A Revolutionary Machine (1902)
The typewriter is one of the defining machines of the twentieth century. It was vital to the new world of mass communication. In 1902, an American inventor called Hidalgo Moya arrived in Leicester with a handmade prototype typewriter. Soon the Moya Typewriter Company was formed in a small factory on Garton Street. In 1908, two local businessmen invested in a new design, which became the Imperial Model A. Within a few years Imperial Typewriters would be in offices everywhere, and soon hundreds of thousands of people would be using them. Imperial Typewriter Company produced electric, standard, and portable typewriters. Its main premises were on East Park Road and Copdale Road, but the company also owned several other buildings for manufacturing items, including office machinery for invoicing, cheque-writing, typewriter accessories, and repairs.
Imperial’s Golden Age (1960s)
Leicester boomed in the early 1960s. Factories were at peak production and jobs were plentiful. They produced everything from clocks to clothes and shoes. To meet growing demand women workers were employed in greater numbers. Companies also opened their doors to recently arrived migrants from all over the world. Employers promised good wages, cheap housing, and an attractive city to raise a family in. Soon the workforce at Imperial Typewriters was joined by people from the Caribbean, India, and Pakistan. By the late 1960s South Asians fleeing persecution in Kenya were also arriving in the city and many found work on the typewriter factory production lines.
70s Leicester (1970s)
By the early 1970s, manufacturing was in recession. Leicester was hard hit as many factories closed. Suddenly jobs were harder to find and real wages fell. The unions hit back, launching strikes across Britain that threatened governments. Some politicians, such as Wolverhampton MP Enoch Powell, were eager to blame migrants for the crisis. In 1972, Uganda expelled 60,000 South Asians. Most had British passports and decided to flee to the UK, with around 11,000 moving to Leicester. They experienced a wave of racist attacks and open hostility from the authorities. Despite the hardships, many newcomers found jobs, with some migrants finding their way to Imperial Typewriters.
The Strike (1974)
In May 1974, a mix up at the Copdale Road branch of Imperial Typewriters saw an Asian woman wrongly given the pay packet of a white colleague. She and her friends were shocked to see they were getting paid less than whites of the same grade. Asian workers decided something must be done. When management failed to provide a satisfactory answer, the group spoke to their union representative. Angry at being treated as second class, the group of 39, mostly women, workers walked out on strike. They soon had the backing of hundreds more who had grievances of their own. As the dispute dragged on into the summer, picketers organised street collections and community donations of food and other essentials. This replaced the union pay the strikers should have received. Support also came from the growing anti-racist movement across Britain. Local people helped organise counter-demonstrations against the National Front when they targeted the strikers. Around Britain, shops selling Imperial Typewriter products were also picketed.
Factory Closure (1974)
In August 1974, strikers returned to work after 14 weeks on the picket line. Within a few months the factory ceased production at both the Leicester and Hull plants, making thousands redundant. Former strikers' feelings about the dispute were mixed. Some found life difficult after the strike and took years to find work. But many also talked about the way the strike had changed them.