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    

Vtg Smith And Corona Special Folding TypewriterAntique Jewett Typewriter Vintage Rare Vintage Black Compact Portable Royal Typewriter Touch Control Hard Case1950s Vintage Royal Typewriter Flat Cigarette Lighter - Mint W/box - NosAntique Caligraph No. 2 Typewriter American Writing Machine Company For RepairRemington 3b Typewriter - Rare Vintage - W/ CaseAntique Typewriter Mignon 2 1912 Schreibmaschine Ecrire EscribirVintage 1930's Underwood Champion Portable Typewriter Rare Tripod Stand In CaseVintage1898? Blickensderfer Model #7 Typewriter W/original Oak Case Ser #34169Vintage Royal Quiet De Luxe Sea Green Portable Typewriter & Case Nice!Antique Art Deco 1929 Remington 2-tone Green Portable Typewriter #3 +case WorksVintage 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe Deluxe Gold Plated Rare Typewriter Ian Fleming Vintage Olivetti Underwood Lettera 22 Italian Typewriter W/ Case Aqua Blue WorksAntique Typewriter Hammond 12 1905 Curved W/ Case Ecrire Escribir Vintage Royal De Luxe Black Portable Typewriter With CaseVintage German Pink Pigs Porcelain Souvenir Figurine Rare Typewriter Excellent!Vintage Underwood Universal Portable Typewriter With Case & Key! Excellent!!!1934-38 L. C. Smith & Corona Silent Typewriter W/ Case + Brush #1s14586 - No ResVictory Brand Typewriter Ribbon Tin -syracuse, New YorkAntique Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter & Case 1940s Glass KeysAntique Art Deco 1930s Barr-morse Barr Special Portable Typewriter +case WorksVtg Royal Deluxe Portable TypewriterRare Hammond Folding Multiplex Typewriter 1921Vintage Or Antique L. C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter No.8 Made In Syracuse Ny UsaVintage Royal Typewriter Quiet Deluxe Green Keys Hard Case WorksAntique Vintage Black Royal Typewriter With Beveled Glass Side Panels Ibm Selectric Typewriter Brand New In The Box!Vintage Hermes 2000 Portable Typewriter In Green Case-working Condition-see PicsAntique Smith Corona Typewriter With Case Maroon Red Finish48 Vintage Continental Typewriter Keys~unusual French CharactersVintage Remington Personal-riter Cursive Blue Portable Typewriter W/ Case Antique Vintage Royal Standard 10 Typewriter Glass Panels X-1380997Vintage 1920's Remington Model 1 Portable Typewriter Burgundy & Red W/case1940's Royal Typewriter Portable Quiet Deluxe De Luxe W/caseAntique Vintage Harris Visible Typewriter No 4 44 Vintage Underwood Typewriter KeysAntique Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter & Case 1940s Glass KeysVintage Royal Arrow Portable Typewriter W/ CaseSuper Service Brand Typewriter Ribbon Tin Curtis 1000 St. Paul, Minnesota ScarceRare Vintage Olympia Red Traveller Deluxe S Portable Typewriter With Case & BookVintage Royal Mercury Manual Typewriter Handled Case Working Portable Travel40s Smith Corona Vtg Typewriter 10" Original Case Floating Shift Portable #043bThe Optimo Line Typewriter Ribbon Tin Mcclean & Hedman Co. St. Paul, Minnesota Vintage Brother Delux 700t Portable Manual TypewriterEarly Stormtex Typewriter Ribbon Tin, H. M. Storms Co., Brooklyn, New York Antique L.c. Smith Corona Manual Folding Typewriter & Case Portable Rare Vintage 1970 Olympia Sm-9 Deluxe Portable Typewriter Made West GermanyFabulous Glossy Black Triumph Norm Typewriter Of 1937;..78 Years Old;..workingVintage Antique Glass Royal Typewriter 46 Keys ....nice Shape....flat Backs Oliver Standard Visible Antique Typewriter Chicago * Steampunk/industrial Look*Advertising Typewriter PaperweightVintage Olympia 1960 Sm3 Deluxe Two Tone Green Tan Typewriter W Case Germany Old Typewriter Parts And ToolsVintage L.c. Smith Corona Sterling Portable Typewriter W/ Case, Excellent Cond.!Vintage Olivetti Lettera 32 Manual Typewriter W/caseVintage Mid Century Portable Royal Royalite Typewriter In Case WorksNew Font Of Letterpress - 10 Pt - Typewriter Type - Lower Case OnlyAntique Vintage Typewriter Keys Lot 50 Dmgd Junk FlatAntique Oliver No. 3 Standard Visible Typewriter Vintage Underwood Universal Portable Typewriter With Case -- Late 1930s

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

"Work on Work" exhibition turns public space into office space
Archinect, July 31st

The first banner dates back to the 1780s when the city was freshly founded and little more than a plaza, but quickly delves into a detailed 232-year history of building typologies and technologies specific to work culture, such as the factory...Read more

Out and About
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, July 30th

National Military History Center and Horse Power Museum – Permanent display of Ernie Pyle, includes trunks, books, soldier essentials, typewriter, radio and camera; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; 5634 County Road 11-A, Auburn; admission cost, 260-927-9144 or...Read more

Breaking 'Baz': A musical in a nightclub aims to shake up the Vegas ...
Las Vegas Weekly (blog), July 30th

In the middle of the scene is an old, black typewriter, illuminated by the beam of a spotlight shining from the venue's upper reaches. Behind that vintage Underwood Standard No. 5 typewriter is a set of drums and a pair of keyboards, and higher still...Read more

The Inadequacy of Noire Lounge
SF Weekly (blog), July 29th

The Noire Lounge is full of such symbols: It has the typewriter, the inaccessible bookshelf, the antique light fixtures, and the fancy wallpaper. In addition to two big screens showing film noir and period-ish pieces like Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby...Read more

Review: Like Harper Lee herself, “Nelle's Story” is revealing to a point but ...
ArtsATL, July 29th

a kitchen table for a New York apartment. Best of all is a real vintage Underwood typewriter at centerstage, as unwieldy as a cinderblock and probably twice as heavy. (The program notes that the antique was provided by author Terry Kay for the...Read more

As an eBay power seller, Antique Attic invited to ring Nasdaq closing bell
Dothan Eagle, July 28th

Antique Attic Imports co-owner Mary Alice Veale has had her “day.” As an eBay Inc. power seller with perfect positive feedback, Veale said she spent her birthday July 20 representing her Fortner Street store and Alabama at a remote closing bell...Read more

What made Vir Das buy 100 year old typewriter used in World War 2?
glamsham.com, July 24th

On taking writing in a unique vintage way he commented, “I found this beauty in an antique shop. It's close to 100 years old and was used in a government office during World War 2. It's kind of amazing when you think about the things that might have...Read more

Millennials (and Tom Hanks) buying vintage typewriters
San Jose Mercury News, July 22nd

At Vintiq, a hip vintage-goods store in Alameda, Raf Janssens displays a couple of antique typewriters in the showroom but sells many more to online collectors searching for certain models. He taught himself to repair the machines, not only for the...Read more