They Call Me “Mr. Qwerty”!

DBF

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 6, 2016
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The 1878 QWERTY keyboard layout
(Public Domain)

When you look at a keyboard you can thank Christopher Latham Sholes for the infamous design we know as: QWERTYUIOP and one can hardly begin to wonder the time, thought and energy that went into the design of the typewriter keyboard.

Christopher Sholes was born in Mooresburg (Liberty Township in Montour County) Pennsylvania on Valentine’s Day in 1819. His father lived on land that was awarded to him due to his military service during the war of 1812. By 1823 Christopher had moved with his family to Danville and attended local schools. When he finished his education his father decided he wanted his son to learn the printing trade so Christopher became a printer’s apprentice.

When Sholes was eighteen he moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin and began working for his brother Charles in the newspaper business. By 1839 he was the editor to the “Wisconsin Enquirer” and was soon printing a weekly newspaper called the “Southport Telegraph". In 1840 he married Mary Jane McKinney and from 1844 to 1864 they became the parents of ten children and remarkably all his children lived well into adulthood.

He dabbled in politics from 1848 to 1849 serving as a Democratic state senator in Wisconsin. From 1852-1853 he served in the Wisconsin State Assembly affiliated with the Free Soil Party. When the Civil War began he was a Republican and supported its nominee Abraham Lincoln. In 1863 he was appointed by Lincoln to be the Collector of Customers of the port of Milwaukee.

Then came the time to do what he was meant to do

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Christopher Latham Sholes
(1819–1890)
(Public Domain)

While he worked in the newspaper business he was always watching the typesetting and began his interest in the typing process. By 1866, while working with another printer Samuel W. Soulé they successfully patented a numbering machine.

This was the beginning for Christopher Sholes in his quest to build a typewriter. Through various trials and errors and working with other like minded inventors the process was started toward what we know today as a keyboard. At one point their invention looked more like “piano” keys as they created a keyboard with two rows of black and white keys even recreating the “piano” look of making one row out of ivory and the second of ebony. They created numbers from 2 to 9 and letters from A to Z. The thought was that either the letters “I” would stand in for the number one (remember the original typewriters only typed in Upper Case) and the letter “O” would be a zero.

There were many trips “back to the drawing board” during the years from 1868 to the mid-1870’s. Sholes was never happy with the final product always believing that he could make it better. By 1873 Sholes relinquished his patents rights for $12,000 (nearly a quarter of a million in today’s dollars). The buyer was E. Remington and Sons, which immediately refined and marketed it and it became in 1874 the first commercial typewriter. By the way, the “shift key” appeared in 1878 on the Remington Model 2 typewriter.

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The Sholes/Glidden Typewriter
(Public Domain)
The concept of “touch typing” was not in use when the typewriter was first brought to market. There was no memorization of the key location; no home keys; no need for speed as early typist used the “hunt and peck” method and therefore no danger of the strikers attached to the keys to jam-up.

The strongest and most popular theory for key placement was believed to be determined by the “Bigram Frequency” - it’s just a fancy way of defining how words are put together based on repetitive groupings of 2 letters. For example the letters “T and H” are among the top combinations of letters used so to avoid the mechanisms of the typewriter from jamming up - they needed to be separated. However the fourth most common bigram “E and R” and the sixth most common “R and E” are back to back. Most historians that believe this method was used have no explanation why this come about - but I think I have found the reason which will be clear when the story is done.

Sholes was mindful of the placement of the keys but his expertise was in the “mechanism” on the typewriter and sadly he never had proper funding to develop his typewriter to the scale that he hoped to market. When he partnered with the E. Remington and Sons Company, he partnered with a company that marketed many different items from guns, rifles and sewing machines. Sholes stayed with the Remington Company and while there he met the marketing team of William Ozmun Wykoff (1835-1895), Clarence Walker Seamans 1854-1915) and Henry Harper Benedict (1844-1935). They saw in the typewriter an educational issue rather than a machine issue and knew they could create a new and exciting market.

