Along Came a Typewriter

By Anna Urgitus and Lida Thompson

What is the Typewriter? The History Behind it All


The Remington Standard No. 2. 1878

Windows Tablets- the evolution of technology has changed in typing

Windows Tablets- the evolution of technology has changed in typing

The typewriter is defined as a mechanical device that of which, produces printed characters on a piece of paper by typing individual keys. Developments in the typewriter design have left a legacy on present data inputing techniques in computer systems today. In 1868 Christopher Latham Sholes created the first typewriter and by 1873 it became commercially known and started to make its impact into the workforce. The typewriter was able to bring women into the workforce by starting the idea of gendered jobs which, in some cases, is still very prominent today. This website will conduct and anayzle the physical, purposeful, distinct features, social context, and that contemporary context of the typewriter.

Physical Description

Half a foot by a foot around 15 lbs.

Keys were attached to the keyboard which had corresponding letters attached to the striking head which would hit the paper when pushing a key firmly. Paper wrapped around a platen which was attached to a carriage which moved left or right in order align the next letter or word with your previous text. The earliest typewriters were completely mechanical. Every moving part was mechanical- moved by a typist or a built-in mechanism using levers and springs. Typewriters automatically became gendered upon entering the United States industrial workforce because the keys were distinctly easier for women to type on and were more efficient typists versus men.

The Saturn model of 1899.The Saturn was really complicated to use: first the user selected a row of printed letters on the index, then type on one of the nine keys of the keyboard.

The Saturn model of 1899.The Saturn was really complicated to use: first the user selected a row of printed letters on the index, then type on one of the nine keys of the keyboard.

The Purpose of the Typewriter 

The general purpose behind the typewriter was to create an advantage of neatness, compactness, and legibility so the typist could more easily print his orher thoughts. The typewriter was the biggest technological achievement of the 19th century and further helped create technological changes in decades to come. There was the purpose of supply and demand for the typewriter. Factors that made an impact for supply of typewriters included: the respectability of office employment that came with the advancement of technology; the iconography of the typewriter- new invention meant new money; lastly the typewriter was gendered for women thus bringing diversity. images-3Factors that influenced the demand for typists alike was: the benefits of adopting the typewriter- technological upgrade it brought and had a gendered reputation; growing stability and wealth in American firms- images-1resulting in expansion of office staffs (females) and creating higher standing in jobs; and finally the lower wages women earned compared to their male coworker. The typewriter brought economic forces into play and created a purpose for women in the workforce for generations to come.


Distinct Features of the QWERTY Keyboard of Typewriters

Due to the nature of this keyboard, when two adjacent keys are pressed one after the other, the keys become “jammed” which causes them both to remain pressed down. When this happens, you then have to go in and un-jam them yourself, which is time-consuming.  Because of this limitation, the QWERTY keyboard puts letters often following a certain letter  (such as t and h or t and s) not next to each other on the keyboard.  Although this is effective in preventing jams from happening more often, it ends up taking longer to type because you have to reach farther from the key you were previously on.

There are distinct keyboard layouts other than the QWERTY.  The QWERTY became mainstreamed most likely because it was the first keyboard layout on the commercialized typewriter.  Another known keyboard layout is called the DVORAK layout, not because of the letters in the top left row, but because DVORAK is the last name of the creator of the layout.  Antonin Dvorak invented this keyboard in the 1930s.  This keyboard is much more focuses on the home row as the main row on the keyboard.  Unlike the QWERTY keyboard where only 30% of its strokes are done on the home row, the DVORAK keyboard has 70% of strokes on the home row, which is where your fingers naturally rest, causing for faster typing.

Social Context $(KGrHqIOKpcE6d+LCEEyBOnhIZ4,Rw~~60_35

The typewriter had created a social context for women by having district feminine relations towards the sewing machine and keys on a piano. Women of the middle-class and up were noticeable in their social pastimes of playing the piano. Thus the typewriter was more natural for these first women typists and was more easily accustomed.The typewriter had a “domestic” nature. The creation of the original typewriters reverted much of the structure and usage like the sewing machine. The first models had a pedal to work the carriage and were cast-iron with a black arabesque paintwork to them._68941946_624_421_partners-in-perfect

The context behind the female typist soon revolutionized into the idea of wanting men to hire these female typist by not just by skilled typing but, through sexual attraction. In order to sell the product not only to future female typists, but male bosses who would hire the female typists- the context had to be appealing to both genders. The typewriter would begin to be commercialized with women bringing character and flare to the product. Women wanted see such photos of females at the typewriter and would want to aspire be them because they looked successful and proud. Men would want to hire and contribute to female typists because it brought sex into the work sphere and as more women joined the workforce thus further enabled men to get more promotions and accessibility to possible girlfriends and or mistresses.

The social context of such photography showed a new type of working woman with the instrument to future emancipation – the typewriter.Female typists and the typewriter itself, were an American icon.

“Typewriting involved no hard labor and no more skill than playing the piano.”-BBC News

Contemporary Context 

Today most people do not use typewriters.  Typewriters are not as efficient as other modes of writing such as computers or tablets.  Typewriters are unable to go back and erase so when you make a mistake it is very time consuming.  On a computer if you make a mistake you can quickly go back and delete what you typed, unlike on a typewriter.  Today typewriters are seen as a vintage item and often times provoke nostalgia through typing on them.  You can buy typewriters on websites such as Etsy, which often times specializes in selling vintage items.  Some people even collect typewriters today.

The Typewriter Today

The evolution of the typewriter from where it has started, to present times is absolutely tremendous. By converging informational technology applications into a single device- new media- the popularity of the specialized word processing machine- the typewriter who only had a single function- had seen a decline. With the influence of the typewriter, America has reached a technological revolution. The traditional secretary or typist has a completely new definition of skill assets, technological knowledge, and is not nearly as gender oriented as it once was. No longer was the typewriter only equipped for women in office jobs.The typewriter is a phenomenon that brought together old and new technology alike. The history of the typewriter started by creating messages on keyboards that would go to only a few people to now, having the accessibility to connect and interact with millions of people on the keyboard with the internet. Typing and having access to typing was once considered gendered and uncommon is now a day-to-day interaction without even thinking twice about it. In most recent times, the public and the media both share the same channels of communication which has enabled the idea of a participatory culture where information is not only delivered, but created. Social media and the typewriter represent the evolution of technology and communication. 18ozjbqjd3zmdjpg


For Further Research and Museum Links

Youtube Clips 


Crew, BBC. “The Arrival of Women in the Office – BBC News.” BBC News. N.p., 25 July 2013. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

Dugan, Bryan. “A Brief History of the Typewriter.” Mental Floss. N.p., 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

Hoke, Donald. “The Woman and the Typewriter: A Case Study in Technological Innovation and Social Change.” Business and Economic History 8.Papers Presented At The Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting Of The Business History Conference (1979): 76-88. Web. 6 Aug. 2015

Nowotny, Helga. “Cultures of Technology and the Quest for Innovation.” Google Books. Berghahn Books, 2006. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

Quast, Lisa. “Causes And Consequences Of The Increasing Numbers Of Women In The

Walker, Chris Stokel. “6 Non-QWERTY Keyboard Layouts.” Mental Floss. N.p., 2013. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

Workforce.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Aug. 2015.

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