Who Built the First Practical Typewriter?
The first TYPEWRITER of practical utility was built in 1808 by Pellegrine Turri of Reggio Emilia, Italy for his blind friend the Countess Carolina Fantoni. The two maintained a regular correspondence and 16 of the Countess’s typewritten letters, dating from 1808 to 1810, are preserved at the Reggio State Archives. There were 27 characters, the 23 letters of the Italian alphabet in upper case and four punctuation marks.
The first typewriter in regular series production was the Danish Skrivekugle (Writing Ball), invented by Pastor Mailing Hansen and manufactured by the Jurgens Mekaniske Establishment of Copenhagen in October 1870.
The first commercially produced keyboard machine, forerunner of the modern typewriter, was developed by Christopher Latham Sholes and originally manufactured by his financial backer, James Densmore, in a Milwaukee wheelright’s shop in June 1872. To begin with there was no standardized model, each machine incorporating the latest ideas of its promoters.
Although the keys were originally arranged in alphabetical order, Sholes and Densmore decided on a new arrangement based on the order of type in a printer’s case. The first machine incorporating the ‘universal’ keyboard still in use (with only slight amendments) was completed by 8 November 1872, when Densmore wrote a letter to his son on it saying that ‘the change was better to be made than not’.
In the winter of 1873 James Densmore opened the first typewriter shop at 4 Hanover Street, New York, where Sholes’s machine, now standardized for series production, was retailed at a price of $ 125. The basic design features of this model were similar to those of most modern typewriters with three important exceptions—it printed only in capital letters; the text was not visible to the operator while typing: and there was no back space.
Meanwhile the two partners, Sholes and Densmore, had signed a contract (1 March 1873) for the mass production of their machine by the Remington Small Arms Co. of Ilion, New York. The Remington model was marketed as the Sholes & Glidden Type-Writer (Carlos Glidden had assisted Sholes at various stages of development) on 1 July 1874. Mechanically, this typewriter (renamed the ‘Remington No. 1’ in 1876) followed the design of the Milwaukee machines almost exactly, the only significant being in the casing, metal having replaced wood.
The first typewriter manufactured in Britain was designed by the celebrated magician John Nevil Maskelyne and produced by the Maskelyne British Typewriter & Manufacturing Co. Ltd of London in 1889. This model embodied two unusual features—a shift key that could be operated either by hand or foot, according to the customer’s preference, and differential spacing, enabling each character to occupy a space appropriate to its width.