The Typewriter

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog

September 6, 2022

No one can point to the exact date when this item was invented. Without it, computers as we know them would not exist. Without it, many great works of literature would never have been written.

The Crandall -an 1884 typewriter

The concept for the typewriter can be traced back to as early as the late 1500’s when an Italian, Francesco Rampazetto, invented a device called scrittura tattile, a machine used to impress letters in papers.

The Infallible Wikipedia shares this:

“Although many modern typewriters have one of several similar designs, their invention was incremental, developed by numerous inventors working independently or in competition with each other over a series of decades. As with the automobile, telephone, and telegraph, a number of people contributed insights and inventions that eventually resulted in ever more commercially successful instruments. Historians have estimated that some form of typewriter was invented 52 times as thinkers tried to come up with a workable design.”

It was not until the 1870’s when the machine which became the modern typewriter began its ascent. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The first commercial typewriters were introduced in 1874, but did not become common in offices until after the mid-1880s. The typewriter quickly became an indispensable tool for practically all writing other than personal handwritten correspondence. It was widely used by professional writers, in offices, business correspondence in private homes, and by students preparing written assignments.

Typewriters were a standard fixture in most offices up to the 1980s. Thereafter, they began to be largely supplanted by personal computers running word processing software. Nevertheless, typewriters remain common in some parts of the world. In many Indian cities and towns, for example, typewriters are still used, especially in roadside and legal offices due to a lack of continuous, reliable electricity.

The QWERTY keyboard layout, developed for typewriters in the 1870s, remains the standard for computer keyboards. The origins of this layout remain in dispute.”

By the time I was in junior high, no doubt there were papers to be written which required use of a typewriter. The first one I ever used belonged to my mother. Made by Remington, it was their Envoy model. While I’m not sure why there were different models since they all looked the same, no doubt there were features added each year which improved on the previous model.

My mother’s 1941 Remington Envoy… and the device which replaced the typewriter… 80 years later.

I will admit right now that I just spent 15 minutes looking for the serial number on her typewriter. Yes, they had serial numbers. Turns out this machine, number S1161669, was manufactured in 1941. My mother was 16 that year.

From an early age I developed a love/hate relationship with the typewriter. I loved the feeling of rolling a blank piece of paper into the platen, its emptiness beckoning creation. Then with the first few pushes of the keys, words would magically appear on the paper. It was a rush!

By word three, however, a horrible thing would happen. Instead of typing say, “Amelia skipped merrily down the path,” what often occurred would be something which looked like this:

Amelia skip[ed merruly down teeh path”

Magic fixer solution

Unlike word processing on the computer, once those letters hit the page, you were stuck. Then you had a choice. Rip the paper from the roller in frustration, crumple it up, stomp on it and scream, and then start over OR go digging for that little bottle of the magic fixer, whiskey. Ha ha… just kidding. I’m talking about White Out, aka Liquid Paper.

If your mistake was early enough, replacing the paper was best. But woe unto you if it happened way down the page.

My papers were ALWAYS a mess of white out.

But I digress. I believe it was my sophomore year of high school when I got an electric typewriter. Which really only meant that I could now make mistakes much more quickly.

Me with the IBM Selectric in 1979

That machine served me well throughout high school and college. Then, in 1979 I was hired as a reporter and editor for the Eatonville Dispatch and I can still recall my first day on the job when there, on what was now my desk, sat a shiny IBM Selectric.

For those who don’t know, the Selectric was the gold standard of typewriters in that era for one very important reason: you could change the fonts.

Up until then typewriters pretty much featured one font and one font only: Courier.

The Selectic did not have a static set of keys. Instead, all the letters were on a ball – imagine a small metal disco ball covered in raised letters and numbers – which could be popped off and a different ball put on.

Oh the joy of being able to choose between Presitge Elite and Courier Italic! Serif versus San Serif.

IKE sophomores in Mrs. Rigo’s typing I class, 1974

After leaving Eatonville, typewriter use becomes fuzzy. I know I worked on them at various jobs right up until I joined Microsoft in January 1982. It was only then that we had a rudimentary internal email system which I figured out how to make work like a typewriter. The best part of that was the ability to correct mistakes. It only took a few times of painting the screen with white out to learn that the liquid saver was no longer needed.

By the mid-1980’s typewriters had pretty much become obsolete in most business environments. Like the horse and buggy, the teletype, Victrolas, and a whole host of other products which once dominated the culture, the typewriter was sent to the dustbin of history. (hmmm… I think a dustbin is part of that list of obsolete things also)

One final thought on typewriters. Of all the classes I took in high school, it was typing which benefited me more than any others. Kudos to Mrs. Rigos and typing teachers everywhere.

To you I say… jjjj… ffff…iiii… aaaa … and ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog*.’

A few links:  (Guess they had the first AND second amendments covered)

* ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ is a sentence used in typing classes as it contains all 26 letters of the English language.

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