Nowadays, typewriters are looked at with some kind of nostalgic romanticism, artifacts of a bygone era. Strangely enough, we have relegated them to a museum only recently, as the computer took their places on the writers’ desks less than three decades ago. But where do they come from?
Who Created the Typewriter?
The earliest documented version of a typewriter dates back to 1575 when an Italian printmaker named Francesco Rampazetto invented the “scrittura tattile,” a machine designed to impress letters into paper. This early version set the foundation for the concept of typing.
In 1808, another Italian created a machine to type. Named Pellegrino Turri, he invented a typewriter to assist his blind friend, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, in writing–it is known because letters written by the Countess using the typewriter have been preserved.
In 1829, an American named William Austin Burt patented a machine called the “Typographer.” Although it wasn’t the first typewriter ever created, Burt’s invention is considered one of the earliest versions of a typewriter.
In 1864, Austrian carpenter Peter Mitterhofer developed several typewriter prototypes. The following year, Rev. Rasmus Malling-Hansen from Denmark invented the Hansen Writing Ball, which became commercially produced in 1870. The Hansen Ball featured an innovative design with 52 keys arranged on a large brass hemisphere, resembling an oversized pincushion. It gained popularity in Europe and was used in offices until the early 1900s.
The Sholes and Glidden Typewriter
Throughout the 19th century, inventors across Europe and the United States continued to work on improving typewriter designs. The breakthrough in typewriter technology came in 1868 when a group of Americans—Christopher Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule—patented the first commercially successful typewriter. Known as the Sholes and Glidden Typewriter, it was manufactured by E. Remington and Sons and featured the iconic QWERTY keyboard layout. The success of this typewriter led to the widespread adoption of the QWERTY keyboard as the standard.
In 1873, the Sholes and Glidden Typewriter evolved into the Remington typewriter, which soon became a dominant presence in the industry. This typewriter design, like many early models, was an understroke or “blind” writer, requiring the typist to lift the carriage to see the typed characters. Other typewriter variations, such as the Caligraph in 1880 and the Smith Premier in 1890, also gained popularity.
The electric typewriter
The electric typewriter emerged in the early 20th century, introducing significant advancements in typewriter technology. In 1914, James Fields Smathers invented the first practical power-operated typewriter. In 1925, Remington released its first electric typewriter based on Smathers’s design. IBM, a prominent player in the typewriter industry, introduced its electric typewriter in 1935, solidifying its hold on the market.
IBM made another groundbreaking innovation in 1961 with the invention of the IBM Selectric Typewriter (while developing the first operating system for its computers). This typewriter featured a spherical typeball instead of the traditional typebars. The typeball eliminated issues such as jams and allowed for multiple fonts to be used in a single document. The IBM Selectric dominated the electric typewriter market for the next two decades.
In 1984, IBM revolutionized the typewriter industry once again with the introduction of the IBM Wheelwriter. This model offered advanced features such as reprint and spell-check, making it a popular choice for both homes and offices.
While the typewriter has undergone various design iterations over the years, the modern typewriters we have today are essentially variations of previous models. They are available as either new or refurbished typewriters, and they continue to serve as functional tools for writing enthusiasts and collectors.
If you want a more visual and detailed exploration of the history of the typewriter, visit typewriter.com.