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 - "valentine Olivetti" - "ettore Sottsass" - Iconic Red TypewriterBlick Aluminium Featherweight Typewriter Blickensderfer Special SchreibmaschineAntique Black Portable Royal Typewriter With Case Book & Brush - Round Keys FineVintage Typewriter Smith Corona PortableVintage 1950's Bright Red Royal Quiet Deluxe Manual TypewriterVintage ~ C1900 ~ "densmore No. 2" ~ Typewriter With Original CaseRoyal 50th Anniversary Gold Plated Quiet Deluxe Typewriter Second VersionVintage Typewriter Remington Home Portable £1nr1900's Antique Ideal Seidel & Naumann Typewriter Serial# 6744 A1, A2, Or A3Rare,1957, Royal, Quiet De Luxe, Typewriter, Bubble Gum Pink; Portable, In CaseAntique Underwood Typewriter W Metal Portable Case & Wood Base. Beautiful #5? Antique Vintage Underwood Standard Portable Typewriter 4 Bank W/caseVintage Stainsby Braille Writer Typewriter Machine + CaseRare 1920's Retro Blue Enamel Royal Portable Typewriter In Original CaseVintage 1930's Corona Sterling Maroon Portable Manual Typewriter - Art DecoAntique Fox No. 1 Portable Typewriter W/ Case & Instruction Book; Made In UsaAntique 1884 Hammond Multiplex TypewriterRare Antique 1893 Blickensderfer No 7 Single Element Typewriter In Wooden CaseVintage ~ C1912 ~ "erika" ~ Folding ~ Portable Typewriter By "seidel & Naumann"Olivetti Valentin Typewriter Vintage 1969Antique 1890s Vintage Blickensderfer No.7 Portable Typewriter Wood Carrying Case Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter With Case Manual Brush & Finger Chart Excellent Vintage 1956 Royal Quiet Deluxe Blue Portable Typewriter W/case Key InstructionsContinental Wanderer Portable Typewriter In Case Vtg & Fully Working €Thin Antique Vintage Black Smith Corona Typewriter Keys Flat Backs Chrome RingsNational - Typewriter Vintage Typewriter Seidel & Naumann Erika Nr+ Fabulous Vtg Cream-chocolate Colour Kolibri Groma Typewriter 1950s..working !!Antique 1938 *bantam* Typewriter Remington Rem Rand Color KeysAntique Vtg 1920s 1930s Lc Smith Inc #8 10 Inch Typewriter W/ 3 Horses Label UsaGroma Grosser Portable Typewriter Kriegsaufmachung Special Edition Ww2 Ww IiTypewriter Remington Portable NrAntique Remington Rand Streamliner Typewriter Works Well Steampunk Machine AgeVintage Olympia Sm 9 De Luxe Typewriter With Manual And Accessories-works!Vintage Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe Typewriter Teal Blue With Case #225Vintage 1930's Bantam Typewriter With Case Serial No. C144225Vintage Olympia Portable Typewriter GermanyVintage 60's Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe Turquoise Portable TypewriterVintage 1930-40's Royal Companion Portable Typewriter Glass Keys Touch ControlAntique Royal Model O Portable Typewriter Touch Control Original Case - 1936Vintage Corona 3 Folding TypewriterOlympia Sm9 Deluxe Portable Typewriter In Prime Condition With Carrying CaseOlympia Deluxe Typewriter With Case Ibm Selectric Ii Correcting Typewriter Black Fully Tested & Serviced Antique Two Tone Green Remington Portable Typewriter Model #3 Nice Colors!!!Antique Corona #3 Folding Typewriter, 1917 With Black CaseAntique Portable Royal Typewriter With Leather Covered Wood Case Glass KeysVintage Smith Corona Standard Portable Manual Typewriter Metal Rim Keys ~ 1940'sRoyal Futura 800 Manual Typewriter Avocado With Original CaseUnderwood Elliot Fisher Universal Portable Typewriter W CaseBubble Gum Pink Vintage Royal Futura 800 Manual Typewriter Antique 1913 Oliver No 9 Standard Visible Typewriter In Good Condition RibbonsTypewriter Ribbon Tins 8 TotalVintage Smith Corona Silent Typewriter W/floating Shift Art Deco Mid CenturyPortable Typewriter Necessaire Adler Tippa Aka Gossen Tippa Tippaboy Small Font Antique Vintage Typewriter Keys Lot 100 Antique No 2 Remington Portable Typewriter With CaseRare1960s Olympia Deluxe Sm-7 Typewriter Mid Century Portable Aquamarine Great !Vintage Hermies Rocket Portable Typewriter In Case Working Condition Nice Vintage L.c. Smith Glass Typewriter Keys

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

Roaring '20s-themed weddings have all that jazz
Alexandria Town Talk, September 20th

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

100 years later, UM's J-School remains true to its origin
The Missoulian, September 20th

Above it hangs a cutout of a vintage Remington typewriter, not unlike the machine Stone used in his day. Pictures of past deans and clippings from old papers note the program's progress, including 1913, when UM's executive board approved $200 for the ...Read more

Book Review: 'Tennessee Williams' by John Lahr
Wall Street Journal, September 19th

This is by far the best book ever written about America's greatest playwright. John Lahr, the longtime drama critic for the New Yorker, knows his way around Broadway better than anyone. He is a witty and elegant stylist, a scrupulous researcher, a...Read more

This Social Media Heartthrob Is A Poet. And He Just Brought Poetry's Sexy Back.
Huffington Post, September 19th

It began while browsing in an antique store when Gregson stumbled upon a vintage Remington typewriter for sale. Standing up and using a page from a broken book he was buying for $2, he typed a poem without thinking, without planning, and without the ...Read more

11 everyday sounds your kids will never hear
BabyCenter (blog), September 18th

Your kids probably don't know what a record album is. Or a phone book. Or a fax machine. These objects have more-or-less disappeared from our daily lives, just has volume knobs, hand-cranked car windows and space food sticks. But along with objects, ...Read more

Check out a vintage typewriter exhibition
insideTORONTO.com, September 16th

The Great Escape Bookstore, at 957 Kingston Rd., between Main Street and Victoria Park Avenue, is hosting a vintage typewriter exhibition Sept. 20. East enders are invited to come out and celebrate the heyday of the typewriter with a hands-on...Read more

Antique Typewriters on the Come Back!
Salem-News.Com, September 13th

Hang onto your old typewriters because they are coming back. After whistle blower Edward Snowden leaked information about the NSA's massive spying program, computer users worldwide were faced with the dilemma of knowing that everything they did on ...Read more

Tom Hanks' new app an homage to manual typewriters
Reuters UK, August 26th

The brainchild of Oscar-winning actor and collector of vintage typewriters Tom Hanks, the app, perhaps aptly called Hanx Writer, replicates the aural and visual sensations of old-fashioned typing. "In the late 70s's I bought a typewriter - portable...Read more