QWERTY Is Born

September 12, 2011 | posted in: Tech Chronicles | by

Technology that Shapes Our Lives

September 12, 1874

The First Practical Typewriter. Photo from explorepahistory.com.

The first practical typewriter was sold to customers.

A typewriter, by definition, is a small machine, either electric or manual, with type keys that produced characters one at a time on a piece of paper inserted around a roller. Typewriters have been largely replaced by personal computers and home printers.

Christopher Sholes, an American mechanical engineer, invented the first practical modern typewriter in 1866, with the financial and technical support of his business partners Samuel Soule and Carlos Glidden. Five years, dozens of experiments, and two patents later, Sholes and his associates produced an improved model similar to today’s typewriters.

The Sholes typewriter had a type-bar system and the universal keyboard was the machine’s novelty, however, the keys jammed easily. To solve the jamming problem, another business associate, James Densmore, suggested splitting up keys for letters commonly used together to slow down typing. This became today’s standard “QWERTY” keyboard.

Christopher Sholes lacked the patience required to market a new product and decided to sell the rights to the typewriter to James Densmore. He, in turn, convinced Philo Remington (the rifle manufacturer) to market the device. The first “Sholes & Glidden Typewriter” was offered for sale in 1874 but was not an instant success. A few years later, improvements made by Remington engineers gave the typewriter machine its market appeal and sales skyrocketed.

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