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From the fourteenth century (when the technology was first available) into the nineteenth century over 100 proto-typewriters were planned or built, many of which were patented and some of which were marketed on a limited, though largely unsuccessful, basis.  Henry Mill, an English engineer, received the first patent in 1714, while William Burt of Detroit received the first American patent in 1829.  None of these early typewriters were quicker than handwriting, and many were too big and bulky for practical use.  In 1870, Malling Hansen, a Danish pastor, developed a typewriter intended to help blind people communicate in writing.  It used pinions on a writing ball (resembling a pincushion), electromagnets, rotary wheels, and other mechanisms.  Hansen’s writing machine was diagrammed and explained in the January 15, 1876 issue of Harper’s WeeklyAlthough a number of Hansen typewriters were sold in Europe, the machine’s commercial success was hindered by the fact that it could not outpace handwriting.

In 1867, Christopher Latham Sholes, a printer, newspaper editor, collector of the port of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and inventor, was inspired partly by an article in Scientific American describing a British typewriter to undertake his own attempt at crafting a workable model.  Sholes, assisted by Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule, initially created a clumsy apparatus made of a telegraph key, a round piece of glass, piano wire, and part of a table.  Returning to the drawing board, the men developed a square-shaped machine with a piano-like keyboard that operated faster than handwriting.  This first practical typewriter was patented in 1868 and is today housed at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History.

Unable or uninterested to raise the capital necessary to mass-produce the invention, Sholes and his partners sold their patent rights to businessmen James Densmore and George Yost.  Sholes continued to make improvements that enabled Densmore and Yost to convince Remington and Sons, the famous American arms manufacturer, to begin producing in late 1873 what became the first commercially successful typewriter, the Sholes & Glidden Type-Writer (also sold as Remington No. 1).  Designed by a Remington sewing-machine engineer, it had a foot-pedal to advance the paper and was decorated with painted flowers.  Harper’s Weekly ran a news item in its June 28, 1873 issue describing the invention.  The first mention of the typewriter—“a machine to supersede the pen”—in a Remington advertisement  appeared in the August 14, 1875 issue.

Harper's Weekly References

1) January 15, 1876, p. S58, col. 1-2
illustrated article, “Review of Recent Inventions: 

2) June 28, 1873, p. 551, col. 2
news item

3) August 14, 1875, p. 666, col. 3

Sources Consulted

“Christopher Sholes,” National Inventors Hall of Fame,

Gu, Charles.  “Typewriter History at a Glance.”

Lubar, Steven, and Kathleen Kendrick. “Looking at Artifacts, Thinking About History,” the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, http://educate.si.edu/ap/essays/looking.htm 

O’Shea, John Pace.  “Early Typewriter History,”

Polt, Richard. “A Brief History of Typewriters”

Smithsonian Institute, “Carbons to Computers,” online exhibit,

“Typewriter.” Encyclopædia Britannica 2003  Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 19 Mar, 2003

“Typewriter—C. Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule—1868,” Patent Museum.com,

“Typewriters—From the Idea to a Standard.” Heinz Nixdorf Museum. www.hnf.de/museum/schreima_ideen_en.html

“Who is Christopher Latham Sholes?” Christopher Latham Middle School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin,

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