Complete History of Typing

Historically, of course, all writing was done by hand.

The first-ever person to license a typewriter was Henry Mill. His idea is entered in the records in the British Patent Office in 1714. Unfortunately, Henry Mill never got around to completing his machine due to hastiness with manufacturing it.

More types of typewriters were invented after this but were huge and heavy, some matching the size of a piano, and took longer to use than handwriting itself, which defeated the purpose!

Here is how typing evolved with time:

  • In 1575, an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazetto, developed the scrittura tattile, the device to print letters in papers.
  • In 1714, Henry Mill received a patent in Britain for a device that, from the patent, seems to have been similar to a typewriter. 
  • In 1802, Italian Agostino Fantoni revealed a unique typewriter to allow his blind sister to write.
  • In 1808, Italian Pellegrino Turri invented the typewriter. He also invented carbon paper to provide the ink for his machine.
  • In 1823, Italian Pietro Conti di Cilavegna developed a new model of typewriter, the tachigrafo, also known as tachitipo.
  • In 1829, American William Austin Burt licensed a machine called the “Typographer” which, in common with many other early machines, is listed as the “first typewriter”. The London Science Museum describes it merely as “the original writing mechanism whose invention was documented”, but even that claim may be excessive since Turri’s invention pre-dates it. Even in the hands of its inventor, this machine was more gradual than handwriting. Burt and his promoter John D. Sheldon never found a buyer for the patent, so the design was never commercially produced. Because the typographer used a dial, rather than keys, to select each character, it was called an “index typewriter” rather than a “keyboard typewriter”. Index typewriters of that era resemble the squeeze-style embosser from the 1960s more than they match the modern keyboard typewriter.
  • Giuseppe Ravizza, a prolific typewriter inventor, born in Italy in 1811 (died 1885), spent nearly 40 years of his life obsessively grappling with the complexities of inventing the usable writing machine. He called his invention Cembalo scrivano o “macchina da scrivere a tasti” because of its piano-type keys and keyboard. The account of the 16 models he produced between 1847 and the early 1880s is illustrated in The Writing Machine and illustrated from Ravizza’s 1855 patent, which bears resemblances to the later upstroke picture of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter.
  • American Charles Thurber acquired multiple patents, of which his first in 1843 was developed as an aid to the blind, such as the 1845 Chirographer.
  • In 1855, the Italian Giuseppe Ravizza created a prototype typewriter called Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti (“Scribe harpsichord, or machine for writing with keys”). It was an advanced machine that let the user see the writing as it was transcribed.
  • In 1861, Father Francisco João de Azevedo, a Brazilian priest, made his own typewriter with primary materials and tools, such as wood and knives. In that same year, the Brazilian emperor D. Pedro II presented a gold medal to Father Azevedo for this invention. Many Brazilian people, as well as the Brazilian federal government, recognize Fr. Azevedo as the inventor of the typewriter, a claim that has been the subject of some debate.
  • In 1865, John Pratt, of Centre, Alabama (US), built the machine called the Pterotype which appeared in an 1867 Scientific American article and inspired other inventors.
  • Between 1864 and 1867, Peter Mitterhofer, a carpenter from South Tyrol (then part of Austria) revealed several models and a fully functioning prototype typewriter in 1867.
  • The first typewriter to be commercially successful was invented in 1878 by Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use or even recommend it. It looked “like something like a cross between a piano and a kitchen table”

Scholes sold the rights of the typewriter over to Densmore, and Densmore lifted the typewriter and its usability by using Philo Remington to market the machine. It was not an instant success, however. The first Scholes and Glidden typewriter was offered for sale in 1873. It was not until a few years later that Remington’s engineers worked on the device and developed it, that it became a success and sales rocketed. The first typewriter sold for $125. About 5000 were sold in the next four years and about 6 different models emerged in that time due to improvements. On some machines, the return (carriage return) could be used by a foot pedal.

The keyboard then was devised in a way that the most generally used letters were next to each other and thus, It was found that the keys jammed easily. Business associates, James Densmore proposed separating the most commonly used keys away from each other to slow down typing, and this is how we got today’s keyboard arrangement, the QWERTY (the first six letters on the keyboard).

Typewriters became popular in offices in the late 1880s. Initially, the typewriter could only produce capital letters but it was later modified with upper and lower case letters. A typewriter has (and still does on modern typewriters) a carriage carrying a large roller which is used to return, (hence the name carriage return) and a small roller to hold the paper in place.

If you commit any error it required a lot of rubbing out (including the carbon copies) or starting all over again.

Tippex was not developed until the 1950s and even then it was a powdery paper type of substance (not like the fluid we have now). But before you used it you had to still have to tub out the error on all of the carbon copies first. And then it still made a bit of a mess, so the efficiency was paramount.

In the 1970s a Remington was still used and most students had to complete an RSA Certificate of proficiency in typing. This took a lot of time and care and if an error was made Tippex was used to fix errors. In the 1980s, computers became more and more exceptional and of course today, we have modern computers (thank goodness for that)!

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