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    

Fabulous Mignon Typewriter Of 1923 ; Special Cursive Script,..working Perfect !!Oliver Typewriter StandVtg Remington Home Portable Typewriter & Case 50s 60s Retro HipsterAmerican Girl Typewriter With AccessoriesVtg Smith Corona Standard Shiny Black Flat Top Typewriter Floating Shift W Case1969 Olivetti Valentine -red- Portable Typewriter By Ettore Sottsass ItalyOlivetti Valentine Typewriter, Ettore Sottsass, With Rare Swedish Keyboard!Vintage Rare 1968 Olympia Sm7 Model German Typewriter De Luxe Pink Color W/ CaseRare C 1910 Bennett Portable Typewriter In Original Case-smallest Ever MadeCybergun Cyma Thompson 1928 Chicago Typewriter Airsoft Aeg Smg W/ Drum MagazineVintage Royal Companion Typewriter Glass Keys Tweed Hard CaseAntique Vintage 1936 Lc Smith & Corona Sterling Flat Top Typewriter~case & Key!!Antique Portable L C Smith & Corona Typewriter With Case - Fine Celluloid KeysLight Blue 1956 Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable Typewriter W/case Vintage Lc Smith & Corona Typewriter W/ CaseOlympia Sm3 Manual Portable Typewriter With Elite Typeface - A Real Beauty!The Typewriter That Never Was: Corona Model 1kVtg Military Army Green Secretarial 1931 L C Smith Corona Typewriter 8 10 Bubble Gum Pink Vintage Royal Futura 800 Manual Typewriter Vintage Hermes Rocket Portable Typewriter From SwitzerlandFabulous Antique Vtg Continental Typewriter Of 1938;....76 Years Old And WorksAntique Mini Royal Type Writer Black Working Typewriter Miniature & CompleteOdell Typewriter No. 4 For Parts Or Repair Vintage AntiqueOlivetti Lettera 32 Compact Portable Typewriter W/ Carry CaseLetterpress Lead Type 12 Pt. Typewriter ( H. C. Hansen Type Foundry ) T21Vtg Smith-corona Sterling Typewriter With Case 1941 Nice Working Unit Art DecoIbm Selectric Ii Correcting Typewriter Black Fully Tested & Serviced Antique Underwood Portable "f" Typewriter Standard 4 Bank Keyboard 1929-30 WorksRare Antique Emerson No. 3 Typewriter Serial No. 12125 With Glass Keys Ca.1910 Remington Paragon Standard No. 12 Vintage Typewriter Beautiful Decal W RibbonsAntique Monarch Pioneer Portable Typewriter And Case. Works Great!!1950's Silent Smith-corona Manual Typewriter W/case Vintage Vintage Brother Opus 888 Blue Manual Typewriter In Case Excellent ConditionVintage Remington Portable Typewriter Model 5 - Unrestored - Works Well-no CaseVintage Royal Quiet Deluxe Light Typewriter,robin's Egg Blue 1950'sUnderwood Antique TypewriterVintage Hermes 3000 Beautiful Swiss Seafoam Green Portable Manual TypewriterWards Escort 55 Typewriter - Vintage 1973 - Made By OlivettiVintage Underwood Universal Portable Typewriter - Excellent - Works PerfectlyVtg Smith Corona Silent Maroon Post Merger Typewriter Interwar Office MachineVintage Olympia Deluxe Typewriter Portable Manual Typewriter/carry Case GermanyVintage Royal Model O Manual Typewriter Excellent Condition Touch Control 1930's48 Vintage Smith Corona Chrome & Porcelain Typewriter Keys W/floating Shift KeyClean Antique Vintage Royal Tombstone Typewriter Keys Chrome Rings Flat BacksVintage Sm 9 Typewriter, Spare Ribbons And White Out Tabs Vintage Royal Standard Flatbed Typewriter # 5 White Keys Working Order Nice!Groma Grosser Modell N Burgundy Red Portable Typewriter Rare With Case Vintage Remington Ten-forty Sperry Rand Aqua Teal Portable Typewriter W/caseVintage Corona Standard Portable Typewriter W/ Case & Key, 1941, Gorgeous !!Vintage 1933 Underwood Portable 4 Bank Typewriter Serial #635422Hermes 3000 Portable Swiss Typewriter Mint Green Color W/ Owner's ManualVintage 1950's Royal Futura 600 Manual Typewriter **blue** With Hard Case1960's Smith-corona Scm Corsair Turquoise Deluxe Manual Portable Typewriter VgcVintage Green Underwood Quiet Tab Manual Typewriter With CaseOlympia Robust Portable Typewriter Wh Wehrmacht Army Military €Smith Corona Galaxie Typewriter W/case - Vinyl Cover - Manual & Brushes - 1959American Girl TypewriterTypewriter - Oliver No. 5 - Pre WwiBlickensderfer #5 Typewriter W/ Wooden Case1930's Antique Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

Flea markets offer creative outlets, good deals
Herald & Review, August 28th

She and about 50 other vendors have brought their antiques, handmade crafts, repurposed vintage materials and food produce to Finders Flea Market, a monthly market at the Mount Zion Pony Express Grounds. ... After hearing about the flea market, Waller...Read more

Museum & Gallery Listings for Aug. 29-Sept. 4
New York Times, August 28th

A third section is made up of objects lent by East Harlem residents who were invited by the museum to display things they treasure in their homes, including vintage political posters, a Cotton Club cocktail shaker and a detailed handmade model of a...Read more

Tom Hank's iPad app an homage to typewriters
Times of India, August 26th

Several other typewriter apps such as TypeWriter for Android devices and miTypewriter for Apple Inc's iPhone and iPad replicate the sound and visuals of a typewriter. They cost between $0.99 and $1.99. The free Electratype for iPad is a virtual...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

Apparently This Matters: Want to use Tom Hanks' typewriter?
CNN, August 22nd

Pulling from Hanks' vast personal collection, the app's developer, Hitcents, created several totally original vintage-style typewriter choices. One of these comes standard with the app. The others are available for purchase. And each types with a...Read more

Tom Hanks reveal his latest blockbuster hit: Hanx Writer virtual typewriter ...
Daily Mail, August 18th

It may not net him quite as much cash as a Hollywood blockbuster, or have quite the same budget - but Tom Hanks hopes his latest project will help people write. The Hanx Writer app recreates three classic typewriters on screen - allowing people to hear...Read more

Antiques & Collectibles: Typewriters still in great demand
Post-Bulletin, August 9th

Ask any of the younger generation what a typewriter is, and often they have no clue, though its keyboard pattern lives on today on modern devices. My recent research found that antique-to-vintage typewriters are in great demand and are continuing to...Read more

Typewriters aren't dead, say Lodi fans of the antique machines
Lodi News-Sentinel, August 6th

A quick search on eBay shows that vintage typewriters are reasonably affordable. Several from the 1940s and '50s sell for between $20 and $60. A newer model, similar to the one Atwood owns, sells for more, between $70 and $150, but according to IBM's ...Read more