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date: 27 June 2019


The Oxford Companion to the Book


The term ‘typewriter’, or ‘Type-Writer’, was coined by Christopher Latham Sholes when he patented his invention in 1868, but his was not the first attempt to build such a machine for printing. As early as 1714, a patent was granted to Henry Mill for a device that apparently was not built. Many others proposed machines, but it was the Sholes typewriter—sometimes styled the Sholes-Gidden, or the Sholes-Gidden-Soulé, to record his collaborators—that would lead to commercial success. Manufacturing rights were sold to Philo Remington, who brought out the first machine in 1874. It could type only capital (or *upper-case) letters, and many familiar features were yet to be developed; it did, however, have the QWERTY (also, ‘standard’ or ‘universal’) keyboard arrangement. Remington typewriters dominated the market for some time, which may have established QWERTY, but other typewriter manufacturers also entered the field. Technical developments were rapid: shift keys to handle *lower-case and capital letters, tabulation, the ability to see the typed text, guides for the paper, the ability to type several *carbon copies or to cut *stencils, improved portability. The typewriter became the predominant business machine, and the work of typing was increasingly delegated to female secretaries. Authors began to submit book MSS in typed copy: Mark Twain was the first, having bought a typewriter in 1874. As authors increasingly began to write on typewriters, the image of a blank sheet in a manual typewriter came to represent the 20th-century writer.

Although QWERTY is the most common English-speaking layout, the utility of its arrangement remains debatable. The layout devised by the educational psychologist August Dvorak in the 1930s—which proved experimentally to be superior in speed and accuracy—apparently could not compete with QWERTY’s entrenchment. The *Monotype keyboard also uses QWERTY, but *Linotype employs a different layout.

Electric typewriters arrived in the 20th century and, with improvements in the quality of typed copy, now depending upon ribbons used only once, they were able to generate *camera-ready copy for printing by *offset lithography. The IBM Selectric Composer (1966)could produce *justified text in an acceptable design of *letterform. The QWERTY keyboard layout was adopted for *word processing and *desktop publishing, one of the typewriter’s major contributions to the dominant modern book-production technology. Remarkably, in 1909 G. C. Mares described a ‘zerograph’, which, using telegraphy, could allow ‘a man sitting at his Zerograph in London … to hold written converse with his correspondents in the furthermost parts of the globe, without the intervention of any physical connection’.

Michael Twyman argues that familiarity with typewritten pages may have been an influence in the move in book design away from justified lines to even spacing between words, and ragged right-hand margins, which E. *Gill promoted in An Essay on Typography (1931). Producing centred text was also difficult in typed work, which may have challenged the taste for symmetry in traditional typographic design.

Margaret M. Smith


G. C. Mares, The History of the Typewriter (1909)Find this resource:

F. J. Romano, Machine Writing and Typesetting (1986)Find this resource:

M. L. Twyman, Printing 1770–1970 (1998)Find this resource: