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The concept of a typewriter dates back at least to 1714, when Englishman Henry Mill filed a vaguely-worded patent for “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another.” But the first typewriter proven to have worked was built by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano. .

Numerous inventors in Europe and the U.S. worked on typewriters in the 19th century, but successful commercial production began only with the “writing ball” of Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen (1870). This well-engineered device looked rather like a pincushion. Nietzsche’s mother and sister once gave him one for Christmas. He hated it.

 

Much more influential, in the long run, was the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, which began production in late 1873 and appeared on the American market in 1874.

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer

Sholes & Glidden Type Writer

Christopher L. Sholes, a Milwaukee newspaperman, poet, and part-time inventor, was the main creator of this machine. The Sholes & Glidden typed only in capital letters, and it introduced the QWERTY keyboard, which is very much with us today. The keyboard was probably designed to separate frequently-used pairs of typebars so that the typebars would not clash and get stuck at the printing point. The S&G was a decorative machine, boasting painted flowers and decals. It looked rather like a sewing machine, as it was manufactured by the sewing machine department of the Remington arms company. For an in-depth look at this historic device, visit Darryl Rehr’s Web site “The First Typewriter.” The Sholes & Glidden had limited success, but its successor, the Remington, soon became a dominant presence in the industry.

The Sholes & Glidden, like many early typewriters, is an understroke or “blind” writer: the typebars are arranged in a circular basket under the platen (the printing surface) and type on the bottom of the platen. This means that the typist (confusingly called a “typewriter” herself in the early days) has to lift up the carriage to see her work. Another example of an understroke typebar machine is the Caligraph of 1880, the second typewriter to appear on the American market.

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