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Mechanical desktop typewriters, such as this Touchmaster Five, were long-time standards of government agencies, newsrooms and offices
Mechanical desktop typewriters, such as this Touchmaster Five, were long-time standards of government agencies, newsrooms and offices
Video showing the operation of a typewriter
Disassembled parts of an Adler Favorit mechanical typewriter
Disassembled parts of an Adler Favorit mechanical typewriter

A typewriter is a mechanical or electromechanical machine for typing characters. Typically, a typewriter has an array of keys, and each one causes a different single character to be produced on paper by striking an inked ribbon selectively against the paper with a type element. At the end of the nineteenth century, the term 'typewriter' was also applied to a person who used such a device.[1]

The first commercial typewriters were introduced in 1874,[2] but did not become common in offices until after the mid-1880s.[3][where?] The typewriter quickly became an indispensable tool for practically all writing other than personal handwritten correspondence. It was widely used by professional writers, in offices, business correspondence in private homes, and by students preparing written assignments.

Typewriters were a standard fixture in most offices up to the 1980s. Thereafter, they began to be largely supplanted by personal computers running word processing software. Nevertheless, typewriters remain common in some parts of the world. In many Indian cities and towns, for example, typewriters are still used, especially in roadside and legal offices due to a lack of continuous, reliable electricity.[4]

The QWERTY keyboard layout, developed for typewriters in the 1870s, remains the standard for computer keyboards. The origins of this layout remain in dispute.[5]

Notable typewriter manufacturers included E. Remington and Sons, IBM, Godrej,[6] Imperial Typewriter Company, Oliver Typewriter Company, Olivetti, Royal Typewriter Company, Smith Corona, Underwood Typewriter Company, Facit, Adler, and Olympia-Werke [de].[7]

An Elliott-Fisher book typewriter on display at the Historic Archive and Museum of Mining in Pachuca, Mexico
An Elliott-Fisher book typewriter on display at the Historic Archive and Museum of Mining in Pachuca, Mexico


Peter Mitterhofer's typewriter prototype (1864)
Peter Mitterhofer's typewriter prototype (1864)

Although many modern typewriters have one of several similar designs, their invention was incremental, developed by numerous inventors working independently or in competition with each other over a series of decades. As with the automobile, telephone, and telegraph, a number of people contributed insights and inventions that eventually resulted in ever more commercially successful instruments. Historians have estimated that some form of typewriter was invented 52 times as thinkers tried to come up with a workable design.[8]

Some early typing instruments include:

Typewriter "Adler", owned by Dimitar Peshev
Typewriter "Adler", owned by Dimitar Peshev

By the mid-19th century, the increasing pace of business communication had created a need for mechanization of the writing process. Stenographers and telegraphers could take down information at rates up to 130 words per minute, whereas a writer with a pen was limited to a maximum of 30 words per minute (the 1853 speed record).[15]

From 1829 to 1870, many printing or typing machines were patented by inventors in Europe and America, but none went into commercial production.[16]

Hansen Writing Ball

Main article: Hansen Writing Ball

Hansen Writing Ball was the first typewriter manufactured commercially (1870)
Hansen Writing Ball was the first typewriter manufactured commercially (1870)

In 1865, Rev. Rasmus Malling-Hansen of Denmark invented the Hansen Writing Ball, which went into commercial production in 1870 and was the first commercially sold typewriter. It was a success in Europe and was reported as being used in offices on the European continent as late as 1909.[26][27] Malling-Hansen used a solenoid escapement to return the carriage on some of his models which makes him a candidate for the title of inventor of the first "electric" typewriter.[28]

The Hansen Writing Ball was produced with only upper-case characters. The Writing Ball was used as a template for inventor Frank Haven Hall to create a derivative that would produce letter prints cheaper and faster.[29][30][31]

Malling-Hansen developed his typewriter further through the 1870s and 1880s and made many improvements, but the writing head remained the same. On the first model of the writing ball from 1870, the paper was attached to a cylinder inside a wooden box. In 1874, the cylinder was replaced by a carriage, moving beneath the writing head. Then, in 1875, the well-known "tall model" was patented, which was the first of the writing balls that worked without electricity. Malling-Hansen attended the world exhibitions in Vienna in 1873 and Paris in 1878 and he received the first-prize for his invention at both exhibitions.[32][33][34]

