Typewriter Plays Vital Role in Hiss Case
November 1948, pre-trial depositions began in Baltimore in
the libel suit that Alger Hiss had filed against Whittaker
Chambers. Soon after, Chambers was asked to produce any documentary
evidence to support his allegations. At first he told Hiss's
lawyers he had none. Then, on the November 17th, Chambers
dropped a bombshell.
brought in an envelope containing typed copies of secret State
Department documents (they came to be known as the "Baltimore
Documents"). The pages were typed, he said, by Priscilla
Hiss for transmission to the Soviet Union. The Hiss team set
out to prove they were a forgery. Their efforts centered on
finding the family's old Woodstock typewriter, which the Hisses
remembered giving away long before the dates on the Baltimore
the typewriter was finally found, lying in a garbage-filled
lot, the defense introduced it into evidence at both trials
without questioning its authenticity.
Hiss's conviction, his new attorney, Chester Lane, submitted
both the documents and the Hiss typewriter for scientific
results, according to affidavits filed in Lane's motion for
a new trial, showed that the Hiss machine did not type the
Baltimore Documents. Spectrographic analysis of the documents
themselves raised serious questions about whether they had
been kept in an envelope for ten years, as Chambers claimed.
here to read the results of Daniel Norman's examination
of Woodstock #230,099.
Nation Finds Holes in Prosecution's Typewriter Theory
1957, journalist Fred J. Cook began an independent examination
of the Hiss case for The Nation. In this excerpt
from his report, which took up the entire September 21, 1957
issue (and was later expanded into a book, "The Unfinished
Story of Alger Hiss"), Cook examines the typewriter question.
He concludes that the evidence against Hiss was less than
FBI Documents Shed New Light on Case
the late 1970s, FBI documents released under the Freedom of
Information Act supported Chester Lane's contention that the
Woodstock Typewriter #230,099 - the typewriter Hiss brought
into court - could not in fact have been the old Hiss family
machine. FBI documents revealed that the government knew during
the trials that the machine in the courtroom may not have been
the original Hiss typewriter
excerpts from Hiss's coram
nobis petition, summarizing what the government knew and did
not share with the defense.
law professor John Lowenthal's in-depth look at the FBI documents
shows how the Bureau hid vital information that would have
damaged the government's case against Alger Hiss. Click
here to read Lowenthal's article, which appeared in
here to hear from forgery expert Evelyn Ehrlich.
here to read Daniel Norman's spectrographic
analysis of the documents.
Priscilla Hiss type the Baltimore Documents? Click
here for document examiner Elizabeth McCarthy's
Nixon examines a Pumpkin Papers filmstrip for
Autobiography Reawakens Controversy
1962, a passing remark by Richard Nixon in his book, "Six
Crises," set off a new round of charges that the FBI
was concealing evidence regarding the typewriter in the Hiss
J. Cook followed up on the story to once again look into the
mystery of how the defense came into possession of the Woodstock
typewriter. Click here
to read an excerpt
from his story.
since typewriters became commonly available in the late 19th
century, it has been widely assumed that each typewriter is
as individual as every person's fingerprints.
his sentencing on January 25, 1950, however, Alger Hiss told
the court, "I am confident that in the future the full
facts of how Whittaker Chambers was able to carry out forgery
by typewriter will be disclosed." His opponents dismissed
the notion that a typewriter could be forged. In
1976, Richard M. Nixon recalled Hiss's statement and said,
"Even his most ardent supporters could not swallow such
a ridiculous charge. A typewriter is.... almost the same as
a fingerprint. It is impossible, according to experts in the
field, to duplicate exactly the characteristics of one typewriter
by manufacturing another one."
important aspect of Hiss's motion for a new trial featured
a demonstration by one acknowledged expert, Martin Tytell,
that a typewriter could be altered to match the typing of
read Tytell's story of how he built a typewriter to match
the Hiss machine, click here.
R. Bradford is a California document examiner who spent 29
years in law enforcement - first as a crime scene investigator
with both the Orange County sheriff's office and the Santa
Monica Police Department, and then for 24 years as a handwriting
and documents examiner with the Long Beach Police Department.
a 1992 book co-written with his father, Ralph B. Bradford,
"An Introduction to Handwriting Examination and Identification"
(Nelson-Hall Publishers; Chicago), Bradford discusses
the history of forgery by typewriter by intelligence agencies,
including the British government's successful efforts with
it during World War II. Click here
to read an excerpt about typewriter forgery from Bradford's
a 1984 article for The Nation, former Smith Act defendant
Gil Green reveals how a document in his own file confirms
that the FBI laboratory was - by 1960, at least - fully capable
of typewriter forgery. Click
here to read Green's article and a follow-up by journalist
William A. Reuben, who has been writing about the Hiss case
for nearly 50 years.