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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

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, although the origins of this layout remain in dispute, whether it was developed for mechanical reasons or to suit the operator, particularly Morse code operators [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, Adler Typewriter Company and Olympia Werke [de].[7]

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


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
  • In 1575, an Italian printmaker, Francesco Rampazetto, invented the scrittura tattile, a machine to impress letters in papers.[9]
  • In 1714, Henry Mill obtained a patent in Britain for a machine that, from the patent, appears to have been similar to a typewriter. The patent shows that this machine was actually created: "[he] hath by his great study and paines & expence invented and brought to perfection an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters, one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print; that the said machine or method may be of great use in settlements and public records, the impression being deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery."[10]
  • In 1802, Italian Agostino Fantoni developed a particular typewriter to enable his blind sister to write.[11]
  • Between 1801 and 1808, Italian Pellegrino Turri invented a typewriter for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano.[12]
  • In 1823, Italian Pietro Conti da Cilavegna invented a new model of typewriter, the tachigrafo, also known as tachitipo.[13]
  • In 1829, American William Austin Burt patented a machine called the "Typographer" which, in common with many other early machines, is listed as the "first typewriter". The London Science Museum describes it merely as "the first writing mechanism whose invention was documented", but even that claim may be excessive, since Turri's invention pre-dates it.[14]

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]

  • American Charles Thurber developed multiple patents, of which his first in 1843 was developed as an aid to the blind, such as the 1845 Chirographer.[16]
  • In 1855, the Italian Giuseppe Ravizza created a prototype typewriter called Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti ("Scribe harpsichord, or machine for writing with keys"). '
  • In 1861, Father Francisco João de Azevedo, a Brazilian priest, made his own typewriter with basic materials and tools, such as wood and knives. In that same year the Brazilian emperor D. Pedro II, presented a gold medal to Father Azevedo for this invention. Many Brazilian people as well as the Brazilian federal government recognize Fr. Azevedo as the inventor of the typewriter, a claim that has been the subject of some controversy.[17]
  • In 1865, John Jonathon Pratt, of Centre, Alabama (US), built a machine called the Pterotype which appeared in an 1867 Scientific American article[18] and inspired other inventors.
  • Between 1864 and 1867, Peter Mitterhofer [de], a carpenter from South Tyrol (then part of Austria) developed several models and a fully functioning prototype typewriter in 1867.[19]
  • 1891 - Fitch typewriter - No.3287, type bar class, on base board, made by the Fitch Typewriter Company (UK) in London. Operators of the early typewriters had to work "blind", the typed text only emerged after several lines had been completed. The Fitch was one of the first machines to allow prompt correction of mistakes – it was thought to be the 2nd design of machine operating on the visible writing system. On the Fitch typewriter, the type bars were positioned behind the paper and the writing area faced upwards so that the result could be seen instantly. A curved frame kept the emerging paper from obscuring the keyboard, but the Fitch was soon eclipsed by machines in which the paper could be fed more conveniently at the rear.[20]
  • 1893 : This typewriter, patented by Mr J Gardner in 1893, was an attempt to reduce the size and cost of such machines. Although it prints 84 symbols it has but 14 keys and two change-case keys. Several characters are indicated on each key and the character printed is determined by the position of the case keys which control 6 case.[21]
  • 1897 - The "Underwood 1 typewriter, 10" Pica, No.990" was developed. This was the first typewriter with a typing area fully visible to the typist until a key is struck. These features, copied by all subsequent typewriters, allowed the typist to see and if necessary correct the typing as it proceeded. The mechanism was developed in the US by Franz X. Wagner from about 1892 and taken up, in 1895, by John T. Underwood (1857-1937), a producer of office supplies.[22]

Hansen Writing Ball[edit]

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.[23][24]

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.[25][26][27]

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.[28][29][30]

Sholes and Glidden typewriter[edit]

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,[31] although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use or even recommend it.[32] The working prototype was made by clock-maker and machinist Matthias Schwalbach.[33] Hall, Glidden and Soule sold their shares in the patent (US 79,265) to Densmore and Sholes,[34] 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.[33] 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.[34]

Index typewriter[edit]

A Mignon Model 4 index typewriter from 1924

The index typewriter came into the market in the early 1880s,[35]

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.[35] For example, the Simplex Typewriter Company made index typewriters that cost 1/40th the cost of a Remington typewriter.[36]

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.[35] 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,[37] allowing the use of different fonts and character sets, something very few keyboard machines allowed and only at considerable added cost.[37]

Embossing tape label makers are the most common index typewriters today, and perhaps the most common typewriters of any kind still being manufactured.[36]

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.[38]


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.[39][40]


Some ribbons were inked in black and 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. The red color was also used on some selected characters in running text, for emphasis. When a typewriter had this facility, it could still be fitted with a solid black ribbon; the lever was then used to switch to fresh ribbon when the first stripe ran out of ink. Some typewriters also had a third position which stopped the ribbon 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).[41]