Sholes and Glidden typewriter

Main article: Sholes and Glidden typewriter

Prototype of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, the first commercially successful typewriter, and the first with a QWERTY keyboard (1873)
Prototype of the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, the first commercially successful typewriter, and the first with a QWERTY keyboard (1873)

The first typewriter to be commercially successful was patented in 1868 by Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,[35] although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use or even recommend it.[36] The working prototype was made by clock-maker and machinist Matthias Schwalbach.[37] Hall, Glidden and Soule sold their shares in the patent (US 79,265) to Densmore and Sholes,[38] who made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons (then famous as a manufacturer of sewing machines) to commercialize the machine as the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer.[37] This was the origin of the term typewriter. Remington began production of its first typewriter on March 1, 1873, in Ilion, New York. It had a QWERTY keyboard layout, which, because of the machine's success, was slowly adopted by other typewriter manufacturers. As with most other early typewriters, because the typebars strike upwards, the typist could not see the characters as they were typed.[38]

Index typewriter

A Mignon Model 4 index typewriter from 1924
A Mignon Model 4 index typewriter from 1924

The index typewriter came into the market in the early 1880s,[39] the index typewriter uses a pointer or stylus to choose a letter from an index. The pointer is mechanically linked so that the letter chosen could then be printed, most often by the activation of a lever.[16]

The index typewriter was briefly popular in niche markets. Although they were slower than keyboard type machines they were mechanically simpler and lighter, they were therefore marketed as being suitable for travellers, and because they could be produced more cheaply than keyboard machines, as budget machines for users who needed to produce small quantities of typed correspondence.[39] For example, the Simplex Typewriter Company made index typewriters that cost 1/40th the cost of a Remington typewriter.[40]

The index typewriter's niche appeal however soon disappeared, as on the one hand new keyboard typewriters became lighter and more portable and on the other refurbished second hand machines began to become available.[39] The last widely available western index machine was the Mignon typewriter produced by AEG which was produced until 1934. Considered one of the very best of the index typewriters, part of the Mignon's popularity was that it featured both interchangeable indexes and type,[41] allowing the use of different fonts and character sets, something very few keyboard machines allowed and only at considerable added cost.[41]

Although pushed out of the market in most of the world by keyboard machines, successful Japanese and Chinese typewriters are of the index type albeit with a very much larger index and number of type elements.[42]

Embossing tape label makers are the most common index typewriters today, and perhaps the most common typewriters of any kind still being manufactured.[40]

The platen was mounted on a carriage that moved horizontally to the left, automatically advancing the typing position, after each character was typed. The carriage-return lever at the far left was then pressed to the right to return the carriage to its starting position and rotating the platen to advance the paper vertically. A small bell was struck a few characters before the right hand margin was reached to warn the operator to complete the word and then use the carriage-return lever.[43]


By about 1910, the "manual" or "mechanical" typewriter had reached a somewhat standardized design.[44] There were minor variations from one manufacturer to another, but most typewriters followed the concept that each key was attached to a typebar that had the corresponding letter molded, in reverse, into its striking head. When a key was struck briskly and firmly, the typebar hit a ribbon (usually made of inked fabric), making a printed mark on the paper wrapped around a cylindrical platen.[45][46]

The platen was mounted on a carriage that moved horizontally to the left, automatically advancing the typing position, after each character was typed. The carriage-return lever at the far left was then pressed to the right to return the carriage to its starting position and rotating the platen to advance the paper vertically. A small bell was struck a few characters before the right hand margin was reached to warn the operator to complete the word and then use the carriage-return lever.[43] Typewriters for languages written right-to-left operate in the opposite direction.[47]


In most of the early typewriters, the typebars struck upward against the paper, pressed against the bottom of the platen, so the typist could not see the text as it was typed.[48] What was typed was not visible until a carriage return caused it to scroll into view. The difficulty with any other arrangement was ensuring the typebars fell back into place reliably when the key was released. This was eventually achieved with various ingenious mechanical designs and so-called "visible typewriters" which used frontstriking, in which the typebars struck forward against the front side of the platen, became standard.

