A couple of months ago, June 23rd to be exact, was National Typewriter Day. I meant to make a blog post about it, but was so busy writing about all the type-in news at the time, I completely forgot about it. Only when I was researching the history of the typewriter for a first day of school report, that I realized the practical typewriter as we know it is 150 years old! This is a huge milestone in it’s life. I decided to immediately celebrate all these highs and lows of the typewriter for all these years by providing a brief history of it thus far:
As we know it, the golden age of the typewriter was the 20th century (though it can arguably be considered the present). Far before then, a need for a machine that prints while being typed on was demanding. Evidence of this can be traced back to medieval times, but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that this was noticeable. Many British inventors were trying their hand at creating one of these devices, but none were successful. It wasn’t until this news made it into the Scientific American Journal that things changed. The inventor Christopher Latham Sholes read about these attempts, and became inspired to create one of his own. The early typewriters did not look like the ones we know today. Some look more suited for composing music than an essay, for example.
Sholes didn’t give up, though. A year after he set to work, in 1868, the first practical typewriter was finally created:
he kept working on it for five years after it’s initial invention, when he decided to make some money off of it. In 1873, he signed a contract with E. Remington & Sons, producers of guns, to manufacture his product. In 1874, the typewriter started appearing on store shelves. These machine were first named Remington, after the manufacturer.
It’s common knowledge to any typewriter enthusiast, that the first machines did not have a shift key, so the typewriter either typed in all capitals, or had two keyboards, one all capital, and one all lowercase.
As you may be able to tell from the picture above, this was about the time other typewriter manufacturers and brands started popping up, such as one of the earliest Smith-Corona machines. It’s also common knowledge to all typewriter enthusiasts, that as we entered the 20th century, the most common makers of typewriters were Royal, Smith-Corona, Underwood, and of course, Remington.
Of course with each decade to come, came a newer and more modern look to each typewriter:
I know it isn’t fair to compare different brands throughout the years, let alone a Royal to a Smith-Corona or even a Hermes, but this is just a basic representation of how they evolved.
Around the time this timeline ends is when electrics really started taking over the home and office. Electric machines have been around for nearly as long as the manual itself, but it wasn’t until around the 1950s, with the Smith-Corona Electric, that they really started to gain popularity. By the 1980s, one of the most popular machines was the beastly IBM Selectric:
Word processors eventually took up most desk spaces and then laptops. The 1990s is undeniably the darkest age in the history of the typewriter.
But then something miraculous happened.
Around ten years ago, as Bill Wahl recalls, a sort of resurgence appeared within the typewriter community. With the quickly growing technological world taking over everyone’s lives, people wanted to return to something simpler. Typewriter Shops like the Mesa Typewriter Exchange began thriving. More and more young people, including myself, started discovering this magical “computer of the 20th century” as I’ve heard people call it. I first got into them myself when I viewed the CBS Sunday Morning segment focusing on this renaissance. In fourth grade, I received my very first typewriter, the Sears Citation:
I started hearing about type-ins more and more often not just here in Arizona, but around the nation! I have to say though, I was pretty proud when I read that Arizona was the leading state in the typewriter revival. The rest is history. Typewriters are still going strong to this day. People are finding more and more creative ways to use them, rather than using them as a decoration to collect dust.
So today, take a minute with your typewriter to truly breathe it in and get the full experience, and if you have the chance, introduce it to somebody new. Until next time, happy 150 years!