The typewriter was a revolutionary invention that changed the dynamics of the world of letters. We owe the invention of the modern-day typewriter to a multi-faceted genius named Christopher Latham Sholes. Born in 1819 in Milwaukee, USA, Sholes was a publisher, a politician, and a philosopher. He is now known as the ‘father of typewriter’.
However, the earlier forms of the typewriter had originated as early as 1714. It was invented by Henry Mill. Still, it was Sholes who made a practical model and commercialized the product.
Sholes had been working as the editor of a newspaper when he set out to make a new device that would automatically number the pages in the books. He was joined by a fellow publisher, Samuel W. Soule. They developed a numbering machine in 1866 and took out a patent for it. Later on, they were joined by Carlos Glidden, a lawyer interested in inventions. It was Glidden who suggested the idea of a machine that could print not just numbers but also letters. It was then they came across an article in the Scientific American magazine about ‘Pterotype’, a prototype typewriter invented by John Pratt. Realizing that they could improvise the Pterotype, the group set out the experiments. The word ‘typewriting’ was first used in that article as well.
John Pratt’s Pterotype
After many experiments, Sholes and his colleagues developed a simple device. This contained printer’s types mounted on a little rod, which were designed to strike upward onto a flat plate holding the carbon papers sandwiched between sheets of writing paper. This enabled the printing of multiple copies. The strike on the types would produce the imprints. Pressing the keys would swing the type bar up to the cylindrical plate with a ribbon for inking.
Sholes’ Typewriter, 1873
Sholes got the patent for the device in 1868 and found an investor in a man named James Densmore. Despite the exit of his two colleagues from the business, Sholes continued to work on improvising his machine with Densmore. They consulted a stenographer named James O. Clephane, who made many suggestions for improvement for the device.
In 1873, this team approached the Remington Arms Company, an industrial giant and the makers of arms and farm tools. The New York-based firm bought the patent and took up the manufacture of the typewriter. In a short period of time, they acquired a large market worldwide. The first Remington typewriters were manufactured in 1874. Later, many more versions and models entered the typewriter market and dominated it.
Even though Sholes sold his patent, he continued experiments on typewriters and went on to develop the QWERTY keyboard, which is still in use today. The typewriters became a blessing for many authors and those who work in writing jobs. Mark Twain, the legendary writer who created the unforgettable characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, is credited as the first author to use a typewriter.
With most people using computers for writing these days, classic typewriters aren’t so common anymore. There are still a few models in circulation for those who prefer such a writing medium, while the electronic versions provide an easier experience.