One of the first was the Daugherty Visible, introduced in 1893, which also introduced the four-bank keyboard that became standard, although the Underwood which came out two years later was the first major typewriter with these features.[49][50]

Shift key

Comparison of full-keyboard, single-shift, and double-shift typewriters in 1911
Comparison of full-keyboard, single-shift, and double-shift typewriters in 1911

A significant innovation was the shift key, introduced with the Remington No. 2 in 1878. This key physically "shifted" either the basket of typebars, in which case the typewriter is described as "basket shift", or the paper-holding carriage, in which case the typewriter is described as "carriage shift".[51] Either mechanism caused a different portion of the typebar to come in contact with the ribbon/platen. The result is that each typebar could type two different characters, cutting the number of keys and typebars in half (and simplifying the internal mechanisms considerably). The obvious use for this was to allow letter keys to type both upper and lower case, but normally the number keys were also duplexed, allowing access to special symbols such as percent, %, and ampersand, &.[52]

Before the shift key, typewriters had to have a separate key and typebar for upper-case letters; in essence, the typewriter had two keyboards, one above the other. With the shift key, manufacturing costs (and therefore purchase price) were greatly reduced, and typist operation was simplified; both factors contributed greatly to mass adoption of the technology. Certain models, such as the Barlet, had a double shift so that each key performed three functions. These little three-row machines were portable and could be used by journalists.[53]

Tab key

To facilitate typewriter use in business settings, a tab (tabulator) key was added in the late nineteenth century. Before using the key, the operator had to set mechanical "tab stops", pre-designated locations to which the carriage would advance when the tab key was pressed. This facilitated the typing of columns of numbers, freeing the operator from the need to manually position the carriage. The first models had one tab stop and one tab key; later ones allowed as many stops as desired, and sometimes had multiple tab keys, each of which moved the carriage a different number of spaces ahead of the decimal point (the tab stop), to facilitate the typing of columns with numbers of different length ($1.00, $10.00, $100.00, etc.)

Dead keys

Main article: Dead key

Languages such as French, Spanish, and German required diacritics, special signs attached to or on top of the base letter: for example, a combination of the acute accent ´ plus e produced é; ~ plus n produced ñ. In metal typesetting, ⟨é⟩, ⟨ñ⟩, and others were separate sorts. With mechanical typewriters, the number of whose characters (sorts) was constrained by the physical limits of the machine, the number of keys required was reduced by the use of dead keys. Diacritics such as ´ (acute accent) would be assigned to a dead key, which did not move the platen forward, permitting another character to be imprinted at the same location; thus a single dead key such as the acute accent could be combined with a,e,i,o and u to produce á,é,í,ó and ú, reducing the number of sorts needed from 5 to 1. The typebars of "normal" characters struck a rod as they moved the metal character desired toward the ribbon and platen, and each rod depression moved the platen forward the width of one character. Dead keys had a typebar shaped so as not to strike the rod.[54]

Character sizes

Further information: Point (typography) and Pitch (typewriter)

In English-speaking countries, ordinary typewriters printing fixed-width characters were standardized to print six horizontal lines per vertical inch, and had either of two variants of character width, one called pica for ten characters per horizontal inch and the other elite, for twelve. This differed from the use of these terms in printing, where pica is a linear unit (approximately 16 of an inch) used for any measurement, the most common one being the height of a type face.[55]


Some ribbons were inked in black and blue red stripes, each being half the width and running the entire length of the ribbon. A lever on most machines allowed switching between colors, which was useful for bookkeeping entries where negative amounts were highlighted in red. For emphasis, red was also used on some selected characters in the'running text. When a typewriter had this facility, it could still be fitted with a solid black ribbon; the lever was then used to switch to the fresh ribbon when the first stripe ran out of ink. Some typewriters also had a third position which stopped the ribbon from being struck at all. This enabled the keys to hit the paper unobstructed, and was used for cutting stencils for stencil duplicators (aka mimeograph machines).[56]

"Noiseless" designs

In the early part of the 20th century, a typewriter was marketed under the name Noiseless and advertised as "silent". It was developed by Wellington Parker Kidder and the first model was marketed by the Noiseless Typewriter Company in 1917.[57] Noiseless portables sold well in the 1930s and 1940s, and noiseless standards continued to be manufactured until the 1960s.[58]

In a conventional typewriter the typebar reaches the end of its travel simply by striking the ribbon and paper. A "noiseless" typewriter has a complex lever mechanism that decelerates the typebar mechanically before pressing it against the ribbon and paper in an attempt to dampen the noise.[59]

Electric designs

Although electric typewriters would not achieve widespread popularity until nearly a century later, the basic groundwork for the electric typewriter was laid by the Universal Stock Ticker, invented by Thomas Edison in 1870. This device remotely printed letters and numbers on a stream of paper tape from input generated by a specially designed typewriter at the other end of a telegraph line.

