When you think about it, typing on a computer is a magical thing—just hit the keys you want, and letters magically appear on a screen in front of you. The modern typewriter, for all of its analogue components, isn’t much different, but typewriters weren’t always so easy, intuitive, or standardized.

Henry Mill filed the first patent for a typewriter in 1714, although the machine he envisioned was never built. While a few typewriters were made sporadically in Europe and America in the early 19th century, none were produced on a large scale.

In 1874, Christopher Sholes developed one that would change that; with backing from Carlos Glidden, he proposed the design for the Sholes & Glidden typewriter to E. Remington & Sons, a manufacturing plant that had formerly specialized in guns but was looking to diversify its business with the Civil War over. In that first year, E. Remington produced 1,000 Sholes & Glidden typewriters, making it the first historically important typewriter and the first to be mass-produced.

Even so, the machine was a far cry from modern typewriters. For starters, it could only print capital letters, and the type arms struck the paper from underneath; this design was called upstrike or understrike. The unhappy result was that typists could only see what they were typing by lifting the carriage, which resulted in the nickname “Blind Remington” and prevented the Sholes & Glidden typewriter from becoming very popular, in spite of its beautiful, hand-painted floral decorations.

Yet this typewriter, for all its imperfections, would come to shape history. It was the first to utilize the now familiar “QWERTY” keyboard, so named for the sequence of keys that begins its top row of letters. Sholes designed the QWERTY keyboard to solve one of the problems of type bars: if two adjacent keys were hit in quick succession, they would collide. QWERTY keyboards minimized these clashes by separating letters frequently used in sequence (like t and h) and those used most often.

Despite its purposeful inefficiency, the Sholes & Glidden typewriter was the first to be faster than handwriting and thus showed the promise of the device. Additionally, with improved carbon paper, typewriters could generate multiple copies of the same document.

In 1878, E. Remington released an updated version of the original Sholes & Glidden, the Perfect Type Writer No. 2 (later known as Standard No. 2). This typewriter could type lowe...

But typewriters were still far from perfect. In the fashion of Darwinian evolution, typewriters mutated and evolved over time in a blossoming marketplace. Gradually, the best combinations of mechanisms and designs began to emerge, although manufacturers experimented almost endlessly along the way, sometimes simply in an effort to avoid patent infringement.

The Caligraph, released in 1881, was the first major competitor to E. Remington. Unlike the Standard No. 2, the Caligraph featured a “full” keyboard, with separate keys for lower- and uppercase letters. For years, manufacturers would battle over whether keyboards should have one set of keys (with a shift button) or two sets of keys, one for uppercase and one for lowercase.

Some ignored the debate entirely. The Hammond typewriter, for example, did not utilize type bars at all. Instead, it utilized a piece of rubber called a type shuttle, which had the type letters engraved in it. A hammer hit the paper against the type shuttle. The Oliver, which was first produced in 1894, had vertical type bars, which made it a remarkably durable choice in the deserts of North Africa during World War II, since sand would simply blow through the machine, rather than clog it up.

The Daugherty Visible of 1891 was the first typewriter to feature visible writing. Its front-strike mechanism became the standard typewriter design around 1908, when Remington and Smith Premier produced their own front-strike models.

As typewriters evolved, so did the techniques typists utilized. In 1888, touch typing—typing without looking at the keyboard—spread quickly, which heralded an even more dramatic increase in typing speed. This development, combined with the increasing availability and affordability of machines, boosted the typewriter to prominence in business offices.

Consumers who wanted a typewriter for more casual use, however, were generally hard-pressed: typewriters were almost prohibitively expensive. To meet growing demand, some manufacturers in the late 19th century developed index machines, which dispensed with keyboards altogether. Instead of typing on keys, the typist turned a knob or dial to select the desired character and then pressed a button to print that character. While these machines were slower than typewriters, they were more affordable.

This period of diversity, which many typewriter collectors consider a sort of Golden Age, saw the beginning of its end in 1896 with the release of the Underwood. The Underwood had many of the features we recognize as standard in modern typewriters—four rows of keys, with a shift key and a front strike. Type bars struck the front of the platen (the rubber roller that the paper rests on). Finally, here was a typewriter that had solved the problem of visible writing in an elegant, practical way.

In the 1920s, typewriters began to be standardized more or less along the lines of the Underwood machine, and diversity in typewriter design gradually disappeared.

