Sunday, August 9, 2009


Daily, people type away...blogging, texting, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (remember when being a "twit" was not a good thing...maybe that is why "tweet" came on board)...but, even so, as an article in this morning's Times commented, there is "something magical about a life less posted." Yet, here I am...posting!

And it is about the very item that makes this all possible...the keyboard...also know as a typewriter! One of the earlier machines looks like a pincushion.

The first successful typewriter was the Sholes & Glidden from 1874, but it was marketed successfully by Remington(yes, the gun people...see First Amendment followed by Second Amendment!)The original Type Writer was heavily decorated with colorful decals and gold paint. A foot treadle was provided for the carriage return.

William Jenne, the Remington engineer who set up the typewriter factory had been transferred from Remington's sewing machine division.

The name "QWERTY" for our typewriter keyboard comes from the first six letters in the top alphabet row (the one just below the numbers). It is also called the "Universal" keyboard for rather obvious reasons. It was the work of inventor C. L. Sholes, who put together the prototypes of the first commercial typewriter in a Milwaukee machine shop back in the 1860's.

For years, popular writers have accused Sholes of deliberately arranging his keyboard to slow down fast typists who would otherwise jam up his sluggish machine. In fact, his motives were just the opposite.

When Sholes built his first model in 1868, the keys were arranged alphabetically in two rows, but it jammed when someone tried to type with it. Sholes was able to figure out a way around the problem simply by rearranging the letters. Looking inside his early machine, we can see how he did it.

The first typewriter had its letters on the end of rods called "typebars." The typebars hung in a circle. The roller which held the paper sat over this circle, and when a key was pressed, a typebar would swing up to hit the paper from underneath. If two typebars were near each other in the circle, they would tend to clash into each other when typed in succession. So, Sholes figured he had to take the most common letter pairs such as "TH" and make sure their typebars hung at safe distances.

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.

Those of us who are older (ahem...vintage?), will remember taking typing classes and the phrases..."Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country"...or“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” I found 2 explanations...Sholes suuposedly used the latter to demonstrate to some people in a telegraph office, and another was that a typing teacher created the former since it fit 70 spaces with the period and could test speed and accuracy. Initially, all typing was done with hunt and peck...those of you who do that...I know you are out there...are simply classical typists!!

I do like the new jewelry being created with old typewriter keys although I am sure purists cringe at the rape of the key...but, other than the romantic shelf sitting ability of that typewriter, is it not better to have it repurposed into something useful such as...
So, as you type away remember...
“There's a statistical theory that if you gave a million monkeys typewriters and set them to work, they'd eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. Thanks to the Internet, we now know this isn't true.” (Ian Hart)

5 comments: said...

I am really glad to be reading your post this morning. There are two things that have helped me to communitate and express my feelings. One was when I married my big thinker husband, and the other was when I learned to type at the age of 14. I have one of those dear old typewriters. It was my husbands grandfathers. He was an attorney back in Georgia and he used it all through his practice. My husband in an attorney and he uses a very uptodate, upscale, computer. Quite a difference. I learned on an IBM manuel. I never really started liking what I did untill the computer. Now it's second nature to me.

Have a very sweet day, Miss Dutch Rose. Did I tell you that Dutch is my grandmas (from Denmark) ancestry!

Just a bed of roses said... the pictures, and the one that looks like a sewing maching cabinet has to crack me up, actually love it.

You are the best vintage story teller on any subject you do.

can you imagine the time and energy it would have taken to type on those things? All we would be able to do is say "hello there how are you" and have to take a nap!

so glad we can be twits, well I am not one, and not planning on it, but for those who want to...let them have at it!

gail said...

Hi susan :) How have you been? I love this weeks post. Everyone has some strange talent and mine was always typing. I can type at least 100 words per minute. At my job we have one of those old selectrics for the 80's. I love that thing. LOL I also really like that watch. How adorable.
Its been a little crazy lately for me, but life is getting back to normal,, whatever that may be! lol
Have a great week, (()) gail

Patricia said...

Hi Susan, as another vintage typist, I remember learning on those bohemoths in high school. Then I went off to Katherine Gibbs (another name we vintage folk remember)and learned on the selectric and the most advanced of that time, the Executive. This was a fun post, I really love that one in the cabinet.
Patricia Rose-A Potpourri of Fabric, Fragrance and Findings

ann at greenoak said...

thans for the report...
i love the jewelry....wish i could make it.... we have a several typewriters for sale....
my own says vintage....
hugs susan...ann