Early electric models

Some electric typewriters were patented in the 19th century, but the first machine known to be produced in series is the Cahill of 1900.[60]

Another electric typewriter was produced by the Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company, of Stamford, Connecticut, in 1902. Like the manual Blickensderfer typewriters, it used a cylindrical typewheel rather than individual typebars. The machine was produced in several variants but apparently it was not a commercial success, for reasons that are unclear.[61]

The next step in the development of the electric typewriter came in 1910, when Charles and Howard Krum filed a patent for the first practical teletypewriter.[62] The Krums' machine, named the Morkrum Printing Telegraph, used a typewheel rather than individual typebars. This machine was used for the first commercial teletypewriter system on Postal Telegraph Company lines between Boston and New York City in 1910.[63]

James Fields Smathers of Kansas City invented what is considered the first practical power-operated typewriter in 1914. In 1920, after returning from Army service, he produced a successful model and in 1923 turned it over to the Northeast Electric Company of Rochester for development. Northeast was interested in finding new markets for their electric motors and developed Smathers's design so that it could be marketed to typewriter manufacturers, and from 1925 Remington Electric typewriters were produced powered by Northeast's motors.[64]

After some 2,500 electric typewriters had been produced, Northeast asked Remington for a firm contract for the next batch. However, Remington was engaged in merger talks, which would eventually result in the creation of Remington Rand and no executives were willing to commit to a firm order. Northeast instead decided to enter the typewriter business for itself, and in 1929 produced the first Electromatic Typewriter.[65]

In 1928, Delco, a division of General Motors, purchased Northeast Electric, and the typewriter business was spun off as Electromatic Typewriters, Inc. In 1933, Electromatic was acquired by IBM, which then spent $1 million on a redesign of the Electromatic Typewriter, launching the IBM Electric Typewriter Model 01.[66]

In 1931, an electric typewriter was introduced by Varityper Corporation. It was called the Varityper, because a narrow cylinder-like wheel could be replaced to change the font.[67]

In 1941, IBM announced the Electromatic Model 04 electric typewriter, featuring the revolutionary concept of proportional spacing. By assigning varied rather than uniform spacing to different sized characters, the Type 4 recreated the appearance of a typeset page, an effect that was further enhanced by including the 1937 innovation of carbon-film ribbons that produced clearer, sharper words on the page.[68]

IBM Selectric

Main article: IBM Selectric typewriter

IBM Selectric II (dual Latin/Hebrew typeball and keyboard)
IBM Selectric II (dual Latin/Hebrew typeball and keyboard)

IBM introduced the IBM Selectric typewriter in 1961, which replaced the typebars with a spherical element (or typeball) slightly smaller than a golf ball, with reverse-image letters molded into its surface. The Selectric used a system of latches, metal tapes, and pulleys are driven by an electric motor to rotate the ball into the correct position and then strike it against the ribbon and platen. The typeball moved laterally in front of the paper, instead of the previous designs using a platen-carrying carriage moving the paper across a stationary print position.[69]

Due to the physical similarity, the typeball was sometimes referred to as a "golfball".[70] The typeball design had many advantages, especially the elimination of "jams" (when more than one key was struck at once and the typebars became entangled) and in the ability to change the typeball, allowing multiple fonts to be used in a single document.[71]

The IBM Selectric became a commercial success, dominating the office typewriter market for at least two decades.[70] IBM also gained an advantage by marketing more heavily to schools than did Remington, with the idea that students who learned to type on a Selectric would later choose IBM typewriters over the competition in the workplace as businesses replaced their old manual models.[72]

Later models of IBM Executives and Selectrics replaced inked fabric ribbons with "carbon film" ribbons that had a dry black or colored powder on a clear plastic tape. These could be used only once, but later models used a cartridge that was simple to replace. A side effect of this technology was that the text typed on the machine could be easily read from the used ribbon, raising issues where the machines were used for preparing classified documents (ribbons had to be accounted for to ensure that typists did not carry them from the facility).[73]

