Numerous inventors in Europe and the U.S. worked on typewriters in the 19th century, but successful commercial production began only with the "writing ball" of Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen (1870). This well-engineered device looked rather like a pincushion. Nietzsche's mother and sister once gave him one for Christmas. He hated it.
Much more influential, in the long run, was the Sholes
& Glidden Type Writer, which began production in late 1873 and
appeared on the
American market in 1874.
The Sholes & Glidden had limited success, but its successor, the
Remington, soon became a dominant presence in the industry.
The Sholes & Glidden, like many early typewriters, is an understroke or "blind" writer: the typebars are arranged in a circular basket under the platen (the printing surface) and type on the bottom of the platen. This means that the typist (confusingly called a "typewriter" herself in the early days) has to lift up the carriage to see her work. Another example of an understroke typebar machine is the Caligraph of 1880, the second typewriter to appear on the American market.
The Smith Premier (1890) is another example of a full-keyboard understroke typewriter which was very popular in its day. Click here to read more and see the machine.
The QWERTY keyboard came to be called the "Universal" keyboard,
as the alternative keyboards fought a losing battle against the QWERTY
momentum. (For more on QWERTY and to learn why
"QWERTY is cool," visit Darryl Rehr's site
The QWERTY Connection.) But not all early typewriters used the
QWERTY system, and many did not even type with typebars.
Case in point: the ingenious Hammond, introduced
The Hammond came on the scene with its own keyboard, the two-row,
curved "Ideal" keyboard -- although Universal Hammonds were
also soon made available. The Hammond prints
from a type shuttle -- a C-shaped piece of vulcanized rubber. The
shuttle can easily be exchanged when you
want to use a different typeface. There is no cylindrical platen as on
typewriters; the paper is hit against the shuttle by
Other machines typing from a single type element rather than
the gorgeous Crandall (1881) ...
The effort to create a visible rather than "blind" machine led to many ingenious ways of getting the typebars to the platen. Examples of early visible writers include the Williams and the Oliver. The Daugherty Visible of 1891 was the first frontstroke typewriter to go into production: the typebars rest below the platen and hit the front of it. With the Underwood of 1895, this style of typewriter began to gain ascendancy. The most popular model of early Underwoods, the #5, was produced by the millions. By the 1920s, virtually all typewriters were "look-alikes": frontstroke, QWERTY, typebar machines printing through a ribbon, using one shift key and four banks of keys. (Some diehards lingered on. The huge Burroughs Moon-Hopkins typewriter and accounting machine was a blind writer that was manufactured, amazingly enough, until the late 1940s.)
Let's return for a moment to the 19th century. The standard price for a typewriter was $100 -- several times the value of a good personal computer today, when we adjust for inflation. There were many efforts to produce cheaper typewriters. Most of these were index machines: the typist first points at a letter on some sort of index, then performs another motion to print the letter. Obviously, these were not heavy-duty office machines; they were meant for people of limited means who needed to do some occasional typing. An example is the "American" index typewriter, which sold for $5. Index typewriters survived into the 20th century as children's toys; one commonly found example is the "Dial" typewriter made by Marx Toys in the 1920s and 30s.
Much more could be said about the hundreds of makes of early typewriters -- and I do in Chapter 2 of my book. To get some different perspectives, try looking through my collection list or my wish list. For further reading, check out the typewriter-collecting resources.