100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Typewriter
Year of Invention: 1868

What Is It? A machine operated by a keyboard that causes metal letters to
strike a piece of paper through an inked ribbon.

Who Invented It? Christopher Sholes (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Typewriters revolutionized office structure and office procedure, and created a social revolution as well. By 1895, business executives considered the typewriter to be so important that they created a new kind of office position—typist. Most of the people hired for typing jobs were women. For the first time in history, large masses of women marched out of the house alongside their husbands each morning to go out to work. It represented a social revolution. Over 100,000 American women worked as typists by 1898—a position that hadn’t existed a few years before.

In June 1892 Education Magazine called typewriters, “a necessity of modern civilization.” By 1910, typewritten material was the one universally accepted form of business and government communication.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Gutenberg’s printing press (1454) allowed books, fliers, and documents to be printed. But commerce and social interactions were still written by hand. Italian Pellegrino Turri built the first typewriter-like machine in 1808 so that a blind friend could write legible letters. It was slower than handwriting, but it worked.

In 1829, Detroit engineer William Burt patented a machine he named the typographer. It was bulky and unreliable, and it flopped.


How Was the Typewriter Invented?

Newspaper journalist Christopher Sholes was an avid engineering tinkerer. He wrote for the Milwaukee News and dabbled in local politics. Beginning in 1863, Sholes tinkered in Kleinsteuber’s Machine Shop with ideas for a machine to automatically number the pages of a book. He made little progress until 1865, when two separate ideas turned him toward the idea of a typewriter.

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