A variation known as "Correcting Selectrics" introduced a correction feature, where a sticky tape in front of the carbon film ribbon could remove the black-powdered image of a typed character, eliminating the need for little bottles of white dab-on correction fluid and for hard erasers that could tear the paper. These machines also introduced selectable "pitch" so that the typewriter could be switched between pica type (10 characters per inch) and elite type (12 per inch), even within one document. Even so, all Selectrics were monospaced—each character and letterspace was allotted the same width on the page, from a capital "W" to a period. IBM did produce a successful typebar-based machine with five levels of proportional spacing, called the IBM Executive.[74]

The only fully electromechanical Selectric Typewriter with fully proportional spacing and which used a Selectric type element was the expensive Selectric Composer, which was capable of right-margin justification (typing each line twice was required, once to calculate and again to print) and was considered a typesetting machine rather than a typewriter. Composer typeballs physically resembled those of the Selectric typewriter but were not interchangeable.[75]

Composer output showing Roman, Bold and Italic fonts available by changing the type ball
Composer output showing Roman, Bold and Italic fonts available by changing the type ball

In addition to its electronic successors, the Magnetic Tape Selectric Composer (MT/SC), the Mag Card Selectric Composer, and the Electronic Selectric Composer, IBM also made electronic typewriters with proportional spacing using the Selectric element that were considered typewriters or word processors instead of typesetting machines.[75][76]

The first of these was the relatively obscure Mag Card Executive, which used 88-character elements. Later, some of the same typestyles used for it were used on the 96-character elements used on the IBM Electronic Typewriter 50 and the later models 65 and 85.[77]

By 1970, as offset printing began to replace letterpress printing, the Composer would be adapted as the output unit for a typesetting system. The system included a computer-driven input station to capture the key strokes on magnetic tape and insert the operator's format commands, and a Composer unit to read the tape and produce the formatted text for photo reproduction.[78]


The IBM 2741 terminal was a popular example of a Selectric-based computer terminal, and similar mechanisms were employed as the console devices for many IBM System/360 computers. These mechanisms used "ruggedized" designs compared to those in standard office typewriters.[80]

Later electric models

Some of IBM's advances were later adopted in less expensive machines from competitors. For example, Smith-Corona electric typewriters introduced in 1973 switched to interchangeable Coronamatic (SCM-patented) ribbon cartridges.[81] including fabric, film, erasing, and two-color versions. At about the same time, the advent of photocopying meant that carbon copies, correction fluid and erasers were less and less necessary; only the original need be typed, and photocopies made from it.[82]

Electronic typewriters

The final major development of the typewriter was the electronic typewriter. Most of these replaced the typeball with a plastic or metal daisy wheel mechanism (a disk with the letters molded on the outside edge of the "petals"). The daisy wheel concept first emerged in printers developed by Diablo Systems in the 1970s. The first electronic daisywheel typewriter marketed in the world (in 1976) is the Olivetti Tes 501, and subsequently in 1978, the Olivetti ET101 (with function display) and Olivetti TES 401 (with text display and floppy disk for memory storage). This has allowed Olivetti to maintain the world record in the design of electronic typewriters, proposing increasingly advanced and performing models in the following years.[83]

Unlike the Selectrics and earlier models, these really were "electronic" and relied on integrated circuits and electromechanical components. These typewriters were sometimes called display typewriters,[84] dedicated word processors or word-processing typewriters, though the latter term was also frequently applied to less sophisticated machines that featured only a tiny, sometimes just single-row display. Sophisticated models were also called word processors, though today that term almost always denotes a type of software program. Manufacturers of such machines included Olivetti (TES501, first totally electronic Olivetti word processor with daisywheel and floppy disk in 1976; TES621 in 1979 etc.), Brother (Brother WP1 and WP500 etc., where WP stood for word processor), Canon (Canon Cat), Smith-Corona (PWP, i.e. Personal Word Processor line)[85] and Philips/Magnavox (VideoWriter).


The pace of change was so rapid that it was common for clerical staff to have to learn several new systems, one after the other, in just a few years.[86] While such rapid change is commonplace today, and is taken for granted, this was not always so; in fact, typewriting technology changed very little in its first 80 or 90 years.[87]

Due to falling sales, IBM sold its typewriter division in 1991 to the newly formed Lexmark, completely exiting from a market it once dominated.[88]

The increasing dominance of personal computers, desktop publishing, the introduction of low-cost, truly high-quality laser and inkjet printer technologies, and the pervasive use of web publishing, e-mail and other electronic communication techniques have largely replaced typewriters in the United States. Still, as of 2009, typewriters continued to be used by a number of government agencies and other institutions in the US, where they are primarily used to fill preprinted forms. According to a Boston typewriter repairman quoted by The Boston Globe, "Every maternity ward has a typewriter, as well as funeral homes".[89]

