Welcome to Typewriter Tuesday, a series from the American Writers Museum that aims to shed light on the typewriters and other tools behind some of your favorite works of literature. Our past special exhibit Tools of the Trade, which is now fully online, featured more than a dozen typewriters on loan from Steve Soboroff’s impressive collection, as well as other writing implements and instruments used by American writers. Today, we take a look at Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s 1939 Royal Portable Quiet DeLuxe.
“Heavier than a laptop! More maintenance required than pen and paper! Able to write many comics with a single ink ribbon!”
This is how we would describe Jerry Siegel’s 1939 Royal Portable Quiet DeLuxe, one of the many typewriters from the collection of Steve Soboroff that will be on display in our upcoming Tools of the Trade exhibit. Siegel, along with co-creator Joe Shuster, changed the world of comics by introducing the character we know today as Superman. However, they had to fight a long battle to be properly credited for creating an iconic American character.
The world was first introduced to Superman eighty-one years ago in June of 1938 in the comic book Action Comics #1. This book revolutionized the way visual stories could be told, as it is considered the first true comic book with an original storyline. Prior to that, comics existed almost solely in newspaper strips and comic collections, never before was there a full-length book of comics that told one continuous story. Needless to say, this form of visual storytelling became wildly popular.
However, it took Siegel and Shuster years to cash in on this vast popularity, as they had sold the rights to Superman to DC Comics in 1938 for $130, roughly $2,300 by today’s standards. That’s it. One of the most iconic characters in American stories — and surely one of the most profitable — sold for just $130. Talk about a bargain! Siegel and Shuster continued to write for DC Comics, but without the rights to their character, they were unable to fully reap the benefits of their creation.
That changed in the 1970s when a coalition of comic creators came together to help them fight for their rights when Superman movie came out by Warner Bros. in 1978. After a long battle, Warner Bros. — which now owned the rights to Superman — agreed to give Siegel and Shuster creation credit as well as lifetime yearly stipends. Before this, neither were able to get credit on the creation of the character, let alone proper compensation. Luckily today, their names will be forever linked with the iconic character that is Superman and their families can enjoy the benefits that come with that.
Tools of the Trade featured more than a dozen of Soboroff’s typewriters and more, and was sponsored in part by the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation.