The typewriter was an extremely innovative piece of technology. Originally intended as a machine for the blind, it soon skyrocketed into something more. Printing had been around since the invention of the printing press around 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg. But the idea for a new machine had been around for a while, as in 1714, Queen Anne of England granted a patent to Henry Mill for an “artificial machine…for impressing…of letters singly or progressively…whereby all writings whatsoever may be engrossed in paper…so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print.”[1] The first American patent for a writing machine appeared as early as 1829 by William Burt, and for the typewriter appeared in 1843 by Charles Thurber. Their machines however, were not the successful story known today. Thurber’s machine was too slow and did not have any success. Just as important as the inventors are, promoters are needed for technology to be successful as well, and Christopher Latham Sholes was able to find an able partner in James Densmore.

Sholes created a writing machine in 1867 that was the ancestor to all standard typewriters thereafter. After reading about a typewriting machine being invented by James Pratt of Alabama, Sholes began to improve upon his latest model. He ended up building between twenty-five and thirty models total and demonstrated the most recent model in 1873. He presented it to E. Remington & Sons with Densmore and they began manufacturing as it was an idea that would “revolutionize business” according to Benedict Remington.[2] The first commercial typewriter was manufactured in 1873; the Remington No. 1 was very archaic. It only typed in capital letters and the user could not see the line they were typing. This is where the G.W.N. Yost’s Caligraph comes into play. Densmore eventually split from Shole and Remington and began working with Yost. Yost had been creating a writing machine of his own and in 1881 it was ready to be put on the market. Unlike Sholes machine, this was a “beautiful writer”[3] and the second model had a double keyboard with upper and lower case. Even though this was true, it was slower than Shole’s machine, though intended to be faster, none of the features of the Caligraph stood out as real advancements and was not quite as successful.

The typewriter indeed revolutionized business. It allowed for its expansion and sped up life, as most American technologies have seemed to do. More companies were taking the risk of manufacturing the machine and competition was rising. The typewriter allowed for more efficiency in shorthand, and eventually became a symbol of the American woman worker, as secretaries all over the country began using them. Clerical work defined women workers, and the typewriter became the main tool, or machine, that those women used in their “production.”

For my blog I am going to separate my research into different aspects of the typewriter’s history such as the antecedents, the invention and technical aspects of the machine itself, the manufacturing of it, and the effects it had on American culture, especially women.

[1] John Zellers, The Typewriter: A Short History on its 75th Anniversary 1873-1948. (New York: The Newcomen Society of England, 1848), 8-9.

[2] Ibid, 12.

[3] Richard Current, The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1954), 103.

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