A rather specialized market for typewriters exists due to the regulations of many correctional systems in the US, where prisoners are prohibited from having computers or telecommunication equipment, but are allowed to own typewriters. The Swintec corporation (headquartered in Moonachie, New Jersey), which, as of 2011, still produced typewriters at its overseas factories (in Japan, Indonesia, and/or Malaysia), manufactures a variety of typewriters for use in prisons, made of clear plastic (to make it harder for prisoners to hide prohibited items inside it). As of 2011, the company had contracts with prisons in 43 US states.[90][91]

In April 2011, Godrej and Boyce, a Mumbai-based manufacturer of mechanical typewriters, closed its doors, leading to a flurry of news reports that the "world's last typewriter factory" had shut down.[92] The reports were quickly contested, with opinions settling to agree that it was indeed the world's last producer of manual typewriters.[93][94][95][96]

In November 2012, Brother's UK factory manufactured what it claimed to be the last typewriter ever made in the UK; the typewriter was donated to the London Science Museum.[97]

Russian typewriters use Cyrillic, which has made the ongoing Azerbaijani reconversion from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet more difficult. In 1997, the government of Turkey offered to donate western typewriters to the Republic of Azerbaijan in exchange for more zealous and exclusive promotion of the Latin alphabet for the Azerbaijani language; this offer, however, was declined.[98]

In Latin America and Africa, mechanical typewriters are still common because they can be used without electrical power. In Latin America, the typewriters used are most often Brazilian models; Brazil continues to produce mechanical (Facit) and electronic (Olivetti) typewriters to the present day.[99]

The early 21st century saw revival of interest in typewriters among certain subcultures, including makers, steampunks, hipsters, and street poets.[100]

Correction technologies

According to the standards taught in secretarial schools in the mid-20th century, a business letter was supposed to have no mistakes and no visible corrections.[101]

Typewriter erasers

Triumph typewriter eraser (1960)
Triumph typewriter eraser (1960)

The traditional erasing method involved the use of a special typewriter eraser made of hard rubber that contained an abrasive material. Some were thin, flat disks, pink or gray, approximately 2 inches (51 mm) in diameter by 18 inch (3.2 mm) thick, with a brush attached from the center, while others looked like pink pencils, with a sharpenable eraser at the "lead" end and a stiff nylon brush at the other end. Either way, these tools made possible erasure of individual typed letters. Business letters were typed on heavyweight, high-rag-content bond paper, not merely to provide a luxurious appearance, but also to stand up to erasure.[102]

Typewriter eraser brushes were necessary for clearing eraser crumbs and paper dust, and using the brush properly was an important element of typewriting skill; if erasure detritus fell into the typewriter, a small buildup could cause the typebars to jam in their narrow supporting grooves.[103]

Eraser shield

Erasing a set of carbon copies was particularly difficult, and called for the use of a device called an eraser shield (a thin stainless-steel rectangle about 2 by 3 inches (51 by 76 mm) with several tiny holes in it) to prevent the pressure of erasing on the upper copies from producing carbon smudges on the lower copies. To correct copies, typists had to go from carbon copy to carbon copy, trying not to get their fingers dirty as they leafed through the carbon papers, and moving and repositioning the eraser shield and eraser for each copy.

Erasable bond

Paper companies produced a special form of typewriter paper called erasable bond (for example, Eaton's Corrasable Bond). This incorporated a thin layer of material that prevented ink from penetrating and was relatively soft and easy to remove from the page. An ordinary soft pencil eraser could quickly produce perfect erasures on this kind of paper. However, the same characteristics that made the paper erasable made the characters subject to smudging due to ordinary friction and deliberate alteration after the fact, making it unacceptable for business correspondence, contracts, or any archival use.[104]

Correction fluid

Main article: Correction fluid

In the 1950s and 1960s, correction fluid made its appearance, under brand names such as Liquid Paper, Wite-Out and Tipp-Ex; it was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham. Correction fluid was a kind of opaque, white, fast-drying paint that produced a fresh white surface onto which, when dry, a correction could be retyped. However, when held to the light, the covered-up characters were visible, as was the patch of dry correction fluid (which was never perfectly flat, and frequently not a perfect match for the color, texture, and luster of the surrounding paper). The standard trick for solving this problem was photocopying the corrected page, but this was possible only with high quality photocopiers.[105]

A different fluid was available for correcting stencils. It sealed up the stencil ready for retyping but did not attempt to color match.[106]


Keyboard layouts

The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter keys became a de facto standard and continues to be used long after the reasons for its adoption (including reduction of key/lever entanglements) have ceased to apply.
The "QWERTY" layout of typewriter keys became a de facto standard and continues to be used long after the reasons for its adoption (including reduction of key/lever entanglements) have ceased to apply.


