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A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of June, Solar Year 2018

The White Alcove

On June 23, 1868 Christopher Latham Sholes patents the typewriter with the QWERTY keyboard.

In 1837, at the age of eighteen, Christopher Latham Sholes moved to the new territory of Wisconsin where he initially worked for his elder brothers, who published a newspaper in Green Bay. Shortly thereafter Sholes became editor of the “Wisconsin Enquirer”, in Madison. After a year, he moved to Kenosha to take charge of the newspaper there and soon entered politics, serving in the state legislature. In 1860 Sholes became editor of the “Milwaukee News” and later of the “Milwaukee Sentinel”.

In 1864 Sholes and a friend, Samuel W. Soulé, were granted a patent for a page-numbering machine. A fellow inventor-mechanic, Carlos Glidden, suggested to Sholes that he might rework his device into a letter-printing machine and referred him to a published account of a writing machine devised by John Pratt of London. Reading the article in the 1867 issue of the journal “Scientific American”, he was inspired to construct what became the first practical typewriter.

It was the second model attempt by Sholes that received a patent, US 79265, on June 23 in 1868. The working prototype was made by the machinist Matthias Schwalbach. It wrote faster than a pen and had the first QWERTY setup of the keyboard. The first typewriter had no shift-key mechanism though: it wrote in capital letters only because of the problem of printing both capitals and small letters without increasing the number of keys. Later improvements in the machine Sholes made brought him two more patents; however, he developed difficulty in raising working capital for future development.

Sholes sold his patent rights for $12,000 to Densmore and Yost, who made an agreement with the sewing machine and arms manufacturer E. Remington and Sons, a firm with the machinery and skill to carry out the development and marketing. Remington began production of its first typewriter on March 1, 1873, in Ilion, New York, placing the first typewriters on the market in 1874.

Among its original features that were still standard in machines built a century later were the cylinder, with its line-spacing and carriage-return mechanism; the escapement, which causes the letter spacing by carriage movement; the arrangement of the type bars so as to strike the paper at a common centre; the actuation of the type bars by means of key levers and connecting wires; printing through an inked ribbon; and the positions of the different characters on the keyboard in a QWERTY format, which conform almost exactly to the arrangement that is now universal.

Mark Twain purchased a Remington model and became the first author to submit a typewritten book manuscript.

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