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    

Rare "the Noiseless" Portable Typewriter 1920's By Wellington Parker Kidder Rare Antique Hammond Typewriter -- Circa 1895 -- RestoredAntique Patent 1900 Lambert Typewriter With Case All Original Beauty And Rare!C.1890 Antique Odell's Typewriter - Cast Iron - ExcellentKit's TypewriterVtg 1950's Olympia Sm3 Sm 3 Maroon Portable Typewriter & Original Wood Case NiceVintage German Erika Typewriter Wwii Or Before 1950s Vtg Bright Red Royal Quiet Deluxe Manual Typewriter W/ Case & KeyAwesome Antique Hammond Multiplex Typewriter-rare!Vintage Smith Corona Scm Corsair Deluxe Manual Portable Typewriter Works Beauty Vintage Smith Corona Sterling Streamlined Industrial Modern Brown TypewriterAntique Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter 1922 Clean!Mignon Modell 2 TypewriterAntique Typewriter 1890s Blickensderfer Model 7 Collectable!Smith Corona Manual Typewriter C. 1933 - MaroonWorking Royal Vintage Portable Typewriter BrownVtg 1938 Underwood Noiseless 77 Portable Typewriter W/case,key,manual,excellent!Aeg Mignon 4 Index Typewriter Germany 1924 Working Schreibmaschine TypecylinderAntique 1909 Printype Oliver No. 5 Typewriter Visible Writer Batwing StyleAntique Ca.1893 American No.2 Index Typewriter Schreibmaschine Machine A EcrireVintage Remington Portable Typewriter W/case Ecu Glass Keys6 Antique Typewriter Medallion Awards - A E Morton 1885 - 1914 - Medals TypingIncredible Olympia Mid 1950s Deluxe Portable Typewriter W/case West Germany #550Antique 1917 Corona #3 Folding Portable Typewriter W/manual Vtg Olympia Sm3 Typewriter Green Blue Original Paper L��k German Steampunk Nr ϿVintage Royal Manual Typewriter1950s Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter Working & Case1936 Underwood Elliott Fisher Co Universal Portable Typewriter F-model With CaseVintage Ibm Green Selectric Ii Typewriter Includes RibbonRoyal Antique Vintage 1933 Black W Glass Sides Manual Typewriter Model 10 Vgc!!Vintage Remington Streamliner TypewriterVintage 1950s Royal 'quiet Deluxe' Manual Typewriter + Case - Good Cond Works!Vintage Typewriter Art Deco Tin Marvello Vintage Tin Typewriter Ribbon Tin W TacLot 50 Vintage Antique Typewriter Keys Red Black W White Characters Arts Crafts1960s Facit Tp1 Typewriter With Cursive Typeface. Has Case & Touch Typeing Kit Vintage Royal Typewriter Portable, Model O With Touch Control, Glass KeysVintage Remington Portable Typewriter With Case, Ca 1920's.Ibm Selectric Iii 3 Electric Self Correcting Typewriter - VintageVintage Hermes 3000 Seafoam Manual Typewriter With Case SwitzerlandVintage 50s Royal Futura 800 Manual Portable Typewriter W/ Hard CaseVintage Corona Standard Portable Typewriter W/ Case, 1938,gloss Black, BeautifulIbm Selectric Ii TypewriterVintage Remington Portable Manual Typewriter W/ Case Working Display ConditionVintage Remington Portable Standard Typewriter25 Vintage Typewriter Keys Self StarterWorking Royal Portable Alligator Green 1927 Model P Antique Manual TypewriterAntique Remington Noiseless Portable? Typewriter In Orig Case Clean! C1930sVintage Imperial Typewriter Model TVintage Smith-corona Sterling TypewriterVintage 1948 Royal Standard Typewriter M-3731683 Touch ControlGreen Underwood Typewriter Keys Keys Only 51 Total Clean Chrome Rings Jewerly Vintage Oliver Typewriter Co. Cleaning Kit Smith Corona Silent Portable Vintage Typewriter Manual Green KeysCorona Silent W/ Floating Shift Case Books Keys Typewriter VintageVintage Swiss Made Hermes 300 Typewriter With Original CaseAntique Typewriter The Hall (the First) Braille No. 1 Schreibmaschine1892'sVtg Olympia Werke Ag Wilhemshaven Portable Manual Typewriter W,case W.germanyVintage Royal Typewriter~ Nice Smaller Size~ Works! Glass Keys 53 L C Smith Typewriter Keys Nice Vtg Tower President Typewriter Working With Cool Case!

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

A Totally Definitive Ranking Of Fonts
Huffington Post, July 28th

Readers live in a world of words, which we like to think of as a world of pure intellect and abstract thought. But books aren't just the concepts and stories that they contain -- they're carefully designed objects. Even ebooks and online articles...Read more

How hipsters launched the typewriter's comeback
Telegraph.co.uk, July 28th

“You had younger people coming in asking about vintage manual typewriters - it was a slow-growing movement and now it's a very popular thing,” he says. “It's definitely on an upward swing.” So what other goods have hipsters rescued from the dusty ...Read more

Word on the Street
HeraldNet (blog), July 28th

Ten vintage typewriters seated atop artist-embellished typewriter tables have been placed on sidewalks throughout downtown Everett. But these creations are not simply museum displays, no no no! People are encouraged to type away and leave their ...Read more

Roaring '20s-themed weddings have all that jazz
The Times and Democrat, July 28th

Lacy tablecloths are easy to find in antique stores. And peacock and ostrich ... Instead of a standard guest book, set up a vintage typewriter and a stack of paper so that well-wishers can type up messages for the bride and groom. Wind the festivities...Read more

5 things to check out Thursday at the Ann Arbor Art Fair: Performance artists ...
The Ann Arbor News, July 17th

Typewriter key jewelry: While I'm not generally the jewelry type — pun intended — even I had a hard time resisting the bracelets, necklaces, etc. made from antique typewriter keys by South University Art Fair artist Kama Darr. Hailing from West...Read more

Qwerkywriter: vintage typewriter keyboard for your gadgets
Android Community, July 11th

As technology and gadgets become more and more advanced, there is still some part of us (at least those old enough to remember) that longs for a small part of the past, when things like typewriters existed. But what if you could meld those two worlds...Read more

This Vintage Typewriter Is Actually a Keyboard For Your Tablet
Gizmodo, July 10th

We pine for the whir of the Xerox machine, the rattle of rotary telephones, the clackety-clack of the typewriter. A slightly romantic vision, maybe, but no longer completely impossible, thanks to this keyboard modeled to look exactly like a vintage...Read more

Qwertywriter: Drool-worthy vintage USB typewriter keyboard
AGBeat, July 3rd

Recently having met its goal on Kickstarter, Qwertywriter USB keyboard will soon begin production and ships out shortly thereafter. The vintage typewriter is inspired by an old fashioned Remington typewriter, feels just like an old typewriter, and dad...Read more