Main article: QWERTY

The 1874 Sholes & Glidden typewriters established the "QWERTY" layout for the letter keys. During the period in which Sholes and his colleagues were experimenting with this invention, other keyboard arrangements were apparently tried, but these are poorly documented.[107] The QWERTY layout of keys has become the de facto standard for English-language typewriter and computer keyboards. Other languages written in the Latin alphabet sometimes use variants of the QWERTY layouts, such as the French AZERTY, the Italian QZERTY and the German QWERTZ layouts.[108]

The QWERTY layout is not the most efficient layout possible for the English language. Touch-typists are required to move their fingers between rows to type the most common letters. Although the QWERTY keyboard was the most commonly used layout in typewriters, a better, less strenuous keyboard was being searched for throughout the late 1900s.[109]

One popular but incorrect[5] explanation for the QWERTY arrangement is that it was designed to reduce the likelihood of internal clashing of typebars by placing commonly used combinations of letters farther from each other inside the machine.[110]

Other layouts

A number of radically different layouts such as Dvorak have been proposed to reduce the perceived inefficiencies of QWERTY, but none have been able to displace the QWERTY layout; their proponents claim considerable advantages, but so far none has been widely used. The Blickensderfer typewriter with its DHIATENSOR layout may have possibly been the first attempt at optimizing the keyboard layout for efficiency advantages.[111]

On modern keyboards, the exclamation point is the shifted character on the 1 key, because these were the last characters to become "standard" on keyboards. Holding the spacebar down usually suspended the carriage advance mechanism (a so-called "dead key" feature), allowing one to superimpose multiple keystrikes on a single location. The ¢ symbol (meaning cents) was located above the number 6 on American electric typewriters, whereas ANSI-INCITS-standard computer keyboards have ^ instead.[112]

Many non-Latin alphabets have keyboard layouts that have nothing to do with QWERTY. The Russian layout, for instance, puts the common trigrams ыва, про, and ить on adjacent keys so that they can be typed by rolling the fingers.[113]

Typewriters were also made for East Asian languages with thousands of characters, such as Chinese or Japanese. They were not easy to operate, but professional typists used them for a long time until the development of electronic word processors and laser printers in the 1980s.[114]

Typewriter conventions

This typed page uses a number of typographic conventions stemming from the mechanical limitations of the typewriter: two hyphens in place of an em dash, double sentence spacing, straight quotation marks, tab indents for paragraphs, and double carriage returns between paragraphs
This typed page uses a number of typographic conventions stemming from the mechanical limitations of the typewriter: two hyphens in place of an em dash, double sentence spacing, straight quotation marks, tab indents for paragraphs, and double carriage returns between paragraphs

A number of typographical conventions stem from the typewriter's characteristics and limitations. For example, the QWERTY keyboard typewriter did not include keys for the en dash and the em dash. To overcome this limitation, users typically typed more than one adjacent hyphen to approximate these symbols.[115] This typewriter convention is still sometimes used today, even though modern computer word processing applications can input the correct en and em dashes for each font type.[116]

Other examples of typewriter practices that are sometimes still used in desktop publishing systems include inserting a double space between sentences,[117][118] and the use of the typewriter apostrophe, ', and straight quotes, ", as quotation marks and prime marks.[119] The practice of underlining text in place of italics and the use of all capitals to provide emphasis are additional examples of typographical conventions that derived from the limitations of the typewriter keyboard that still carry on today.[120]

Many older typewriters did not include a separate key for the numeral 1 or the exclamation point !, and some even older ones also lacked the numeral zero, 0. Typists who trained on these machines learned the habit of using the lowercase letter l ("ell") for the digit 1, and the uppercase O ("oh") for the zero. A cents symbol, ¢ was created by combining (over-striking) a lower case c with a slash character (typing c, then backspace, then /). Similarly, the exclamation point was created by combining an apostrophe and a period ('+.!).[121]


Some terminology from the typewriter age has survived into the personal computer era.

