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Printing and Typography History: The Typewriter

The typewriter is a machine designed to print and impress typeface on unlined paper. It allowed for a faster and more legible substitute for handwritten manuscripts. Since the advent of practical typewriters in the 1870s, the machines have led to the development of modern business transactions by increasing the dissemination rate of written and printed documents. The earliest typewriters attempted to achieve these goals; however, it took several attempts before it became practical. In 1714, Henry Mill obtained a British patent to produce the first writing machine. In 1829, William Austin Burt created a machine that arranged type on a revolving semicircular wheel. In 1833, Xavier Progin invented a typing machine that embodied separate bars that typed characters when the user pressed its corresponding lever keys.

In 1843, Charles Grover Thurber incorporated the cylindrical platen, a device that moved paper horizontally to create spacing between letters and lines. Thurber’s design also included a metal ring that revolved horizontally above the cylindrical platen with a series of vertical plungers. Each vertical plunger had pieces of type at the bottom. The operator revolved the wheel until the correct letter centered over the printing position on the cylindrical platen and the striking plunger. Other inventors attempted to create writing machines that could create embossed type meant to assist the visually impaired. In 1856, Alfred Ely Beach created a machine that resembled a typewriter strictly for this purpose. Beach’s machine produced embossed letters on narrow strip of paper. In addition, Samuel W. Francis patented a writing machine equipped with a circular arrangement of type-bars, a movable paper holder, a bell that alerted the operator about the end of a line, and an inked type ribbon. Francis’s writing machine had black and white keys that looked similar to a piano.

Many inventors attempted to create a workable typewriter all throughout the 1850s and 1860s; however, many failed to produce their envisioned machines. In 1868, Christopher Latham Sholes, Samuel W. Soulé, and Carlos Glidden patented a writing machine that would lead to the development of the modern typewriter. Their successful endeavors led to a contract with E. Remington and Sons of Illion, New York, manufacturers of sewing machines, and hunting rifles, to create a practical typewriter. Remington produced their first typewriter for Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden in September of 1873. The Remington model consisted of all the features found in modern typewriters. For instance, a carriage held the paper between a rubber platen and a rubber cylinder that rested parallel with one another. In addition, the carriage moved right to left via a spring that actuated when an operator pressed one of the corresponding letter levers. An escapement mechanism regulated the movement of the carriage to ensure that equal space sat between each letter. Afterward, a level sprung the carriage back to the right to revolve the platen down one space by means of a ratchet and pawl. Remington manufactured these typewriters with a circular arrangement of type-bars, which allowed the type-bar to strike down on the platen by pressing down the corresponding letter lever. In between the type-bar and platen lied an ink cloth ribbon that made permanent impressions on paper when the operator pressed the corresponding lever letters.

The earliest versions of the Remington typewriter only wrote in capital letters. In 1878, the carriage shift enabled operators to shift between lower-case and upper-case letters. The carriage shift consisted of one key and lever that moved the carriage a short distance down to create upper-case letters. The other key and lever moved the carriage to its original position to create lower-case letters. The double key had upper and lower-case letters mounted on the same type-bars. The introduction of the shift and double key function enabled operators to impress numbers and symbols without increasing the size of the machine. This made it easier for operators when the typing technique known as touch-typing became widely used in professional environments . Touch-typing enabled the achievement of great speed and accuracy .

Earlier commercial typewriters came equipped with type-bars that impressed letters, numbers, and symbols at the bottom of the platen. This made it hard for operators to see what the typewriter has impressing on the paper. During the early 1880s, the invention of visible typewriters eliminated the bottom-stuck platen and replaced it with type-bars that struck the front of the platen. The Sholes-Glidden-Remington machine continued its dominance over the typewriter industry. A few manufacturers proved successful in their invention of the typewriter, including the Underwood, the Woodstock, the Royal, and the L.C. Smith; however, none of them compared to the Remington.

The invention of the typewriter without a type-bar system occurred during the 1880s and 1890s. One of these models used a type-wheel with typefaces mounted on the outside of a cylinder that revolved up and down when the operator pressed the appropriate letters in the typing space. In 1880, the Hammond typewriter operated on a similar principle, except that it used interchangeable shuttles mounted to the outside of a metal ring. None of these machines used platens. In fact, the type did not need a strike to make impressions on paper. These machines used a hammer that struck the back of the paper while it was held in a vertical position. The hammer forced the paper against the ink ribbon and typeface. The Hammond machine enabled operators to choose between a variety of typefaces, because of its interchangeability of type shuttles.

In 1912, several manufacturers introduced small portable typewriters that functioned in the same manner as the type-bar principle. Modern portable typewriters incorporate most of the features found on full-sized office machines. After the First World War, noiseless typewriters came into widespread use. Noiseless typewriters had used a lever system actuated by type-bars; however, it relied on pressure to impress the letters, numbers, and symbols onto paper.

In 1925, the electric typewriter made it possible to produce documents by a motor-driven mechanism that lifted the type-bar and struck it against a ribbon. It also returned the carriage back to the right and turned the platen at the end of the line. The keys of an electric typewriter starts the electric mechanism. Electric typewriters require less pressure from the operator than used on conventional machines. As a result, operators can type faster with less fatigue. In addition, electric typewriters introduced the advantage of uniformity in pressure of each letter key. Some electric typewriters allow operators to correct mistakes, such as evenly align margins, supply characters in foreign languages, and type words in a single stroke. Others include unfading letters, interchangeable typefaces, and uniform ribbons.

The advent of the computer made it possible for computer manufacturers to produce software programs called word processors that enabled people to produce computerized documents. A computer keyboard functions as an electronic typewriter, except that it uses computer logistics and memory to store information and print numerous copies of a document. Word processors allow operators to adjust the spacing of characters and margins by simply clicking a button. In addition, operators can adjust the typeface by font, size, bold, italics, and underline. The QWERTY keyboard design originated by Christopher Shoes evolved from manual typewriters to the modern computer keyboard. While other designs exist, the QWERTY design still remains at the top of the most commonly used designs in the digital world.

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