The first known attempt at a typewriter was a 1714 British patent for the magnificently named:
“an Artificial machine or Method for the Impressing or Transcribing of Letters Singly or Progressively one after another, as in Writing, whereby all Writing whatever may be Engrossed in Paper or Parchment so Neat and Exact as not to be distinguished from Print.”
Whether this machine was ever made is not known. For the next 153 years various other attempts were made, including models the size of a piano, but they were all considerably slower than handwriting.
In 1867, an American inventor named Christopher Latham Sholes created the world’s first practical typewriter. The following year he patented a second model, and in 1874, under a contract with the gunmakers E. Remington and Sons, the first typewriters finally appeared in department stores . These typewriters included most of the principal features that would remain standard—key levers and wires to move the type bars (metal arms with characters on the end); a semicircular arrangement of type bars, each hitting at the paper’s centre; an inked ribbon; an escapement, moving the carriage after each keystroke; and a cylinder with both line-spacing and carriage-return mechanisms.
Early typists found that with quick typing the type bars often jammed together. Sholes came up with a system still universal on keyboards today. Known as QWERTY, for the letters on the upper line, the new arrangement of keys separated letters that were most commonly grouped together so that jamming would occur less frequently.
Thomas Edison invented an electric printing-wheel typewriter in 1872, but electric typewriters did not become office equipment until the 1920s. With electrification, typewriters or keyboards could adapt to serve a growing number of communications devices—the ticker tape printer, the teletype machine (from the telegraph), and a computer interface.
Despite the seemingly never ending evolution of all things related to computers, the only element that refuses to change is the standard “QWERTY” keyboard.