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 1880s Hall "improved Salem" Index Typewriter In Wooden CaseFabulous African Mahogany Continental Typewriter Of 1931,..exclusive Script FontExceptionally Clean 1935 Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter In Case N71991Vintage Pink Royal Mcbee Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter + Case : Works!Blickensderfer Model 8 Antique Typewriter With Original Instructions 1908Fabulous Antique Vtg Erika 5 Typewriter Of 1930s;.80 Years Old And Works PerfectUnderwood Standard Four Bank Keyboard Portable Typewriter With Case BlueEmerald Green Corona Portable Typewriter In Case 1920-30sOliver Model 3 TypewriterVintage Shiny Black Flat Top Corona Manual Typewriter Serial #1c41481 W/ CaseFox Sterling 1918 Antique Typewriter No 3 Glass Keys Grand Rapids Mi ScarceVintage Royal 10 Glass Side Panels Typewriter Very Nice Condition !Vintage Barr Universal Typewriter Made By Barr Morse Corp Usa Rare Maroon NiceAntique Underwood Elliot Fisher Jr Junior Portable Typewriter 1938 BlackVintage 1912**exceptional**oliver #9 Standard Visible Printype Typewriter. Nice!Corona #3 Mini Manual Portable Folding Typewriter In Case Antique 1900-1920'sBlickensderfer Model 9 Rare Antique Typewriter Yellow Keys Vintage Bar-lock Typewriter Rare! Bankers Typewriter, Retro Desk Display RestoVintage Pink Olympia De Luxe Deluxe Typewriter W Case & Cleaning KitOld Vintage Olympia S Typewriter ~ Original Estate Find Condition Jewett No.3 TypewriterAntique Oliver No. 3 Standard Visible Typewriter Vintage Underwood Antique Typewriter. Excellent Working Condition, Keys.Stunning Antique Corona #3 Folding Portable Typewriter In Case 1917Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter 1922 - Extremely Scarce 518wAntique Vtg Mercedes Superba Typewriter Of 1937,...78 Years Ago...and WorkingVintage Antique Royal Duotone Green Manual Portable TypewriterLovely Old Corona #3 Folding Manuel Typewriter Made In New York 1917 1950s German Princess 100 - Working Vintage Portable Typewriter - New Ribbon Vintage Remington Typewriter Works GreatVintage Typewriter Keys 140 Mixed Lot Black & WhiteAntique Blickensderfer No. 7 Typewriter, With Original CaseVintage 1934 Underwood Portable Typewriter W/case - F761226Vintage 1930's Portable Royal Touch Control Typewriter With Glass Keys 18 Antique Typewriter Ribbon Tins, Assorted LotAmerican Girl Kit Kittredge Typewriter Brand NewAmerican Girl Doll- Kit's Desk With Typewriter.Groma Kolibri Portable Typewriter Made In Gdr • Small Font Cold War Era VintageHammond Multiplex Typewriter Model 26 With Case G2 Serial # Rare - Low ReserveVintage1948 Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable Typewriter With Glass Keys & Black CaseVtg Royal 1950s Turquoise Blue Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual TypewriterVintage Corona Four Typewriter, Original Case, Works Great, Nice, No ReserveVintage Olympia Werke A.g. Wilhelmshaven De Luxe Brown Typewriter With Hard CaseBeautiful Royal Model O Typewriter -- Serviced With New Ink!Ltd Toy Stamp & 1920s Antique Smith Corona Folding Typewriter & Case Ha38Antique Corona No.3 Folding Typewriter Early 1900'sKate Spade All Typed Up Clyde Typewriter Handbag Purse NwtVintage Smith Corona Portable Typewriter "corona Junior" 1930's & Storage CaseVintage Olympia Werke Ag Tiffany Blue Portable Typewriter W/ Case & RibbonRare Rheinmetall Green Typewriter W Case Portable Germany 1960 S 09/2552 WorkingAntique Vintage Royal Portable Typewriter Model P #234734, Black W/case, WorksAntique Circa 1930 Remington Portable #3 Typewriter Blue/green- For RestorationVintage Remington Streamliner Manual Typewriter With Traveling CaseAntique Remington Standard No7 Under Strike TypewriterVintage 1920's/ 1930's Royal Portable Manual Typewriter Black W/ Case1:6 Scale Did Wwii German Heeres Sophie D80103 - Metal Typewriter W/ CaseC1915 Corona Xc-d Typewriter Portable Folding With Case Excellent Plus WorkingVintage Underwood Universal Typewriter 1930'sIbm Selectric Ii Correcting Typewriter Vintage Tan Color Working ConditionUnderwood Standard Four Bank Keyboard Portable Typewriter With Case

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

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

Flannery O'Connor's Andulasia
Augusta, March 27th

On April 24, Flannery Fashion: Mid-Century DIY will open and display textiles, vintage clothing patterns and other objects. Wylie has ... Andalusia profoundly influenced the strings of words O'Connor clacked out on the typewriter beside her bed...Read more

Miami poet RM Drake reinvigorates enthusiasm for poetry through Instagram
MiamiHerald.com, March 25th

Before he uploads his work to Instagram, Macias types each piece up with his antique 1940s Royals typewriter on handmade paper and photographs the image. All of his poems are signed off with his pseudonym R. M. Drake — which comes from his ...Read more

First Impressions: Belle Reve
Tribeca Citizen, March 24th

The vintage Latin American kitsch of Los Americanos has been replaced with vintage American kitsch; does someone have a warehouse of this stuff? It works, though, in its scruffy way. There's a Hunter S. Thompson quote on the menu, along with typewriter...Read more

Portland store owner frustrated by typewriter thefts
KPTV.com, March 19th

Ron Rich, who owns Oblation Papers and Press on NW 12th Ave. said someone took the first typewriter last Friday afternoon. The second one disappeared on Monday. Both machines were part on an idea Rich had to leave a pair of typewriters in front of his ...Read more

Tom Hanks Showed Up In Los Altos To Buy Girl Scout Cookies
SFist, March 13th

It turns out that Hanks, whose son Truman is currently a freshman at Stanford, stopped through Los Altos to visit Los Altos Business Machines, which sells and repairs vintage typewriters. Hanks, a big typewriter enthusiast, was having his son's machine ...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