Collectors today can easily identify typewriters by the brand names that are generally stamped on the fronts of these machines in large letters. The exact age and year can be more difficult to determine, but serial and model numbers are useful starting points.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Retro Tech Geneva

Retro Tech Geneva

A Swiss blogger name Adwoa creates “typecasts,” which are blog posts typed on a typewriter, then scanned and po… [read review or visit site]

Machines of Loving Grace

Machines of Loving Grace

Taking its name from a 1985 poem about the last Smith-Corona made in the United States, Alan Seaver’s handsome ty… [read review or visit site]

Mr. Martin’s Typewriter Museum

Mr. Martin’s Typewriter Museum

Mr. Martin has got to be the coolest 6th-grade teacher in the San Diego area. He collects bicycles, computers, calc… [read review or visit site]

The Classic Typewriter Page

The Classic Typewriter Page

Richard Polt's celebration of the typewriter. Clean as a white sheet of bond paper, with stunning images, the site … [read review or visit site]

The Martin Howard Collection

The Martin Howard Collection

Martin Howard's crisp, visually stunning collection of early vintage typewriters and related accessories like ribbo… [read review or visit site]

Typewriters by Will Davis

Typewriters by Will Davis

Will Davis' impressive collection of microsites on antique typewriters includes in-depth information on portables, … [read review or visit site]

Virtual Typewriter Museum

Virtual Typewriter Museum

This comprehensive site, a group effort, features a huge and beautiful collection browsable by brand and era, plus … [read review or visit site]



For a whimsical and highly visual take on antique typewriters, check out this site. Wim Van Rompuy and Guy Pérard … [read review or visit site]

Early Office Museum

Early Office Museum

This site showcases pre-1920 office antiques, including paperweights, writing ink, paper fasteners, seal pressers, … [read review or visit site]

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Antique 1890s Williams No 1 Straight Typewriter In BoxReally Old Vintage Typewriter Royal Barlock Bar-lockAntique American Typewriter - The Home Blickensderfer - Boxed!Vintage ~ C1915 ~ "imperial Model B" TypewriterRare Antique Hammond Typewriter Hammond 2 Excellent Working Condition Very Old!Antique Ludolf Index Typewriter Ca.1930 Rare German Schreibmaschine VtgVintage Remington Typewriter Model 12 Address Buttons Retro Antique Old OfficeRare Vintage Hermes 3000 Typewriter, Cursive/script, Case, Seafoam Green, 1964Vintage Royal Portable Art Deco Typewriter With Original CaseAntique Vintage Imperial The Good Companion Typewritter / Typewriter See VideoVery Rare Bennett Miniature Typewriter 1930s Nice Condition With Leather CaseLc Smith & Corona Typewriter, 1942 Floating Shift Rare Green Rubber KeysAntique Royal Typewriter 1920's Portable Vintage Collector's Black Gold KeyVintage L.c.smith & Corona Typewriter Model 8 Secretarial Military Green RetroCommercial Visible No.6 Typewriter - RareRoyal Portable TypewriterOlympia Sm4 Typewriter - BlackVintage Small 1920s Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter w Case BlackVintage Royal Portable Typewriter With Touch Control No ReserveVintage Underwood TypewriterRemington Typewriter S25 Series Serial #? Portable?Blickensderfer Typewriter No 5 In Wooden Case Good Working ConditionVery Poor Condition Imperial Model B Typewriter...for Parts.Vintage Royal Portable Typewriter Black W/ Glass Keys, Some Keys Stick.Remington Rand Model 5 Streamline TypewriterHermes Rocket TypewriterVintage Underwood Standard 4 Bank Portable Typewriter W/case, 1920's, GorgeousSteampunk Usb Pc Keyboard Antique Typewriter Keys Vintage 1930s Typewriter Corona Antique Working Maroon Color And Carry CaseAntique Vintage Steampunk Underwood Standard Typewriter Low Serial # 702301-12Vintage Remington 333 Portable Manual Typewriter With Original Case - WorksVintage Corona Folding Portable Typewriter; #3; 1913/1917Vintage Typewriter Keys 52 Pcs.Vintage Typewriter Keys With With Bonus Ribbon Tin - 50 Key Lot - Glass CoveredRare Royal Blue Remington Portable Typewriter With Case Working Condition RibbonAntique Royal Quiet De Luxe Manual Typewriter Tombstone Glass Keys W/ CaseRemington Rand Quiet-riter Miracle Tab Manual TypewriterAntique Corona Portable Typewriter, Folding, W/ Case, Vintage Royal "quiet Deluxe" TypewriterVintage Royal Typewriter Touch Control - BlackAntique Two Toned Blue Remington Typewriter Serial No. V223817Antique 20's Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter Vintage Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32 Portable Manual Typewriter Blue Case Cover47 Clean Antique Vintage Royal Black Typewriter Keys Chrome Rings Flat BacksVintage Royal Portable Typewriter Working Blue W/ Glass Keys Serial P45436 Typewriter Ribbon Tin-------------glider---a Great Rare Tin Picturing A Glider!!Beautiful Antique Vintage Corona Folding Portable Typewriter W/ Carrying CaseVintage Typewriter Stand Table Industrial Age Mid Century Steampunk DecorVintage Royal Sabre Portable Typewriter In Case ** Works Great **Antique Remington No. 1 Portable Typewriter 1920s Beautiful Machine Excellent Vintage Remington Standard No. 6 Typewriter With All Original PartsVtg Royal Mcbee Eldorado Typewriter Holland Gold/black With Case/instructions49 Smith Corona Typewriter Keys Flat BackVintage Royal Safari Manual Typewriter - Vermelon Red - W CaseOriginal Flea Greg Quayle Metal Sculpture Office Typewriter Worker Secretary BugVintage 1935 Royal Portable Typewriter - Super Clean--read!Vintage Underwood Metal Typewriter Ribbon Covers Parts Or RestoreVintage Used Scm Smith Corona Cougar Manual Portable Typewriter With Case Pat.1917 Corona No. 3 Folding Typewriter W/case-beautiful Vintage Machine Mm40Great Working 1948 Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter With Case & Manual

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

Put On The Spot, These Nashville Writers Produce 'Poetry On Demand'
WPLN, October 9th

Ciona Rouse, with The Porch writers collective, composes "poetry on demand" on a vintage typewriter. Tony Gonzalez / WPLN. Listen. Listening... /. 2:35. Hear the radio version of this story. Amid Nashville's storytelling culture — which tends to come...Read more

32 Short Thoughts About Andy Warhol
artnet News, October 8th

16) The vintage Campbell's label is also perfectly in keeping with the Pop pictures Warhol had made just before, also riffing on nostalgic designs: A candlestick telephone from the 1920s (his very first apartment had come with one), a Royal typewriter...Read more

Matt Damon is alone on Mars and having the time of his life
Chicago Reader, October 8th

Watney's quest to communicate with NASA gets the same sort of careful observation: equipped with only a rotating still camera, he centers it inside a circle of signs labeled with ASCII code to create a sort of primitive interplanetary typewriter...Read more

Inside Rihanna's Glitzy, Artsy Album Cover Launch
RollingStone.com, October 8th

After unveiling the paintings, Rihanna went into a back room to type a note on a vintage typewriter she found there, said MAMA co-owner Adarsna Benjamin. The event came together in just 24 hours, taking the place of a planned East Coast event...Read more

Jerry Lewis Holds Sway at the Friars Club
New York Times, October 6th

Between gags and one-liners, Mr. Lewis played numerous video clips from his career: vintage TV performances with his former partner, Dean Martin, on “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” and their surprise reunion on Mr. Lewis's telethon for the Muscular...Read more

8. Nice hunting camper, 11ft slide-in truck camper, $550
Sheridan Media (press release), October 6th

Vinyl records and CDs, hunting and fishing items, jack knives and hunting knives, coins, gold and silver, broken jewelry, railroad items, military and mining items, vintage photographs and stamps, aviation related items, vintage beer related items...Read more

The Little Branch vintage store brings antique artifacts to Westwood
Daily Bruin, October 6th

Floral arrangements, gift baskets, a turquoise stenographer's typewriter, a tea set or a '50s surfboard table catch passersby's attention and persuade them to stop in and look around. Warriner said one woman stopped by and bought a vintage pie-holding...Read more

Millennials (and Tom Hanks) buying vintage typewriters
San Jose Mercury News, July 22nd

At Vintiq, a hip vintage-goods store in Alameda, Raf Janssens displays a couple of antique typewriters in the showroom but sells many more to online collectors searching for certain models. He taught himself to repair the machines, not only for the...Read more