Social effects

Humorous "Get out! Can't you see I'm busy" postcard (1900s)
Humorous "Get out! Can't you see I'm busy" postcard (1900s)

When Remington started marketing typewriters, the company assumed the machine would not be used for composing but for transcribing dictation, and that the person typing would be a woman. The 1800s Sholes and Glidden typewriter had floral ornamentation on the case.[130]

During World Wars I and II, increasing numbers of women were entering the workforce. In the United States, women often started in the professional workplace as typists. Questions about morals made a salacious businessman making sexual advances to a female typist into a cliché of office life, appearing in vaudeville and movies. Being a typist was considered the right choice for a "good girl", meaning women who present themselves as being chaste and having good conduct.[131] According to the 1900 census, 94.9% of stenographers and typists were unmarried women.[132]

The "Tijuana bibles" – adult comic books produced in Mexico for the American market, starting in the 1930s – often featured women typists. In one panel, a businessman in a three-piece suit, ogling his secretary's thigh, says, "Miss Higby, are you ready for—ahem!—er—dictation?"[58]

The typewriter was a useful machine during the censorship era of the Soviet government, starting during the Russian Civil War (1917–1922). Samizdat was a form of self-publication used when the government was censoring what literature the public could access. The Soviet government signed a Decree on Press which prohibited the publishing of any written work that had not been previously reviewed and approved.[133] This work was copied by hand, most often on typewriters.[134] There was a new law in 1983 that required any owner of a typewriter needed to get police permission to buy or keep, they would have to register a type sample of letters and numbers to ensure that any illegal literature typed with it could be traced back to its source.[135] The typewriter became increasingly popular as the interest in prohibited books grew.[136]

Writers with notable associations with typewriters

Early adopters


William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portable sits in his office at Rowan Oak, which is now maintained by the University of Mississippi in Oxford as a museum.
William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portable sits in his office at Rowan Oak, which is now maintained by the University of Mississippi in Oxford as a museum.

Late users

Typewriters in popular culture

In music


Forensic examination

Typewritten documents may be examined by forensic document examiners. This is done primarily to determine 1) the make and/or model of the typewriter used to produce a document, or 2) whether or not a particular suspect typewriter might have been used to produce a document.[156]

The determination of a make and/or model of typewriter is a 'classification' problem and several systems have been developed for this purpose.[156] These include the original Haas Typewriter Atlases (Pica version)[157] and (Non-Pica version)[158] and the TYPE system developed by Dr. Philip Bouffard,[159] the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Termatrex Typewriter classification system,[160] and Interpol's typewriter classification system,[161] among others.[156]

The earliest reference in fictional literature to the potential identification of a typewriter as having produced a document was by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes short story "A Case of Identity" in 1891.[162] In non-fiction, the first document examiner[162] to describe how a typewriter might be identified was William E. Hagan who wrote, in 1894, "All typewriter machines, even when using the same kind of type, become more or less peculiar by use as to the work done by them".[163] Other early discussions of the topic were provided by A. S. Osborn in his 1908 treatise, Typewriting as Evidence,[164] and again in his 1929 textbook, Questioned Documents.[165] A modern description of the examination procedure is laid out in ASTM Standard E2494-08 (Standard Guide for Examination of Typewritten Items).[166]

Typewriter examination was used in the Leopold and Loeb and Alger Hiss cases. In the Eastern Bloc, typewriters (together with printing presses, copy machines, and later computer printers) were a controlled technology, with secret police in charge of maintaining files of the typewriters and their owners. In the Soviet Union, the First Department of each organization sent data on organization's typewriters to the KGB. This posed a significant risk for dissidents and samizdat authors. In Romania, according to State Council Decree No. 98 of March 28, 1983, owning a typewriter, both by businesses or by private persons, was subject to an approval given by the local police authorities. People previously convicted of any crime or those who because of their behaviour were considered to be "a danger to public order or to the security of the state" were refused approval. In addition, once a year, typewriter owners had to take the typewriter to the local police station, where they would be asked to type a sample of all the typewriter's characters. It was also forbidden to borrow, lend, or repair typewriters other than at the places that had been authorized by the police.[167]


Public and private collections of typewriters exist around the world, including:[168]

Several online-only virtual museums collect and display information about typewriters and their history:


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Further reading