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The Woodstock Typewriter

Family Typewriter Plays Vital Role in Hiss Case

In 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.

He 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 Documents. 

When the typewriter was finally found, lying in a garbage-filled lot, the defense introduced it into evidence at both trials without questioning its authenticity.

After Hiss's conviction, his new attorney, Chester Lane, submitted both the documents and the Hiss typewriter for scientific analysis. The 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.

Click here to read the results of Daniel Norman's examination of Woodstock #230,099.


The Nation

The Nation Finds Holes in Prosecution's Typewriter Theory

In 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 plausible.


[Woodstock typewriter]

Declassified FBI Documents Shed New Light on Case

In 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

Read excerpts from Hiss's coram nobis petition, summarizing what the government knew and did not share with the defense.

Former 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 The Nation.


Consult the
Document Experts

Click here to hear from forgery expert Evelyn Ehrlich.

Click here to read Daniel Norman's spectrographic analysis of the documents.

Did Priscilla Hiss type the Baltimore Documents? Click here for document examiner Elizabeth McCarthy's expert opinion.

Nixon Examining Pumpkin Film

Richard Nixon examines a Pumpkin Papers filmstrip for the press

Nixon Autobiography Reawakens Controversy

In 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 case. 

Fred 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.


"Forgery By Typewriter"

Ever 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.

At 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."

An 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 another.

To read Tytell's story of how he built a typewriter to match the Hiss machine, click here.

Russell 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.

In 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 book.

In 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.









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