In August of 1882 Remington entered into an exclusive partnership when Wykoff [a former Union Captain in the 32nd New York] Infantry formed his new company “Wykoff, Seamans & Benedict” for the sole purpose to teach “touch typing”. The target market was office environments. Some changes were made in the typewriter changing the “M” and place it next to the “N” and the “C and X” traded places. No explanation was given but some suspect that change was made for patent reasons. At one point there were one hundred patents in the typewriter industry. Mrs. Elizabeth Margaret Vater Longley enters the scene to teach her eight-finger typing method which is still used today - the first four fingers of each hand rests on the “home keys” while the thumbs handle the space bar.

By 1901 the Remington touch typing course was taught in half of all the U.S. higher education schools, {4} giving the Remington typewriters No. 2 a marketing niche that took years for competitors to catch up. By 1915 the Remington touch typing course had made its way into most high schools curriculums.

Christopher Sholes lost his nine year battle from tuberculosis on February 17, 1890 a few days after his seventy-first birthday. He is buried in Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee. He never saw the explosion in his vision but we still use his basic keyboard today.

But Why QWERTYUIOP?

A strong argument for the first line of the typewriter and why "QWERTYUIOP" was simply for sales reasons. It was discovered the best way to sell a typewriter was to demonstrate the product. It was determined that typing the world “typewriter” was an excellent demonstration on what the machine did. The problem with the concept was the basic fact salesmen could sell but not necessarily type and the “hunt and peck” method was not the best demonstration of the typewriter.

Well it turns out the letters for TYPEWRITER are all found on the top line QWERTYUIOP!! Salesmen were so trained and talented in their work that they could do it fast and without looking thus demonstrating the potential for this new office machine. The sales pitch worked. Perhaps this is why Sholes defied the Bigram Frequency and put the “E & R” side by side.

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Highlighting “Typewriter”
Wikipedia CC (*)


And the Rest is History!​




Sources
1. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/christopher-latham-sholes-7641.php
2. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/7656870/christopher-latham-shole
3.
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/67276460/william-ozmun-wyckoff
4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/...qwerty-keyboard-layout-invented/#3bb7641957ae
(*)
Wikipedia CC - American Typewriter Keyboard
 

Biscoitos

Private
Joined
May 14, 2020
Jared Diamond, in his great book Guns, Germs, and Steel, pages 248 and 418, states that the QWERTY keyboard was created to force typists to type as slowly as possible. He calls it "anti engineering." Because 1873 era typewriter keys were so prone to jamming, especially when adjacent keys were struck at the same time, this was necessary.
The QWERTY keyboard spreads the most common letters over all the rows and places most of them on the left hand side (most people are right handed), and other "perverse tricks" to slow down typing speed.
In 1932, the problem of jamming keys was largely corrected and trials proved that a more efficiently organized keyboard would allow typing speeds to double and reduce the effort to type by 95 percent. The QWERTY trained typists, teachers, manufacturers and salespeople (including the computer industry) have resisted all moves toward a more efficient keyboard arrangement ever since that time.
 

A. Roy

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
My first big history project was a biography of Natalie Curtis Burlin, an ethnologist who started work in 1903. Because of that time frame, many of the original-source documents I had to work with were typewritten and thus easy to read. Quite a contrast to Civil War research, where so much is handwritten and has to be transcribed. There's something enchanting about reading these old documents, but part of me kind of wishes old Christoper Sholes had come up with his invention sooner!

Roy B.
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Member of the Year
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
While with the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), I had to learn International Morse Code and how to transcribe what I heard on my R-390 Radio Receivers on what I was told was a "mill" or a bulky, manual, typewriter. The cover over the typewriter keys had been removed so that when trying to type down the letters of the morse code being transmitted, which was sometimes so fast, the keys would jam together. In order to keep up with the message being transmitted, a morse code intercept operator (me) could quickly reach up and pull the keys free so in order not to miss any of the message being transmitted. In those days code was sent by hand and the speed it was sent varied from operator to operator, sometimes being extremely fast. Me and my brother interceptors were tasked with not missing one letter, no matter how fast the code was sent.

