martin Evans (1907-1967) became works director, chief production engineer and a board member.
One of the demands of Goddard and the senior Evans was that Imperial recruit someone of the calibre and experience of Pilblad to be its works manager. Moya was sent back to the US in 1910 to talk to Pilblad and convince him to decamp to England. Another demand was to design and build a new, much larger factory, which Goddard did on East Park Road, North Evington, the year Pilblad arrived.
The changes led Imperial in an inevitable direction, as Goddard and Evans ensured their investments were not just safeguarded but enhanced. And so it was that in 1927 Imperial finally joined the mainstream by starting to make conventional standard-sized typewriters (the first was the Model 50, seen below) and the following year a small portable.
Tilman Elster Collection
As Goddard and Evans took control, the influence of founders Moya and Chattaway rapidly waned. Typewriter historian Michael Adler quoted “contemporary sources” as saying Moya (“the greatest authority on the mechanism of the typewriter in Europe”) had gone to work as British agent for the Stearns Visible typewriter. If this is correct, Moya would have either joined or succeeded George M.Moore, who switched allegiance to Stearns in 1909 after 18 years with Williams typewriters in Europe.
Uwe Breker Collection
Certainly, by 1919, Moya’s involvement with the Imperial company had long ended and he had returned to the US with his English wife, Sophia.
Moya is such a fascinating character that it’s a real shame we don’t know a lot more about his pre-Leicester days and his life beyond Imperial.
Moya, who preferred to be called Dalgo rather than Hidalgo, was born Hidalgo Moye in St Louis in 1862 (other sources say 1863 and 1864). He was the son of a Mexican-born watchman, John Moye. In 1880 Hidalgo was working in St Louis as a clerk. By that time his mother was deceased and his father had remarried, to a much younger woman, Anna, and started a new family.
Moya must have reached England some time before 1901, as in that year's British census he is listed as already living in Leicester. He was sent to England as a representative for Wykoff, Seamans and Benedict to sell Remingtons. As English typewriter collector and historian Richard Milton points out in his chapter on Moya in The Typewriter Sketchbook (general editor Paul Robert), there are also a couple of references in earlier typewriter histories to Moya having worked for Hammond.
The romanticised version of ensuing events that I like to tell at typewriter presentations is that, while travelling around Britain trying to flog Remingtons, Moya reached Leicester and met wealthy bookmaker Chattaway. Chattaway took pity of the travelling man and invited him to share a home-prepared dinner at Chattaway’s Westcotes Lodge mansion. There, Moya met Sophia. There’s no evidence to support this story, but it’s a nice thought anyway.
Whichever way it came to be, in 1902, with the backing of Chattaway, Moya opened the Moya Typewriter Company factory on Garton Street, Leicester.
From The Typewriter Sketchbook.
This is the small Garton Street workshop in about 1902.
This is the small Garton Street workshop in about 1902.
Dalgo Moya can be seen, with his sleeves rolled up, in the background.
The name change from the Moya Typewriter Company to the Imperial Typewriter Company came through an agreement reached between Moya and Chattaway. Official documents show that the deal, signed on June 22, 1908, was for the “sale and purchase of the Moya Typewriter Company” by Chattaway for £20,000. At the exchange rates of the day, that would probably have amounted to more than $US50,000.
Though Chattaway was by then Moya’s father-in-law, he was just 10 or 11 years his senior. Chattaway was born in Earlsdon, Warwickshire, in 1854, the son of Thomas Chattaway, a writing master. His daughter, Sophia Lillian Chattaway, Moya’s future wife, was born in Leicester in 1883. John Chattaway died on November 16, 1936, aged 82.
With the name change, Goddard and Evans entered the typewriter business. Joseph Wallis Goddard was born in Leicester on February 16, 1852, the son of the pharmaceutical chemist who invented Goddard’s silver polish. Joseph Wallis Goddard was trained as an architect. He died on April 9, 1927, aged 75.
William Arthur Evans was born in Belgrave in 1865. He took over his father’s steam-powered corn mill before focusing his efforts on the Imperial company.
Meanwhile, by 1911 Hidalgo and Sophia Moya had settled in Aylestone Holt, Leicester, and had a daughter called Georgia Mary, born in Leicester in late 1910. Georgia does not appear to have lived beyond childhood.
Moya and Sophia left England and went to live in California, where their son John Hidalgo Moya was born (in Los Gatos, south of San Jose) on May 5, 1920. Sophia returned to England without her husband but with her young son at the end of 1929, and the next year had her British citizenship restored. She lived in Bournemouth and died in Leamington on March 22, 1964, aged 81. The fact Sophia did not return to England with Moya suggests Moya had died in obscurity in his native America, some time between 1920 and 1929.
If Moya did die in obscurity, his son certainly did not. John Hidalgo “Jacko” Moya became a world-famous architect. He grew up in Britain, where he studied at the Royal West of England College of Art and the Architectural Association School of Architecture, and formed an architectural practice with Michael and Philip Powell. This team designed the Chichester Festival Theatre, the Skylon Tower, Churchill Gardens in Pimlico, Northbrooks in Harlow, the Museum of London, Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford, and Wolfson College, Oxford. The younger Hidalgo Moya died in Hastings, England, on August 3, 1994, aged 74.