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Fascinating facts about the invention of the "QWERTY" Keyboard by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1875.

QWERTY KEYBOARD
AT A GLANCE:
In 1875,
Christopher Sholes with assistance from Amos Densmore  rearranged the typewriter keyboard so that the commonest letters were not so close together and the type bars would come from opposite directions. Thus they would not clash together and jam the machine. The new arrangement was the "QWERTY" arrangement that typists use today.
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES
QUOTATIONS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention: "QWERTY" keyboard
QWERTY keyboard image  Vaunt Design Group
Function: name /  QWERTY
Definition: A standard typewriter keyboard -- called also QWERTY keyboard . Name derived from the first six letters in the second row on English language computer and typewriter keyboards.
Patent: 207,559 (US) issued August 27, 1878
Inventor: Christopher Latham Sholes
Christopher Sholes image courtesy National Inventors Hall of Fame
Criteria; First practical.
Birth: February 14, 1819 in Mooresburg, Pennsylvania
Death: February 17, 1890 in  Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Nationality: American
Milestones:
1868 Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule patent type writing machine
1873 Remington & Sons mass produces the Sholes & Glidden typewriter
1875 Sholes and Amos Densmore redesign keyboard layout
1878 Sholes awarded patent for QWERTY keyboard improvement.
CAPS: Sholes, Christopher Latham Sholes, Amos Densmore, James Densmore, QWERTY, ARY, qwerty, typewriter keyboard, computer keyboard, universal keyboard, qwerty keyboard, SIP, history, biography, inventor, invention.
The Story:
Look at the keyboard of any standard typewriter or computer. "Q,W,E,R,T and Y" are the first six letters. Who decided on this arrangement of the letters? And why?

The first practical typewriter was patented in the United States in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes. His machine was known as the type-writer. It had a movable carriage, a lever for turning paper from line to line, and a keyboard on which the letters were arranged in alphabetical order.

But Sholes had a problem. On his first model, his "ABC" key arrangement caused the keys to jam when the typist worked quickly. Sholes didn't know how to keep the keys from sticking, so his solution was to keep the typist from typing too fast.


He did this using a study of letter-pair frequency prepared by educator Amos Densmore, brother of James Densmore, who was Sholes' chief financial backer. The QWERTY keyboard itself was determined by the existing mechanical linkages of the typebars inside the machine to the keys on the outside. Sholes' solution did not eliminate the problem completely, but it was greatly reduced.
.
The keyboard arrangement was considered important enough to be included on Sholes' patent granted in 1878, some years after the machine was into production. QWERTY's effect, by reducing those annoying clashes, was to speed up typing rather than slow it down.

The new arrangement was the "QWERTY" arrangement that typists use today. Of course, Sholes claimed that the new arrangement was scientific and would add speed and efficiency. The only efficiency it added was to slow the typist down, since almost any word in the English language required the typist's fingers to cover more distance on the keyboard.

The advantages of the typewriter outweighed the disadvantages of the keyboard. Typists memorized the crazy letter arrangement, and the typewriter became a huge success.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Chrisopher Sholes Biography   from The Great Idea Finder
History of Office Equipment   from The Great Idea Finder
Invention of the Typewriter  
from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Accidents May Happen: 50 Inventions Discovered by Mistake
by Charlotte Foltz Jones, John O'Brien (Illustrator) / Hardcover - 86 pages (1996) / Delacorte
Fifty inventions discovered by mistake receive entertaining cartoon embellishment but are actually serious subjects which will delight and entertain kids.

Popular Patents
by Travis Brown / Paperback - 224 pages / Scarecrow Press (September 1, 2000)

Eighty stories of America's first inventions. Each includes a sketch of the invention, a profile of the inventor and a glimpse of how the invention has found its way into American culture.
The Typewriter: An Illustrated History
by Victor M. Linoff (Editor), Typewriter Topics / Paperback: 128 pages / Dover Pubns
Until the publication of very rare, superbly illustrated volume, there were few books dedicated to the early history of the typewriter.
Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
by Friedrich A. Kittler, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young / Paperback: 344 pages (1999) / Stanford Univ Pr
A vital historical dimension to the current debates over the relationship between electronic literacy and post-structuralism, and the extent to which we are constituted by our technologies.
Quirky Qwerty: A Biography of the Keyboard
by Torbjorn Lundmark / Hardcover: 176 pages (March 2000) / New South Wales Univ Pr Ltd
The renowned typewriter expert's is sure to stimulate enthusiasm all over again, bringing you new and as yet unpublished insights into the origins of the invention itself in a detailed history of the machine.

ON THE WEB:
Why Change?
QWERTY refers to the most common form of layout of letters found on the keyboard of a typewriter or computer. From the UK Science Museum.

(URL: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/onlinestuff/stories/typewriters.aspx)
QWERTY is Cool. Learn to love it!
Despite more than a century of efforts to dislodge it... QWERTY survives.
(URL: home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/)
Typewriters in the Office
SciTech, Carbons to Computers series from the Smithsonian Institution. Practical writing machines became technologically feasible as early as the fourteenth century. The invention of at least 112 such machines preceded the successful Remington typewriter.
(URL: www.smithsonianeducation.org/scitech/carbons/typewriters.html)
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible.
.
(URL: www.invent.org/hall_of_fame/168.html)

Ainsworth & Partners
Typeing tutor software for sale.
(URL: www.qwerty.com
)
Typewriter Histroy
The first practical typewriter was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, and was marketed by the Remington Arms company in 1873.
(URL: www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/history.html)

WORDS OF WISDOM:
"Changing the keyboard format is like proposing to reverse the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, discard every moral principle, and ridicule motherhood"  - Dr. August Dvorak, no one cared for his redesigned more efficient keyboard.

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • There was buying resistance to the first typewriters, because poor spellers could no longer hide their ignorance by using poor handwriting
  • The word typewriter can be typed entirely using the top row of the QWERTY keyboard; it has been speculated that this may have been a factor in the choice of keys for ease of demonstration, although this is unlikely.
  • The average person is expected to type 30-40 words per minute using the touch typing technique on a QWERTY keyboard. 40-50 words per minute is considered excellent, and some have been clocked at over 90 words per minute.
  • Samuel L Clemens, better know as Mark Twain, was probably the first author to submit a typed script to his publisher? - he was one of the first to purchase a Sholes & Glidden typewriter.
  • The least expensive typewriter, produced in the late 1800`s, cost only $1, and was appropriately named, "The Dollar Typewriter"
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised April 26, 2007.
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