I worked on mills during the training I received at Ft. Devens, MA, in the Fall of 1971. That lasted about 8 months and then I reported to my first assignment to United States Army Field Station (USAFS) Karamusel, Turkey, in 1972, where I never so another mill to copy morse code on again for the rest of my military career. Instead, I worked with an all steel AG-22, an electric form of typewriter with round buttons for keys, a beast to work with. After Turkey and a brief stint with the 407th ASA Company, 3rd Armored Cavalry, Ft. Hood, Texas, I went to USAFS Kunia, Hawaii, on the island of Ohwahu, where I worked 35 feet under a pineapple field using what was called a KSR, a newer, sleeker form of typewriter, made entirely of plastic.

By the time I retired from the Army, I had worked on IBM Selectra typewriters, Wang Word Processors, and finally, some of the first IBM computers when stationed at Ft. Drum, New York, with the 110th MI Battalion, 10th Mountain Division.

Copied a lot of morse code on a lot of different versions of the typewriter and am much happier typing on my lap top at home today, writing posts like this one!

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
Joined
Aug 25, 2013
Location
Hannover, Germany
Greetings from the land of QWERTZ !
The German language has not many "Y"s, but much more "Z"s, therefore these two were interchanged on our keyboard.
I still remember my typing lessons, we had to take them to learn blind typing. We had to look straight forward and the keyboard was hidden from our eyes so that we could not see what we were typing. Like on a Roman war galley, our teacher set the meter and 25 students simultaneously hit the keys. First we learned the middle row, typing words only using keys from that row, then came the upper and the lower row. Then he would dictate and we had to type what he said. To become a librarian I needed to be able to type 120 letters per minute without typo (every typo would cost me a number of counted letters) and I even achieved 150 back then.

But when I started to work we needed so many special characters on the keyboard that like in the old days, the minuscule "L" letter was used as a "1" to make room for a special character on the key where the "1" used to be. That was okay as long as we used the typewriters, but when all data was shifted into our computerized library program, we got errors and errors, because of course the computer did not accept "l" as 1 !! I still shudder when I think of all the corrections!

At home I had a mechanical "Olympia" typewriter, at work I had a modern electric IBM - wow that was something!!
 
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DixieRifles

Captain
Member of the Year
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Mar 22, 2009
Location
Collierville, TN
I always heard the chose the placement of the letters to ensure the typist's speed was slow enough to let the levers return to position.
Ditto. I wonder if there is any source for that tale??

I still think Typing was the best class I took in high school. This was years before computers came out but it made computers more useful tool. And NOW we have these tiny key boards on iPhones that I struggle to peck without hitting the letter next to it.

Here is a free keyboard tip for your phone. If you type a word and see you misspelled it or need to insert something, normally you hit the Back key that erases as it gies back.
Try this: Hold down the Space Bar for more than 1 second. The letters on the keyboard will fade and, keeping your finger still on the Space Bar, it becomes a mouse pad and you can move the cursor back and up to insert. You can even stop the cursor inside a word. Lift your finger and hit the Back Space to erase the letter on the left of cursor and retype it.
 

A. Roy

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
I remember taking typing. I took summer before entering college. One of best things I ever did.

I'm kind of thinking boys weren't allowed to take typing at my high school -- or maybe it's just that that was a good way to get beat up. So I had my mother teach me at home. Never did get that good at it, even though I've worked full-time as a writer for decades!

Roy B.
 

lupaglupa

2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
I took typing because I thought it would be easy. Then in the class I made no effort because I thought "When will I ever need this?" I ended up with a bad grade and a hunt and peck style that I'm still cursed with.
 
Joined
May 8, 2015
Location
Pittsburgh, PA
I took a typing course in middle school on an antiquated machine on which it felt like you needed to hit the keys with a sledgehammer. I hated it and never learned to type without looking. Since then, I've written five books and a PhD thesis, among many other things, and hunting and pecking never seemed to bother me much. Of course, when you are transcribing mathematical equations, as I often do, the time spent writing text can be almost inconsequential. I created my physics PhD thesis with a daisy wheel printer, and I had to write the equations in by hand with a Rapidograph pen.
 
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