Story Behind Inventors and Inventions Typewriter

About the origins, history and story behind the scenes of the inventor and invention of the typewriter.

Extraordinary Stories behind Ordinary Objects That Had to Be Invented by Someone

Invention: Typewriter

Inventor: Christopher Latham Sholes, U.S.; Samuel W. Soule, U.S.; Carlos Glidden, U.S.

Year: 1867

How Invented: It was Christmastime, 1874, when Mark Twain saw a young woman in a store window demonstrating a new invention called the "Type-Writer." To his astonishmen, she typed over 50 words per minute. Twain promptly purchased the Remington Model I for $125, but soon found that he had been fooled--with repeated practice he could type only 19 words per minute--and although he quipped to his friends about "this curiosity-breeding little joker," he was the first author to submit a type-written manuscript--Life on the Mississippi--to a publisher.

The Remington that Twain purchased was basically the same model typewriter as the Sholes-Glidden of 1873. Earlier attempts had produced machines too cumbersome and slow to be of practical use. The first was by Englishman Henry Mills in 1714. Queen Anne granted him a patent for the invention, but how the machine worked is not known, for no drawings of it have survived. An American surveyor, William Austin Burt, invented a writing machine he called the Typographer in 1829, but it failed because of lack of financial backing to develop it for mass production.

Christopher Latham Sholes and Samuel W. Soule were toying with a page-numbering machine for their newspaper when Carlos Glidden suggested they expand their idea to a letter-printing machine. Theirs was actually the 52nd attempt at the invention, but they were the first to succeed in making a practical, workable model, which they completed in 1867 and patented the following year. Soule and Glidden abandoned the project soon afterward, but Sholes continued to experiment and turned out improved models during the next few years.

Sholes worked for a time with Thomas Edison, who saw the possibility (realized in 1878) of coordinating the typing machine with the telegraph system. But Sholes's machine was not quick enough to translate the new Morse code. Sholes finally sold out to Philo Remington for $12,000 in 1873. Remington failed to find a mass market; financially exhausted in 1886, he sold his company to independent concerns. Mass production made the typewriter a marketable item, and by 1909 typewriters were being marketed in the U.S., France, Germany, England, Switzerland, and Japan.

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