The typewriter, a phenomenal invention, is responsible for many things we take for granted today. Early news broadcasting, many letters we’ve passed through the mail, many of our favorite novels, and one of our other favorite inventions, the computer all derive from the typewriter. Can you imagine today without this epic invention.

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Christopher Latham Sholes – Inventor of the type Writer

Christopher Latham Sholes – Inventor of the type Writer

Many times we use things that are essential to our daily lives without giving much thought to the design failures and successes that helped make it what it is today. Christopher Sholes invented the first usable typewriter and the layout that we are familiar with today. It is highly likely that none of us give much thought to that as we set at our desks at work or school to type away endlessly. But without his contribution, the computer would be powerless. A lot of thought, planning and effort went into this very important invention that we use for so many hours every day.

Early Life

Christopher Latham Sholes was born in Mooresburg, Pennsylvania on February 14, 1819. When he was in his teens, his family moved to Danville, Pennsylvania and he worked as an apprentice with a printer and learned the trade. When he was 18, he moved to Green Bay, Wisconsinto stay with his two brothers. During that time, Sholes was the editor of the Wisconsin Enquirer. That did not last too long as he moved to Kenosha, Wisconsinin 1845 and became the publisher and editor of the Southport Telegraph which he continued to publish for 17 years. He also served as a local postmaster during this time.  Sholes was also known to dabble in politics some and served in the Wisconsin Senate for two terms: 1848-49 and from 1856-57. From 1852-53 he also served in the Wisconsin State Assembly. He was involved in founding the Republican Party in Wisconsin and President Lincoln asked him to be the customs collector for Milwaukee’s port.

Sholes the Inventor

Christopher Sholes invented several different devices during his career in newspapers and printing. He had some lesser known inventions which include a newspaper addressing machine which would mechanically address his newspapers for mailing. He also invented a device that would print page numbers in a book. This was created in 1864. The creation of these devices was steps he took which eventually led him to invent the first practical typewriter later on in 1867.  He did not work on it alone as he worked closely with Samuel W. Soules and Carlos Glidden in the development of the first typewriter. Glidden was the first to come up with the idea of adapting the “numbering machine” to print letters as well. The three men filed and obtained a patent for the device on June 23, 1868. Sholes is the one who is credited with developing the layout of the keyboard as we know it today. It’s known as QWERTY since that is the first 6 keys in order on the third row. The layout was important since he had to work on a design which would separate some of the most common two-letter combinations used in English. This layout helped typists experience less typewriter jams. QWERTY is the most common modern-day layout for English language computers to this day.

Marketing the Typewriter

It took Sholes until 1872 to perfect the model. One of the difficulties he faced was capitalization. There initially wasn’t a key for capitalization and this posed a problem. He still was able to sell the copyright for the machine for $12,000 to the Remington Arms Company. When it was first put on the market it was called the “Sholes & Glidden Type Writer.” They sold less than 5000 of these first typewriters but Sholes kept on working on the device to perfect it. By 1878 he had created the “shift” key so that both cases of letters could be used. This advanced machine called the “Remington No. 2” was a huge success.