The Rise and Fall of Typewriters

On April 25, 2011, Indian conglomerate Godrej in Mumbai shut down the last typewriter manufacturing plant in the world. Until the first decade of the 21st century, typewriters had been popular in India, but the country began to gradually abandon them—just like everywhere else in the world. It marked the production end of a machine that had dominated the world of writing for at least a decade.

Origins

The idea of a machine that can produce characters can be traced as far back as the early 18th century. There is evidence that in 1714 then-British monarch Queen Anne awarded a patent to an engineer by the name of Henry Mill for “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing.” However, there are no records of the invention’s use for “settlements and public records,” as the patent puts it. Also, there are no drawings of the machine, and there is scant information on the inventor. However, Mill is credited with the first typewriter patent.

The Rise And Fall Of Typewriters

Evolution

The idea of a machine for producing writing gained momentum in the 19th century. Italian inventor Pellegrino Turri came up with a mechanical typewriter in 1808 for his blind lover. He also invented carbon paper, which was meant to provide ink for the machine. However, few documents exist on the machine itself. American inventor William Austin Bart is referred to as the “Father of the Typewriter” for a machine he patented in 1829 called the “Typographer.” Although Bart’s invention is referred to as the “first typewriter” like other entries of the age, his is the first one that comes with a significant amount of documentation. However, the “Typographer” was never commercially produced, perhaps due to the realization that its dial-based design actually made it slower than handwriting.

Commercial Acceptance

Milwaukee’s Christopher Latham Sholes is credited with coming up with the prototype for the modern typewriter. First developing it in the mid-1860s, Sholes didn’t unveil his typewriter until 1873. This typewriter, which looked like a hybrid of a loom and a jack-in-the-box, could print legible letters. Sholes was so impressed with it that he began to type his letters instead of handwriting them. Manufacturing firm E. Remington & Sons decided to make machines based on Sholes’ invention, and someone by the name of William K. Jenne came forward with the design of their first model: the Remington Model 1. Remington marketed the Model 1 as a device “the size of a sewing machine, and an ornament to an office, study or sitting room,” and the company further declared it as bound to become as “indispensable in families as the sewing machine.”

The Rise And Fall Of Typewriters

Popularity

Jenne continued to improve on the typewriter’s design and function; he developed the ability to type lower-case letters, improved visibility of what was being printed on the paper, and designed automatic reversing of the ribbon. As a result, the typewriter became a very popular item by the early 20th century. Subsequent decades brought proportional spacing, electrical power, and IBM’s “Lift-Off” tape to erase typing mistakes from original copy.

The Computer Age

Until the 1980s, typewriters were still widely used, present in all types of environments—from the homes of best-selling authors to the offices of large corporations. However, with the advent of the personal computer in the 1990s, typewriters began to lose ground to more advanced writing devices. Today, word processing applications—which include Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect—dominate the way we produce documents, and the typewriter has been committed to history.

Byline

Rocky Stewart writes on gadgets, gizmos, technology, computers, antique devices, accessories (such as the kensington ipad cases) and other kindred topics.

Image credit goes to daisy_princess.