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]

Typewriter.be

Typewriter.be

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    

Fabulous Antique Vtg Erika 5 Typewriter Of 1930s;.80 Years Old And Works PerfectVintage Royal Red Quiet De Luxe Typewriter W/carrying Case- Beautiful ConditionVoss Deluxe Script TypewriterVoss Deluxe Script TypewriterAntique Vtg Mercedes Superba Typewriter Of 1937,...78 Years Ago...and WorkingHammond 12 TypewriterVintage Pink Olympia De Luxe Deluxe Typewriter W Case & Cleaning KitBlickensderfer Model 9 Rare Antique Typewriter Yellow Keys 18 Antique Typewriter Ribbon Tins, Assorted LotBeautiful Royal Model O Typewriter -- Serviced With New Ink!Vintage 1920's Hammond Multiplex TypewriterVintage Bar-lock Typewriter Rare! Bankers Typewriter, Retro Desk Display RestoOlympia Sm3 Deluxe Portable Typewriter With Case Mfg.west Germany 1955 Vg++Vintage 1920's/ 1930's Royal Portable Manual Typewriter Black W/ CaseAmerican Girl Kit Kittredge Typewriter Brand NewNice Condition Vtg 1930's Smith Corona Glass Keys Portable Typewriter With CaseAntique Remington Standard No7 Under Strike TypewriterVintage Oliver TypewriterArt Deco 1941 Remington Rand 5 Streamliner Machine Age Typewriter StreamlineCorona Sterling Vintage Typewriter With Original Case L.c. Smith & Corona1:6 Scale Did Wwii German Heeres Sophie D80103 - Metal Typewriter W/ CaseRare Rheinmetall Green Typewriter W Case Portable Germany 1960 S 09/2552 WorkingC1915 Corona Xc-d Typewriter Portable Folding With Case Excellent Plus WorkingCorona Four Vintage Typewriter W/ Original Case Corona Typewriter Co Groton NyVintage Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter Green Case Nice No ResVintage Underwood Champion Portable Typewriter Art Deco 1930's Rare Color RedRemington Portable TypewriterVintage Olympia Werke A.g. Wilhelmshaven De Luxe Brown Typewriter With Hard CaseUnderwood Portable Antique Typewriter Danish / Norwegian Keyboard 1930's VintageVintage 1950s, Smith Corona, Silent Super *pink* Typewriter W/case, Still WorksAmerican Girl Kit Kittredge Typewriter Brand New Antique Shiny Black 1933 Royal Portable Typewriter O Model Yellow Glass KeysAntique 1940s Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable Typewriter With Original Case. L2031- Antique Vintage Black Remington Portable Typewriter Vintage Antique Typewriter: Royal Vintage Green Smith Corona Sterling Typewriter W Case & InstructionsVintage Corona 4 Portable Typewriter W/ Case & Accessories, 1924, Beautiful !! 1930 Vintage Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter W/ Case Collectable AntiqueBeautiful Bright Green Antique Visible Monarch Typewriter In Case !Antique Royal Arrow Vintage Portable TypewriterVtg Smith-corona Sterling Mid-century Portable Manual Typewriter W/ Case 1935 Underwood Noiseless Portable Typewriter W Nu Ribbon Case ManualVintage Portable Typewriter With Case..remington..streamliner..sperry Rand..aquaSmall Portable Smith Corona Skyriter Typewriter Gray Green Keys Vintage 1950sAntique Circa 1930 Remington Portable #3 Typewriter Blue/greenVintage Portable Royal Typewriter Amazing Condition + BooksBeautiful Olympia Sm8 Typewriter! Cursive!!! Working!!!Vintage Smith Corona Cougar Ii Teal Aqua Blue Portable Manual Typewriter Typewriter Keys Lot (48) Ultra Thin Bold Letters Mint Condition Removable BacksVintage Hermes Featherweight Typewriter In CaseVery Scarce Antique C1905 German Childs Typewriter By S.g Gunthermann NuremburgVintage Antique Corona Rare Folding Portable Typewriter With CaseVintage Smith Corona Sterling Portable Typewriter & CaseRoyal Portable Typewriter (excellent Condition)Antique Remington Portable TypewriterVintage Heremes Baby Typewriter With Case Green Made In SwitzerlandVintage Typewriter Keys1945 - 1949 Smith Corona Sterling Portable Typewriter 4a W/ Case Parts Or RepairVintage Royal Companion Portable Manual Typewriter, Case & Origional Paperwork. Vintage Smith Corona Classic 12 Typewriter W/hard Case! No Reserve!!

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

The Cleveland Flea: Shoppers' fave finds (photos)
cleveland.com, March 31st

The shopper: Shelly Bishop from Rocky River says, "My favorite thing about the Flea is the energy it brings to our city, knowing that I can find a $2 antique Bingo card, a $45 teal blue 1970 typewriter or a $20 vintage faux fur evening coat." She added...Read more

Guernsey and Jersey: the ghosts of occupation linger in all corners
Telegraph.co.uk, March 31st

Castle Cornet, St Peter Port's guardian, was designed to repel a foe of another vintage, the 13th-century French. But the occupiers who found this 1206-born fortress unprotected – as they found the whole archipelago undefended and ... Diligently...Read more

How Hayley Thurston's passion for vintage tea parties blossomed into a business
Cambridge News, March 31st

There are library stairs decked with decoupaged letters, spelling out Mr & Mrs, and a drop-fronted bureau lined in antique maps and topped with a typewriter, scrolled with a welcome message for wedding guests – plus shelves and suitcases filled to...Read more

Design Showstopper = Family Home
DailyNorthShore.com, March 29th

Other features that stop visitors dead in their tracks are a British-style red phone booth off the kitchen, a bathroom with mod vintage T.V. Guide wallpaper, and an expansive light-filled living room with Scandinavian tangerine furniture that would...Read more

Do you have items that once graced Saginaw's Roethke House? Artifact ...
MLive.com, March 29th

But will unknown buyers -- who may have purchased furniture at antique stores, yard sales or an estate sale in the late 1990s -- know what they have and bring things back to their one-time home, known today as the Theodore Roethke House? The Friends of...Read more

List of 'top US cities for hipsters' does not include Austin
Austin American-Statesman (blog), March 27th

Balderdash. Poppycock. Artisanal baloney. That's what we have to say about a recent list of the top U.S. cities for hipsters, which excludes handlebar hotbeds like Portland, Ore.; New York City; and most egregiously, Austin. CBS Moneywatch compiled a ...Read more

The typewriter is making a comeback
Kearney Hub, March 27th

Why a typewriter? There's just something about seeing a story or a letter bloom with every clack and watch it blossom into this finished product right before our eyes. The sound, the smell of musty antique stores and that urgent need to use it again...Read more

Five Practical Uses for a Vintage Manual Typewriter
Wall Street Journal, December 26th

MANUAL TYPEWRITERS may be anachronisms in a touch-screen world, but they are experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and not only among writers arched over their desks like commas. While the comeback has been spurred in part by a vibrant online ...Read more