The first writing machine was patented in England in 1714 by Henry Mill but was never put into production. It was not until 1874 that the American gun manufacturer, Remington, began manufacturing a practical typewriter designed by Christopher Sholes, Samuel Soule and Carlos Glidden. This machine had a keyboard with four rows of keys, the now familiar Qwerty layout of keys (more correctly known as the Sholes layout), a wooden spacebar and a rubber platen (roller). It printed only capital letters.
The first typewriter to print both capitals and lower case letters was produced by Remington in 1879. This first machine used a shift key for changing between capitals and lower case but, in 1890, Remington and a number of rival companies introduced an alternative system of a “full keyboard” with both capital and lower-case keys
Early typewriters used a typebar mechanism in which raised letters on metal bars struck the inked ribbon when the key was pressed. In 1881, John Hammond produced a typewriter that used a revolving cylinder instead of a typebar – a precursor of the modern golfball mechanism.
In 1889, George Blickensderfer produced the Blick typewriter in which the letters were on a revolving wheel, as in later daisywheel typewriters. Blick’s Model S, released in 1893, was the first portable typewriter.
Up until 1897, all typewriters were “blind”, that is, the typebar struck the underside of the platen so that the users could not see what they were typing. The first “visible” typewriter was designed by a German, Franz Wagner, and manufactured by John Underwood in America.
The first electric typewriter was made by Blickenderfer in 1902.
The need for typists to be trained in a standardised system, led to the disappearance of all designs other than those based on the Underwood visible system and the Qwerty layout by about 1910.
Did you know?
Two reasons are usually given for the QWERTY layout of typewriter and computer keyboards.
One claim is that the layout was deliberately chosen to slow down typists because early typewriter mechanisms jammed if the typing was too fast.
The other common story is that the layout was designed to make it easy for salesmen to demonstrate by having all of the letters of the word “typewriter” in the top row.
In fact, the QUERTY layout evolved among the earliest users of typewriters who were telegraph operators who used them to quickly interpret morse code telegraph signals. The layout was designed to place groups of letters whose code could easily be mistaken, as the morse signal arrived, close together.
In 1908, Camillo Olivetti founded Olivetti SpA to manufacture mechanical typewriters in Ivrea, Italy. The firm was mainly developed by his son Adriano Olivetti, who took over the company in 1932. Its typewriters were fully mechanical until the mid 1960s when the first electromechanical typewriters were introduced.
Olivetti was famous for the attention it gave to design with products like the Lettera 22 and Lettera 32 designed by Marcello Nizzoli and the portable Olivetti Valentine designed by Ettore Sottsass.
In 1959, Olivetti purchased the Underwood Typewriter Company. In 1964 the company sold its electronics division to the American company General Electric.
Did you know?
Olivetti is regarded as the model for the innovative business culture seen today in Silicon Valley.
As well as high salaries, Olivetti financed a network of medical clinics operating for free in the areas around factories. It set up nurseries and kindergartens for nominal fees and subsidised after-school services, summer camps and holidays for the children of workers. It offered its female workers nine-and-a-half months maternity leave, full coverage of medical expenses and free pediatric services for children of employees up to 14 years of age.
A large library, in the factory at Ivrea, gave employees and citizens access to books and a large selection of local and foreign newspapers and magazines. The library held concerts and talks by artists and well-know intellectuals, often during the two-hour lunch break.
Index typewriters came on the market at about the same time that keyboard typewriters appeared.
Index machines have a chart on which all of the characters appear and a pointer or wheel that is used to select the desired one; pressing a lever prints the character. Index typewriters were slower and produced poorer results than the keyboard machines but they were mach cheaper and, as a result, were popular until about the end of the 19th century when sufficient second-hand keyboard machines were available to satisfy the demand for cheap typewriters.
Index typewriters continue to be used for some specialised applications, such as label printing.