Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Vintage Underwood Typewriter and Its Ties to Korea

By Don Southerton

My Vintage Underwood
I have long desired a vintage Underwood typewriter. In part, as a writer it calls back to a time of wordsmithing before the days of word processors and MacBook Pros. More personal, my second book Intrepid Americans: Bold Koreans looked at the origins of Korean entrepreneurialism. Western missionaries had a profound impact on their Korean congregations--preaching sermons with strong 19th century capitalist gospel underpinnings. Among the first missionaries dispatched to Korea was Horace Grant Underwood.

An excerpt from Intrepid Americans: Bold Koreans-Early Korean Trade, Concessions, and Entrepreneurship. iBooks.

God and Mammon

Thus do commerce and the Church go hand in hand, here [in Korea] as elseware, in forwarding His kingdom and spreading abroad the knowledge of the Prince of Peace.
—Horace G. Underwood, The Call of Korea, 1908
Fig. 7.8 Horace Grant Underwood
Instrumental in fostering the development of Korean business and capitalism was the work of Protestant missionaries in Korea. To some Koreans, Protestantism was a path to national salivation, economic self-strengthening, and progress. By the 1890s, Dr. Allen by then head of the American diplomatic legation in Seoul, and others, began stressing the vibrancy of western technology, capitalism, and civilization over Korean orthodoxy. Essentially, the changes and reforms to the Korean socio-economic landscape coupled with Church policy of egalitarianism impacted those of the lower and commoner classes, not to mention women and the oppressed such as the paekch├┤ng (butchers and meat handlers). Many Koreans hindered for eons from social and economic mobility by a rigid social stratification embraced Protestant teaching, western education, and western thinking, as they searched for opportunity in the newly restructured society.

Within this climate of change, the missionaries specifically targeted merchants, lower level government officials, clerks, technicians, and professionals. It was hoped that members of the newly emerging middle class with some financial means would form the backbone of the Korean Protestant church. This group of Koreans worked for businessmen like Collbran [an westerner i discuss extensively in the book] during the week and attended church on Sundays—church services that saw poverty as sinful, and praised worldly gains. In other words, weekdays and work served as opportunities for ambitious Koreans to learn western business and technological skill, while Sunday sermons drenched them with the missionaries’ capitalist gospel.

Adding to the dynamics, American industrialism also funded much of the Church’s missionary movement—a uniting of God and gold. For example, British-born Horace Grant Underwood who had grown up in upstate New York came from a religious and prosperous business family. Underwood’s older brother John grew the family ink manufacturing business into the highly successful Underwood Typewriter Company, which funded much of Horace’s work in Korea. Underwood’s rivals in Korea even called him the millionaire missionary. (see Fig. 7.8 and 7.9) In fact, missionaries including Underwood at times ventured into trade, importing kerosene, farming implements, and manufactured goods. This suggests that Koreans who were interested in learning about business and capitalism not only found role models in western concessionaries and traders, but also drew familiarity, support, and encouragement from the Protestant clergy.
Fig. 7.9 Early Underwood Print Ad


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