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Origin of The QWERTY Keyboard

Updated: Jan 5

It all started in Wisconsin in 1866 with a man called Christopher Sholes.

The former state senator had moved on to become a newspaper publisher and co-invented an automated machine to number coupons and tickets - a task previously done by hand. When Sholes showed his device to fellow inventor Carlos Glidden, Glidden purportedly exclaimed: “Why can’t you make a machine that will print letters as well as figures?”

The two men teamed up with a Milwaukee printer, S.W. Soule, and the three of them set up shop together and began work on what would become the world’s first commercially successful “Type Writer” - though Soule had left the team by then.

There’s some dispute over how and why Sholes and Glidden arrived at the QWERTY layout, with some arguing that it solved a jamming problem by spacing out the most common letters in English, whilst other historians reckon it was designed to help telegraphists avoid common errors when transcribing Morse code. Regardless, after around 30 test models, Sholes and Glidden settled on QWERTY - and changed the world.

The Sholes and Glidden typewriter came to market in 1874, manufactured by E. Remington & Sons at a price of $125 (just under $3,000 in today's money). Sold as the “Remington No. 1,” it became the first commercially successful typewriter, even though it had more than a passing resemblance to the sewing machines that Remington had recently added to its product line.

Be that as it may, now, even non-publishers could exchange scruffy penmanship and spilt inkwells for precise, easy-to-read type. This had the knock on benefit of speeding up business, legal, medical and personal communications.

The QWERTY layout hasn't changed since. It has been adopted by each subsequent advance in technology, from IBM’s Selectric typewriter in 1961 to personal computers in the 1970s, the first keyed Blackberry in 1999 and then the explosion of touchscreen phones and tablets in the early 2010s.

QWERTY has reigned supreme for 150 years, even if the keys are no longer attached to swinging typebars.



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