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    

Antique Mercedes 5 Typewriter Of 1929 ; 86 Years Old And Working Perfect ! VideoScarce Original Fay Sho No 4 Typewriter Ca 1900 Fay Sholes Corp Chicago IlAntique "hammond #12" Typewriter - Ideal Curved KeyboardAntique Circa-1933 Royal Model 10-s Typewriter, Complete Original Condition NrD Vtg 1930s Smith Corona Sterling Typewriter Black Flat Top Floating Shift+caseVintage Remington Rand Model 5 Streamlined Typewriter Serial No. V850419 Rare Mint Vintage Western Germany 1960 50's Alpina Portable Typewriter With CaseVintage Royal Portable Typewriter, Alligator Blue W/ Casei* Wwii Green Groma Model N Germany Ussr Occupied Typewriter W/ Case! Look!!Antique C1895 Rare Blickensderfer No. 5 Typewriter W/original Box WorksAntique Glossy Black Mercedes Selekta Typewriter Of 1938,..77 Years Old,.workingCorona Standard Typewriter VintageVintage 1920's Or 30's Corona Personal Writing Machine Portable Typewriter.Vintage Collectible Royal X-75825a Typewriter W/ Glass Keys Vintage~olivetti~red~valentine S~portable~typewriter & Case~ettore Sottsass~niceSpace Age Olivetti Valentine Pop Art Iconic Cased Typewriter, Ettore Sottass !Vintage Antique Underwood Elliot Fisher Universal Typewriter In Original Case 1930's Minty Vintage Royal Touch Control Portable Typewriter Model 0Antique 1938 Bantam Colored Key Portable Typewriter With Original CaseHermes Rocket Portable Typewriter W/case Serial No. 6034798 Made In 1964 WorksVtg Antique Satellite Adjustable Table Co. Typewriter Table Cast Iron Industrial Royal Typewriter Portable Vintage Excellent Working Condition!!! Srl # 381905Antique/vintage Underwood Model No. 5 Standard Manual Typewriter Glass Keys UsaAntique Typewriter Repair Kit Including Many Tools, Parts, Accessories & BagVintage Royal Quiet De Luxe Black Portable Typewriter With Case Glass KeysVintage Texas Pride Ribbon Tin State Hereford Bull Fort Worth Typewriter SupplyOlympia Sm4 Typewriter With Sanserif Type Vintage Smith Premier No 1 Typewriter 1889 Circa Sn 3051Vintage Olympia Sf De-luxe Deluxe White & Grey Portable Typewriter W/ ManualCursive Script Typewriter Royal Futura 880 Cursive Typeface FontNice Lot Of 43 Chrome & Glass Vintage Royal Typewriter Keys Vintage Retro Manual Portable Typewriter Remington Letter RiterAntique 1933 Royal No. 1 Portable Typewriter With Original CaseL.c. Smith & Bros. Vintage TypewriterVintage Monarch Pioneer Portable Typewriter Slimline Design Htf Steampunk Keys Antique German Gsn "junior Model 3" Tin Toy Typewriter Drgm D.r.p. Ang GermanyVintage Royal Quiet De Luxe Portable Typewriter & Case Nice!Vintage Royal Typewriter Beveled Glass Sides & Art Deco Style Nice Original CondAntique Vintage K. M. Turner Blickensderfer Stamford, Conn Typewriter Orig BoxThe Man With The Golden Typewriter Ian Fleming Letters -fergus Fleming Arc 2015Antique Corona Standard Folding Typewriter ~ Sn 27143 ~ Restoration ProjectVintage Hermes 3000 Manual Portable Switzerland Typewriter & Case Old Reliable Brand Fort Pitt Co. Typewriter Ribbon Tin Pittsburgh, Pa - Litho! Antique Oliver Typewriter Model 3, Wood Base, Oliver Metal CoverVintage Portable Retro Adler Tippa Manual Typewriter In Case Yellow No ReserveVintage Oliver Printype No. 9 Typewriter Green, Estate Find . E1216Vintage Typewriter: Underwood Universal Typewritter "as Is"* Vtg Royal Touch Control Portable Typewriter! Works! Estate Find! Look!Vintage Ghia Smith Corona Typewriter Super G Manual ScriptVintage L.c. Smith & Corona Typewriter Wooden Crate Box Advertising Dovetail 50 Vintage Glass Royal Typewriter Keys Tombstone Style Flat BacksVtg 30s Royal Portable Typewriter Model O Touch Control Black Clean Manual CaseVintage 1930s Seidel & Naumann S & N Erika 5 German Portable Typewriter W CaseTypewriter Ribbon Tin-------------rare: Nude Bending Backward On White Triangle1940's Remington Rand Noiseless Model 7 Portable Manual Typewriter W/case46 Vintage Royal Typewriter "glass" Keys...Smith-corona Sterling Manual Vintage Typewriter + Orig Hard Case Works Great!Antique Corona 3 Folding Typewriter From 1917 Vintage Royal Safari Deluxe Typewriter W/ Case Made In UsaXelar Typewriter Ribbon Tin Tybon Corp Philadelphia Pa Rare Yellow & Green Vari

Recent News: Typewriters

Source: Google News

Artist Jeremy Mayer's sculptures are vintage, yet sci-fi
Business Standard, September 3rd

Jeremy Mayer's love for the typewriter manifests itself in unique ways. Each time he is in a room with the obsolete machine, he finds himself gravitating towards it, not with a desire to type letters but in the hope of disassembling and reassembling it...Read more

Noon Lions annual antique show a hit
Ruidoso News, September 2nd

The annual antique show of the Noon Lions was heavily attended over the weekend by locals, seasonal residents and visitors to Ruidoso. (Dianne Stallings — Ruidoso News). An old typewriter, jewelry, furniture and all type of intriguing and aging items ...Read more

8Days: Metal madness and kittens to cuddle
Portland Phoenix (satire) (press release) (registration) (blog), September 2nd

Portland's flea for all offers everything from antique furniture and vintage clothing, to handmade jewelry and classic vinyl. There's eclectic art .... Individual typewriter keys snake through the bar, spelling out an entire Emily Dickinson poem. This...Read more

Portland: Awesome city, home of The Mystic Sons of Morris Graves
Communities Digital News, September 1st

In the elegant lobby is an antique typewriter where guests are encouraged to type short stories about their stay in Portland, leaving them for others to read. Across the street from the Sentinel, is the 10th and Alder Food Pod. Food Pods are...Read more

No More Harper Lee Manuscripts
Fine Books & Collections Magazine (blog), September 1st

She called in Jaffe to inspect the typescripts (and Lee's vintage Quiet DeLuxe Royal portable typewriter). What he found was an early draft of part 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird, an original typescript of Go Set a Watchman, and the author's original copy...Read more

Back in the day: HLOM artifacts stir recollections
The Daily News Online, August 30th

Another artifact I was recently looking at was the collection of old vintage typewriters. Now there is something the children of today have never seen. Remember the carbon paper for the typewriter and if you made a mistake you had to use a correction tape?...Read more

Short Line Railroad Museum hosts last tour of the summer
La Crosse Tribune, August 30th

Indeed, Logan was instantly captivated by an antique typewriter in the tower, scrambling for a piece of paper to test it out. There were several railroads in La Crosse years ago, and the Ulrys weren't the only father-son duo on the rails. “Everyone...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