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    

Vintage 50's - Pink Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter W/ Case- RareDesign Typewriter Olivetti Valentine Ettore Sottsass + Carry Case Eames PantonCorona No 3 Standard Folding Typewriter With Case Serial #37764 Made In 1913Vintage Antique The Chicago Circa 1892 Collectible TypewriterVintage Rare Green Smith Corona Typewriter With Case #1050663 TAntique Vintage 1930s L.c. Smith Corona 8 10 Typewriter Works Black *no Reserve*Persnickety Typewriter Top 6 Nwt, Cream Ruffle Shorts 5 Euc1930s Working Vintage Underwood Universal Portable Typewriter With Original CaseAntique 'the Printype' Oliver #9 Typewriter Patent June 10th 1913 Green VintageVintage "refurbished" Remington Model 1 Portable Typewriter Antique BlackAntique Blickensderfer #5 Typewriter In All Original Oak CaseAntique Typewriter Underwood Universal 1930's Portable Typewriter W/case Vintage1907 "junior Typewriter Co." Miniature Typewriter By Charles BennettAntique Corona No. 3 Folding Portable Typewriter Vintage Portable Royal Touch Control Typewriter In Hard CaseDesign Typewriter Monpti Stefan Lengyel + Carry Case Eames Panton SottsassNear Mint 1950's Lettera 22 Typewriter Underwood Olivetti Italy With CaseVintage Olivetti Lettera 22 Typewriter - 1956? - Euc! - Original Case ItalyVintage Royal Touch Control 1930’s Model O Glass Keys Portable Typewriter & CaseRare Vintage Adler Tippa S Manual Portable Typewriter W/case Script Font RmVintage Hermes 3000 Portable Lightweight Typewriter In Case Sea Foam Green AquaVintage Corona "model 4" Typewriter In Case Just Serviced! PortableAntique Underwood No. 5 Typewriter, 1923Typewriter Russian Cyrillic Collectible Vintage Antique Rare Hermes RocketAntique Vintage 1920's-1930's Royal Portable Typewriter Model O-377886 Working!Vintage Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter Four Bank Usa W/case Works Great!Vintage Socialite Olympia Manual Portable Typewriter W/ Cover Case Vintage Remington Portable Typewriter With CaseVtg 1914 Underwood No. 5 Standard Typewriter With Tabulator Works Fine - VideoVintage Remington Rand Model 5 Manual Portable Typewriter W/ Case Vintage 1957 Maroon (red) Groma T TypewriterVintage Smith Corona Manual Typewriter Silent Original Case. Great Condition! White Royal De Luxe Typewriter W/ Case Portable Vg++Vintage Corona Special Folding Portable Typewriter Antique -corona-fold - Up (folding) Typewriter With-case-booklet---to -restoreVintage Monarch Pioneer Portable Typewriter In Case Red / Black Keys W/ CaseOne Working Portable Typewriter - Royal Adler Brother Olympia 1of6 Your Choice!Old Vintage Remington Portable Standard Typewriter & Case Spanish ?Vintage Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter. #a-1179371. Black With Carrying CaseAntique White 41 Vintage Underwood Typewriter Flat Glass Keys Chrome Ring CraftVintage L. C. Smith & Corona Typewriter, "sterling" Burgundy Gem 1930'sAntique Vintage Underwood Number #5 Manual Typewriter Working Condition #1242372Vintage Royal Portable Typewriter With Case - Serial: P20596032 Vintage Corona Portable Thin Typewriter Keys Flat Smooth Backs Antique/vintage Underwood Model No. 5 Standard Manual Typewriter Glass Keys UsaMid-century Royal Quiet De Luxe Deluxe Brown Typewriter Green Keys Case WorksVintage Hermes Baby Portable Traveling Typewriter E. Paillard Switzerland SwissVintage Typewriter Keys 130 Mixed Lot Black & White L-11Vintage Royal Beautiful Green Portable Typewriter & Case Gorgeous Working Cond.The Oliver No 3 Visible Writer Typewriter - Antique!1930's Lc Smith & Corona Typewriter Maroon Case Model Silent Flat Top VintageVintage Chrome Ring - Flat Bottom Typewriter KeysVtg Crane & Company Topeka Kansas Advertising Tin - Typewriter Ribbons, Nibs?Vintage Olympia Sm 3 Deluxe Two Tone Burgundy Gray Typewriter W Case Germany Vintage Smith Corona Pink Silent Super Portable Typewriter With Case 1950sVintage 1925 Royal Model 10 Typewriter Glass Sided Black Antique 120 Typewriter Keys! Flat Backs! 20's-50's. Underwood Corona Remington Royal.Vintage Monarch Portable Typewriter W/ Case Made By Remington Rand Nice!Vintage-turquoise-blue-olivetti-underwood-lettera-32-typewriter Works Great Nr !Vintage Facit 1620 - Portable Manual Typewriter Sweden W/case Tested & Working

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

Small Is Beautiful at The Noble
Urban Milwaukee Dial, April 24th

We sit in the back by the croquet set across from an antique typewriter and above us, old photos decorate the wall. There's an odd collection of bric-a-brac here, something like a long-forgotten grandma's attic minus the dust, or as my friend says, “It...Read more

White guy in your MFA: 'I nobly pursue something purer than wealth – truth itself'
The Guardian, April 24th

I have just finished a rather large tumbler of whiskey and now I am sitting at my desk, straightening the pages of a manuscript I pulled from my vintage Royal typewriter. The piece – human, being – is a prose poem about a man watching trains pass...Read more

Exclusive: Watch Bret Easton Ellis Discuss Why He Writes
Style.com, April 24th

Reflections from a swimming pool dance across Ellis' face while he plugs away, inexplicably, on his vintage typewriter while sitting on a diving board and in other precarious situations. “The urge to write is an overwhelming feeling,” he says. Check...Read more

'Poetry Fox' judges MFA art
The Daily Tar Heel (blog), April 23rd

He said he was inspired to create Poetry Fox in order to get out in public and write spontaneous work because he found it engaging. “I sit with my vintage typewriter and people give me a word,” he said. “I bang out a poem immediately with that word as...Read more

Review: 'Laugh Killer Laugh' Works the Noir Waterfront
New York Times, April 23rd

Frank Stone (William Forsythe), the steely, taciturn protagonist of “Laugh Killer Laugh,” is the sort of hard-boiled murderer that screenwriters love. He drives a vintage car and owns a typewriter. When not pulling heists for a mob boss (Victor...Read more

County museum offers 'Remember Ramps'
Victorville Daily Press, April 23rd

The ramps that connect the museum lobby with the upper floor have been transformed into "Remember Ramps" with historical artifacts, photographs and vintage advertisements. ... Visitors can actually try out a typewriter, a dial phone or a calculator...Read more

'Adaline' is both ludicrous and deeply moving
Worcester Telegram, April 23rd

Is it possible for a movie to be at once ludicrously silly and genuinely moving? That's the strange question you might find yourself asking while watching "The Age of Adaline," a romantic fantasy with surprising heft that will likely have you scoffing...Read more

Typewriter Rodeo Set for Nantucket Book Festival, 6/19-21
Broadway World, April 23rd

This is their first appearance in New England . At the Nantucket Book Festival, attendees will have the opportunity to give the Typewriter Rodeo poets a topic, and they will create and type on a vintage typewriter a personalized, original poem in minutes...Read more