Putting the "T" in Technology: Typewriters and the Electronics Behind Them
September 20, 2022
There’s a Keystone in every great invention.
Typewriters and the Electronics Behind Them
Growth in technology is often directly tied to increased efficiency within some workplace capacities, whether it be construction zones or nine to five offices. But as we’ve highlighted in previous blogs, back-to-school season reigns in a new educational year along with the flashiest school supplies. Where some of us might have once begged for a specific-colored notebook or mechanical pencil, students today marvel at the idea of stuffing their backpacks with the latest tablet or laptops.
Laptops and desktop computers can arguably be credited as some of the greatest pieces of technological advancements, linking us to the internet and forever changing the art of writing. They are prime examples of how technology has evolved and streamlined everyday processes, and you don’t have to look far to find processes needed streamlining. Queue the typewriter.
History of Typewriters
As the 19th century was in full swing, businesses relied heavily on written communication, using printed words to deliver messages and announcements as quickly and efficiently as possible. While there were several prospective tools that hoped to automate writing, very few ever came to fruition or went into production. It wasn’t until 1843, when Charles Thurber produced and patented his Chirographer, or printing machine aimed to assist those who couldn’t write handwritten notes. Thurber’s patent included designs that paved the way for the first commercially successful typewriter to be developed in 1867 by newspaper editor Christopher Scholes.
By 1873, production of Scholes’ patent was in full swing, with Remington (then a sewing machine company) manufacturing the Scholes and Glidden typewriter for commercial use. The typewriter’s design was the first to elevate the page above the horizontal carriage and keys, allowing users to simultaneously see their words as they type. This was also the beginning of the QWERTY key layout, which was originally incorporated to minimize key jamming by spacing letter stamps apart and preventing them from jamming together.
Electric vs Electronic Typewriters
Every aspect of the original typewriter was mechanical, requiring hard-pressured finger power to stamp the ink onto the page and constant horizontal movement typing line after line. Electric typewriters gained popularity in the mid 20th century by automating many facets of the typewriter that required manual labor. Instead of the traditional key stamps, the keys were mounted to a rotating wheel (sometimes referred to as a “golfball”) that would rotate and press the ribbon of letters against the page. The keys of the electric typewriter were electric switches that would signal and position the wheel, producing sharper and neater print since each letter was pressed with equal force. Electric typewriters also included specific keys for carriage return and auto-correction. Paper and carriage stayed still while the wheel moved and positioned the letters appropriately, requiring users to simply press the carriage return key to move from the end of a line to a new line at the most left position. The autocorrect key signaled a second ribbon to print white ink over errors, essentially creating a white-out effect and allowing users to type black ink over their mistakes.
As electronics advanced, electronic typewriters were created and very much resembled the computers we have today. With LCD screens, letters would automatically appear as typed, and corrections could be made on screen before anything was printed. Internal memory was also created to allow several pages to be typed and formatted at once, again resembling the basic idea of the first computers. The electronic typewriter continued to progress with features as technology advanced, until we reached the creation of the original desktop computer in the 1980s.
While typewriters have surrendered to computers and today’s norm of touch screen typing, they are some of the few technologies from the past that hold novelty and spur curiosity should someone come across them. To be able to compare the drastic differences between working on today’s laptop versus the manual operation of the first typewriter, while at the same time recognizing the similarities in structure and keyboard alignment is something to be admired.
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