Making a Comeback? 11 Facts on the History of Typewriters
Posted by Jason Marsdale on Apr 22, 2019
11 Shocking Facts on the History of Typewriters
Looking at a typewriter evokes some romantic ideas, nostalgic feelings, and general wonder. We imagine people typing away in offices, writers slaving away to the clicking sound of a weighty typewriter, or poets and musicians putting down their best works in ink.
The typewriter is more than just a historical tool, however. Looking into the history of typewriters, we find that it has had effects on modern society that often go overlooked. Additionally, people rarely look into its origins to understand its inventors and early uses.
We're going to look into the typewriter's history, giving you a clearer look at this important piece of history.
The History of Typewriters
The device first made its way into the market in the mid-to-late 1800s. Our first point, however, illustrates that people had been trying to find a way to produce a mechanical written word for a long time before then.
1. The First Patent Came in 1714
The first patent for the typewriter was issued by the early 18th-century inventor, Henry Mill. Mill was an English inventor who named his invention, "Machine for Transcribing Letters."
It appears that Mill was never quite able to bring the product into large-scale production. In fact, we have little record of the initial machine that he built. It may have been an idea that never came to fruition.
2. The Next Patent Came in 1868
Over one hundred years after the original conception of a typewriter, another patent was issued. Christopher Latham Sholes developed his machine in 1867, with early renditions being able to consistently type capital letters.
A few years of improvements and Sholes had a working typewriter with upper and lowercase type. An early issue, however, was that the key arrangement led the machine to jam easily.
3. It Wasn't Always QWERTY...
Because the original arrangement led to jams, a competing inventor, James Densmore, tried placing the keys in locations that were less likely to jam the machine, ultimately ending up with the key arrangement universal among devices today; QWERTY.
Most English typed language uses this arrangement. There are key configurations that would make typing easier and more efficient overall, but the QWERTY system is so ingrained in society at this point that it wouldn't make sense to change it.
4. Sholes Sold the Rights Early On
The marketing and sales skills needed to get the product out to the people were lost on Sholes. He soon sold the rights on his patent to a man named James Densmore who persuaded a large company to do the marketing.
That company, strange as it sounds, was Remington Arms Company. The company took a few years to improve the product before it was well-received by the public.
5. Early Keyboards Were Modelled After Piano Keys
The time that lapsed between Sholes' patent and Henry Mill's early conceptions held a number of failed attempts at creating typing machines.
In all of those efforts, a number of strange-sounding devices were born. In many cases, however, the keys that were associated with letters were situated like piano keys.
It's easy to see why they would do this. In the 1700s and 1800s, the few people who were literate and wealthy enough to afford a typewriter would likely have a piano in the house. That familiarity with the keys of a piano made it seem intuitive to use the same setup on typewriters.
6. Typewriters Allowed an Avenue for Women
Women weren't a part of much of the workforce at the time that typewriters were invented. As the turn of the century rolled around, the typewriter wasn't used to compose so much as transcribe information.
So, the role of a typewriter -- one who uses a typewriter to transcribe -- was to listen to those who wanted information typed and put it down. This role was designated to women.
While the reasons for the position being designated to women were sexist, and genuine social change didn't come about quickly, the role provided a foot in the doorway for modern feminism.
Roughly 80 percent of early typewriters were women, and it provided a normalized way to break into the working world.
7. The Myth of the Typewriter
Typewriters are certainly a romantic object. The image of a passionate writer, working constantly to manifest their best works over and over again, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol is one that sticks.
There's some truth to that image. Whether or not individuals manifested that image as a result of the myth is unclear. Watch a video of Bob Dylan typing his poetry on a typewriter and you'll see the sort of relationship that a person could have with the machine.
That said, the "era" where every poet or artist did that is not a reality.
8. Mark Twain Wrote the First Typewritten Novel
Some people claim that Tom Sawyer was the first novel written on a typewriter, but Mark Twain swore off of using the machines half-way through writing Tom Sawyer.
In reality, Twain had Life on the Mississippi transcribed to a typewriter. It is said to be the first ever book that was submitted to a publisher after being typed on a typewriter.
9. Monkeys and Shakespeare?
Wershler-Henry once suggested a hypothetical question, asking how long it would take a group of monkeys sitting around a typewriter to "compose the words of Shakespeare?"
The question also had something to do with answers about the difference between humans and other animals, our thoughts, and our ability to make art.
10. Typewriters are Still Used in Some Places
There are a lot of people who use typewriters for their aesthetic value and feel, but there are still some professional typewriters in use. Places, primarily in India, where there is no reliable power source, typewriters are still used commonly when things still need to be typed.
Not that India is the primary country with spots that don't have regular power, but the practice of using typewriters is more common there.
11. Extreme Security
In a world where our information is not always secure, it's difficult to find mediums that allow you to be entirely secretive.
If you have information that you must keep a secret, our suggestion is to use a typewriter. No one can hack a typewriter.
Interested in Getting Your Hands on One?
Hopefully, this history of typewriters was enough to spark your interest in them. Typewriters have an original feel that can't be replaced by a modern keyboard.
If you're interested in learning more about typewriters or potentially buying one, visit our site or call us at 404-377-1884 for the information you need.