Monday, June 23, 2014

It's the Anniversary of the Typewriter

Today, June 23, is the anniversary of the patenting of the typewriter in 1868.

The patent was granted to Christopher Sholes, a Pennsylvania native, printer and newspaper editor; Samuel Soule, another printer, and Carlos Glidden, a lawyer and amateur inventor, all of whom were living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the time.

Sholes, born in Mooresburg in 1819, completed an apprenticeship to a printer in nearby Danville, Montour County, before moving to Wisconsin. He’d been working on several inventions before he and Soule perfected his prototype. Glidden joined the partnership and put up the development funds.

Though he’s sometimes credited as the inventor of the typewriter, what Sholes actually did was perfect a practical device. Henry Mill, an English inventor, patented the first typewriter in 1714. Down through the years until 1868, other inventors tinkered with the machine and sought patents. None were commercially successful.

Sholes did develop the QWERTY keyboard, which is still in use today on both typewriters and English language computers.

The inventors wrote hundreds of letters on the machine to potential investors. James Densmore, another Pennsylvanian, responded with interest, though he contended the machine still needed improvement. Discouraged, Soule and Glidden dropped out of the partnership and were replaced by Densmore.

After subjecting the machine to rigorous testing by a team of stenographers, the partners offered some 50 typewriters for sale at a price of $250 each.

In 1873. the partners approached the Remington Arms Company, which offered to buy the patent. Sholes sold his share for a mere $12,000. Densmore, more prudently, requested a royalty. He would profit to the tune of $1.5 million.

Mark Twain, an early believer in the value of the machine, claimed to be the “first person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature.” He erroneously believed he had written part of “Tom Sawyer” on the typewriter. Ron Powers, author of “Mark Twain, A Life,” said one of Twain’s assistants did type out his handwritten manuscript of “Life on the Mississippi,” and it was probably the first book ever typed before going to a printer.


  1. Like you, John, I can remember bashing the old keys!
    Interesting to read about the invention of this wonderful machine.

  2. Thanks, Margaret. My first was a Remington Standard my parents gifted me. Despite much abuse (and neglect in recent years), it still works.

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