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Two Vernons and a Typewriter

Monday, January 4, 2010

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One of our quandaries was how to clean Vernon Smith’s typewriter, an important artifact from the African American Museum. We found our answer when we contacted Vernon Steve at Steve’s Business Machines (formerly Steve’s Typewriter) in Iowa City. Vern cleaned and repaired the typewriter but did not repaint it. The typewriter shows the wear and tear of the flood but is clean and fully functional.

Vern inherited the business from his father. He not only repairs typewriters but also repairs cash registers, old calculating machines, time-clocks, etc. In fact, after seeing the results of the typewriter cleaning, we left a flood-damaged sweeper for repair.

Vernon Smith courtesy of the African American Museum of Iowa
Vernon Smith courtesy of the African American Museum of Iowa

The typewriter was a college graduation gift from Elmer Sr and Vesta Smith to their son, Vernon. He graduated from Coe College circa 1950. He used this typewriter to type up his master’s thesis at the University of Iowa. He received a master’s in Chemistry from the U of I in 1952. Before receiving his master’s he had accepted a position as a chemistry instructor at an African American college in Virginia. 10 days after receiving his master’s while he was packing to move to Virginia, he contracted polio and lost the use of both of his legs and one of his arms.

He spent 4 years recovering from polio and then found a job in the special laboratory at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. He worked there for 35 years retiring as head of the lab. He was very active in community affairs in Cedar Rapids, particularly in Civil Rights issues. He co-founded the Cedar Rapids Negro Civic Organization in 1961 and served on its scholarship committee throughout the 1960s. In addition, he served as a member of the Cedar Rapids N.A.A.C.P. and the Cedar Rapids Council on Human Relations. In 1971, he was named “Handicapped Iowan of the Year”. He married Phoebe Downs and raised five children: Ruby, Vernon, Deborah, Phoebe, and Katharine. He passed away in 2000. More at: