Little Bits of History

And So It Begins

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 1, 2015
Sholes and Glidden typewriter

Sholes and Glidden typewriter

July 1, 1874: The Sholes and Glidden typewriter goes on sale. The machine was also known as the Remington No. 1 and was the first commercially successful typewriter. The principal designer was Christopher Sholes who got help from Samuel Soule (who left soon after work began) and Carlos Glidden. James Densmore replaced Soule and provided financial backing for the project. Work began in 1866 in order to assist with printing page numbers in books as well as serial numbers on tickets and other similar projects. Sholes was a Wisconsin printer and he teamed up with Soule, another printer to find a better way. They worked together in Charles Kleinsteuber’s machine shop in Milwaukee. Glidden was frequently found at the shop as he worked on his own inventions. He joined the team. It was his idea to change the machine so it could also be used to print alphabetical characters as well as the numbers.

Glidden saw a Scientific American article from July 1867 describing the British “Pterotype” machine. Sholes thought it was too complicated and figured a better machine could be designed. Several dozen patents for printing devices had been granted in the US and abroad, but none of the machines were effective (or successful). Sholes and Soule were successful in creating a number machine and in November 1866, Sholes wanted to try his hand at creating one with letters. He invited Mathias Schwalbach, a German clockmaker, to help with the development and construction. To test feasibility, a key was taken from a telegraph machine and modified to print the letter “W”. It worked and by September 1867, a machine with the full alphabet, numbers, and some punctuation was completed.

The machine was used to write letters to people who might help fund the machine into production. Densmore received a letter and was so impressed, he bought a 25% interest for $600 (the cost of R&D to that point). When he finally was shown the machine in March 1868, he thought it was clumsy and good for nothing – except showing the underlying principles were sound. There was more work to be done and Densmore was willing to help fund improvements. It took another 25 to 30 prototypes, each having incremental improvements over its predecessor, before there was something finally able to be used. Western Union bought some machines in 1870, but declined to purchase the rights, believing something better would be developed for less than Densmore wanted for the rights.

The men kept working on the idea, improving both the machine and the production techniques. Finally, Remington and Sons were contacted. They had been an arms manufacturer during the Civil War and in peacetime were looking for a way to use their skilled machinists’ talents. With a production facility added to the mix, it was possible to manufacture 1,000 machines as stated in a March 1, 1873 contract. There was an option for production of another 24,000. Sales were sluggish at first and by December 1874, only 400 machines has been sold due to both high price and unreliability. For over 100 years, typewriters were THE technology until it was surpassed by word processors and computers.

I had one typewriter for 50 years, but I have bought seven computers in six years. I suppose that’s why Bill Gates is rich, and Underwood is out of business. – Andy Rooney

The image of the reporter as a nicotine-stained Quixote, slugging back Scotch while skewering city hall with an expose ripped out of a typewriter on the crack of deadline, persists despite munificent evidence to the contrary. – Paul E. Gray

I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters. – Frank Lloyd Wright

A computer terminal is not some clunky old television with a typewriter in front of it. It is an interface where the mind and body can connect with the universe and move bits of it about. – Douglas Adams

Also on this day: Four Score and Seven Years Ago – In 1861, the Battle of Gettysburg began.
Can I Get a Witness? – In 1879, The Watchtower was first published.
Russians Reading – In 1862, the Russian State Library was founded.
Close Call – In 1770, Lexell’s Comet missed Earth.
Justice – In 1870, the US Department of Justice was created.


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