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    

Original Unrestored Antique Hammond Multiplex Typewriter & Oak Case, NrVintage Blickensderfer No. 5 Portable Typewriter W/ Wood Case +Vintage Corona No. 3 Standard Folding Portable TypewriterFabulous African Mahogany Continental Typewriter Of 1938..76 Years Old,..workingServiced Oliver No.9 Typewriter Works W/ New Ink Ribbon No ReserveFabulous Vtg Burgundy Colour Kolibri Groma Typewriter 1950s..works PerfectVery Rare Very Ornate Densmore 4 Early TypewriterRoyal Model O Portable TypewriterBeautiful Vintage Maroon 1950s Olympia Sm3 Portable Typewriter With CaseVintage 1930's Lc Smith Corona Sterling Maroon Typewriter Case Floating ShiftVintage Smith Corona Silent Gold Plated TypewriterAntique Vintage Wood Advertising Crate Box Densmore Typewriter 1904 Worlds FairVintage L.c.smith & Brothers Typewriter # 8Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter 1930sVintage Royal Portable TypewriterVintage Typewriter ~ Royal Quiet Touch Control ~ In Case ~ Beautiful Rich Color Underwood Junior Portable Typewriter With Case And Glass KeysVintage 60's Olympia Portable / Travel Cursive Script Typewriter W/ Zipper CaseVntg Smith & Corona Standard Portable Typewriter Gloss Black Glass Keys WorkingVintage Royal Green Portable Typewriter With Case 1929-30, Tested 100%Vintage Remington Red Portable Typewriter Model #3 (made Before 1932) Antique Vintage White Remington Typewriter Keys 46 Lot W/ Chrome Rings Corona Model Four Portable Typewriter From 1930s With Case (model #4)Vintage Hermes Rocket Portable Typewriter In Case - Swiss PaillardBeautiful Vintage Typewriter From Royal - Works Great!! Rare Vintage Olympia Sm De Luxe Manual Typewriter With Hard Case And MoreAntique Royal Quiet Deluxe Touch Control Portable Typewriter # A-704677 VintageVintage 1920s Underwood No. 5 Standard Typewriter In Good Working Condition1961 Olympia Sf Script Cursive Laptop Typewriter - Wordplay Cincy Fundraiser!Vintage Portable Remington Deluxe Remette Typewriter Remington Rand With CaseHermes 3000 Typewriter W/cursive Fonts Seafoam Green + Case (bl) Best On Ebay Vintage Remington 5 Art Deco Manual Typewriter With CaseNice Soldier ~ Sitting At Table With Typewriter ~ Barclay / Manoil Antique Aluminum Standard Folding Typewriter Serial # 6774 With Leather CaseLovely Vintage Retro Olivetti Lettera 22 Typewriter In Carry CaseRare Vintage Mid Century Red Olivetti Valentine Portable Typewriter W/ CaseRoyal Blue Quiet De Luxe Portable Manual Typewriter With Case, Working, 1950s1930's Antique Underwood Universal Typewriter & Model Car - Mint Condition Nice Vintage Retro Hermes Baby Typewriter In Case With Swiss Reciept Works WellScm Smith Corona Skyriter Portable Typewriter W Original Case And Manual NiceVintage Olivetti Underwood Lettera 32 Typewriter Manual Typewriter W/ Case Vintage 1911 Pittsburg Visible No. 12 Pwm Reliance / Shilling Typewriter & CaseL.c. Smith And Corona Flat-top Portable Typewriter Model Four StandardVintage 1950's Seafoam Green Smith Corona Silent-super Manual Typewriter W/caseVintage Typewriter - 1958 Olympia Sm3 Portable Typewriter W/ Case Antique Vintage Black Smith Corona Typewriter Keys 47 Great ConditionVtg 1950s Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable Typewriter Original Tweed Case Works! Vintage Corona Silent Typewriter-glass Top Keys-with Hard Case ExcellentVintage Smith-corona Corsair Portable Manual Typewriter ~ Aqua CaseAntique Royal Arrow Typewriter Great Condition Black Works Great Royal In CaseAdler J5 Manual Typewriter - With Italic Type In Wonderful ConditionUnderwood Typewriter Model #3 1916Very Nice Royal Quiet Deluxe Typewriter W/case 48 Antique Royal Typewriter Keys Glass Keys Metal Rim White On Black CraftsRare - "valentine Olivetti" - "ettore Sottsass" - Iconic Red TypewriterVintage Lc Smith Corona #8 Typewriter Keys Lot Of 53 Flat Back Glass TopSmith Corona Corsair Deluxe Portable Typewriter..great ConditionKnight Sword Typewriter Ribbon Tin Litho Can Antique Vintage Art Deco Adv OldCa-san Francisco-panama Pacific Exposition 1915-underwood Typewriter-h34775Antique Hammond Typewriter Schreibmaschine Working With Case

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

New Lines and Established Collections
Apparel News, October 23rd

Cissy Wechter, owner and designer of Vintage Button Bling, displayed for the second time at FMNC her line of jewelry made from vintage buttons and old typewriter keys. Wechter's line of jewelry starts at $15 wholesale for rings. The prices increase for ...Read more

Inman author pens nostalgic collection of stories
Hutchinson News, October 23rd

According to a news release, the 161-page paperback book "contains a wealth of "old-fashioned family values and many commonplace items that have lost their importance in society and have now taken on a vintage flavor." Topics include the purchase of...Read more

Around Windham County
Brattleboro Reformer, October 23rd

Items available this week include: Televisions, books, antique rope bed, VHS tapes, audio cassette tapes, rocker/recliner, electric typewriter, suitcases, Christmas decorations, chairs, windows, flower pots, bathroom sinks, two-child stroller, baby...Read more

Now there is a typewriter than only types in Comic Sans
Tech Times, October 20th

If you're one of them, then this Comic Sans typewriter is for you. Created by Jesse England as part of his thesis that questions how we create, consume and store media, the "Sincerity Machine" Comic Sans typewriter combines the vintage writing machine...Read more

This Typewriter Prints Only Comic Sans, The 'World's Most-Hated Font'
Huffington Post, October 20th

On his website, England explained that to create his machine, he used a laser engraver to etch Comic Sans letters out of acrylic before gluing them to strikers on a vintage typewriter. "While making [the machine], I thought a lot about the Comic Sans...Read more

Get Your Hands On Tom Hanks' Typewriter
Look To The Stars, October 15th

A throwback to the days of metal, oil and ink, the Remington Rand typewriter was hand-selected by Hanks, who is an avid collector of vintage typewriters. The typewriter features the Oscar-winner's personal signature and includes a never-before-seen...Read more

Graduate inventor captures the imagination with interactive typewriter
Phys.Org, October 15th

Joe, 22, who lives in Woking, Surrey, said: "I was in the University's Writing Café and they had an old typewriter which didn't work. I have always really enjoyed taking old technology and giving it new purpose, and suddenly thought it would be great...Read more

Qwerkywriter - vintage-style typewriter keyboard for tablets and computers by ...
Retro To Go, September 24th

It's the keyboard that turns your tablet or computer into a vintage typewriter. Well, sort of, The keyboard anyway, which clatters away with the sound that once dominated newsrooms around the world, looking pretty cool on your desk when it's not in use...Read more