The keyboard most of us use for typing is inefficient and awkward, not to mention confusing - and we've known this since 1872 when it was first marketed to the public as the "Type-Writer."
It's called the QWERTY Keyboard because the letters of the first alphabetical row appear in the order Q, W, E, R, T and Y. Also called the "universal" keyboard, it was the brainchild of inventor Christopher Latham Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Sholes built the first type-writer in 1868, arranging the keys in alphabetical order in two rows. Each letter was located at the end of a movable arm, or type bar. The machine had a movable carriage and a lever for turning paper from line to line. Unfortunately, the great machining town of Milwaukee wasn't as sophisticated then as it is now, and shops could not produce a fine-tuned instrument that worked with precision and speed. It jammed. It clashed. It was no fun to use. The most popular letters would clash into each other. It was most challenging when a user typed fast, when keys stuck, jammed and caused untold frustration.
Sholes was determined to mechanize his unique communication tool. He believed the solution would be to slow the typist down. But, to maintain efficiency, popular letters typically typed in sequence (such as TH) could not be far apart from each other. So, he asked his brother-in-law to rearrange the keys so the letters used most often would not be side-by-side and the type bars would come from opposite directions. Results of a study by educator Amos Densmore, who was the brother of Sholes's chief financial backer, indicated which letters should be placed where. The newly arranged keyboard took on the Qwerty name because of the sequence of the first alphabetical letters (Q, W, E, R, T, Y). In the end, typing efficiency and speed were enhanced, not slowed, by the revisions.
Arms manufacturer Remington built the first mass-produced Type-writer, which was introduced to the public in 1874. Sholes's Qwerty keyboard was included in his patent in 1878, after the type-writer was into production and its second model had been introduced.
Other versions of the typing keyboard have come and gone, but, like an old friend, the Qwerty continues. My parents were quite familiar with the typewriter, though neither of them had a high school education. Using the hunt-and-peck method, both parents taught themselves to type. Dad typed letters to Army buddies from World War II on an old Remington. Mom wrote memoirs of her childhood, growing up as one of eight children of European immigrants with Ellis Island processing.
I took typing classes in high school for my junior and senior years, using a desktop manual typewriter. I’d practice at the kitchen table at night; and with my wrists aching all night long, dreaming of the keyboard when I slept. Needless to say, with that kind of intensity, I mastered typing at 80 wpm (and shorthand at 120 wpm).
In 1960, those skills got me hired as a GS2 making $1.285 an hour at the local U.S. Air Force supply depot. As the military posted job openings on the bulletin board, I took the required typing and shorthand tests not for the purpose of moving to another, better career opportunity; but to improve upon my previous scores.
A few years later, I won a statewide typing contest at 103 wpm (finally using an electric typewriter, an IBM).
In the 1970s, when I started writing for publication in regional magazines, my Smith-Corona electric typewriter, in its special place on my apartment’s kitchen table, became my best friend. Being a good speller and grammar technician, I could dash off articles with near-perfect text, requiring minimal editing (unlike some that I processed as a magazine editor myself). Without the typewriter, this single mom would have had a much greater financial struggle than she did. (I finally wore out that typewriter. Multiple keys stopped working.)
When the computer arrived at my residence in the 1980s, my writing career blew wide open. Word processing, even in those days with the blue screen and white text and the page on the monitor looking nothing like the page as it printed, constituted a most awesome catalyst. If one could maintain accuracy (which I could), speed was a productivity godsend.
And it continues. Now in my sunset years perhaps (who ever knows for sure?), I am again building a writing career. Years of writing for business behind me, it’s time for a memoir or two. And the computer keyboard, mastered as the result of those intense 1950s typewriting classes, is my constant friend. I might even learn to dictate and talk to it!
I shall be forever grateful to Christopher Latham Sholes.
Permission to reprint this article is granted if attribution is included as follows or similar:
Copyright Wordpix Solutions (www.wordpix.com) and author Peggi Ridgway