"Noiseless" designs[edit]

Noiseless portables sold well in the 1930s and 1940s, and noiseless standards continued to be manufactured until the 1960s.[42]

Early electric models[edit]

Some electric typewriters were patented in the 19th century, but the first machine known to be produced in series is the Cahill of 1900.[43]

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.[44]

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.[45] 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.[46]

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.[47]

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.[48]

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.[49]

IBM Selectric[edit]

IBM Selectric II (dual Latin/Hebrew typeball and keyboard)
Selectric II dual Latin/Hebrew Hadar typeball
Replaceable IBM typeballs with clip

Due to the physical similarity, the typeball was sometimes referred to as a "golfball".[50]

The IBM Selectric became a commercial success, dominating the office typewriter market for at least two decades.[50]

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).[51]

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

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. Although IBM had produced a successful typebar-based machine with five levels of proportional spacing, called the IBM Executive.[52]

Later electric models[edit]

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.[53]

Electronic typewriters[edit]

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.[54]

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,[55] 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)[56] 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.[57] 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.[58]

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".[59]

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.[60][61]

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.[62] The reports were quickly contested, with opinions settling to agree that it was indeed the world's last producer of manual typewriters.[63][64][65][66]

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.[67]

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.[68]

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.[69]

The early 21st century saw revival of interest in typewriters among certain subcultures, including makers, steampunks, hipsters, and street poets.[70]

Correction technologies[edit]

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.[71]

Correction fluid[edit]

A different fluid was available for correcting stencils. It sealed up the stencil ready for retyping but did not attempt to color match.[72]


Keyboard layouts[edit]

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 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.[73]

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.[74]

One popular but unverified[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.[75]

Other layouts[edit]

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.[76]

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.[77]

Typewriter conventions[edit]

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.[78] 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.[79]

Other examples of typewriter practices that are sometimes still used in desktop publishing systems include inserting a double space between sentences,[80][81] and the use of the typewriter apostrophe, ', and straight quotes, ", as quotation marks and prime marks.[82] 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.[83]

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 ('+.!).[84]


Social effects[edit]

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.[85]

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.[86] According to the 1900 census, 94.9% of stenographers and typists were unmarried women.[87]

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?"[42]

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 wasn't previously read over and approved.[88] This work was copied by hand, most often on typewriters.[89] 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.[90] The typewriter became increasingly popular as the interest in prohibited books grew.[91]

Writers with notable associations with typewriters[edit]

Early adopters[edit]


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 S. Burroughs wrote in some of his novels—and possibly believed—that "a machine he called the 'Soft Typewriter' was writing our lives, and our books, into existence", according to a book review in The New Yorker. In the film adaptation of his novel Naked Lunch, his typewriter is a living, insect-like entity (voiced by North American actor Peter Boretski) and actually dictates the book to him.[93]
  • J. R. R. Tolkien was likewise accustomed to typing from awkward positions: "balancing his typewriter on his attic bed, because there was no room on his desk".[94]
  • Jack Kerouac, a fast typist at 100 words per minute, typed On the Road on a roll of paper so he would not be interrupted by having to change the paper. Within two weeks of starting to write On the Road, Kerouac had one single-spaced paragraph, 120 feet long. Some scholars say the scroll was shelf paper; others contend it was a Thermal-fax roll; another theory is that the roll consisted of sheets of architect's paper taped together.[42]
  • Another fast typist of the Beat Generation was Richard Brautigan, who said that he thought out the plots of his books in detail beforehand, then typed them out at speeds approaching 90 to 100 words a minute.[95]
  • Don Marquis purposely used the limitations of a typewriter (or more precisely, a particular typist) in his archy and mehitabel series of newspaper columns, which were later compiled into a series of books. According to his literary conceit, a cockroach named "Archy" was a reincarnated free-verse poet, who would type articles overnight by jumping onto the keys of a manual typewriter. The writings were typed completely in lower case, because of the cockroach's inability to generate the heavy force needed to operate the shift key. The lone exception is the poem "CAPITALS AT LAST" from archys life of mehitabel, written in 1933.
  • Author Ray Bradbury used a typewriter for rent at the library to write his work known as Fahrenheit 451, which was published in 1953.[96]
  • Actor Tom Hanks uses and collects manual typewriters.[97]

Late users[edit]

  • Andy Rooney and William F. Buckley Jr. (1982) were among many writers who were very reluctant to switch from typewriters to computers.
  • Richard Polt, a philosophy professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati who collects typewriters, edits ETCetera, a quarterly magazine about historic writing machines, and is the author of the book The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century.[98][full citation needed]
  • William Gibson used a Hermes 2000 model manual typewriter to write Neuromancer and half of Count Zero before a mechanical failure and lack of replacement parts forced him to upgrade to an Apple IIc computer.[99]
  • Harlan Ellison has used typewriters for his entire career, and when he was no longer able to have them repaired, learned to do it himself; he has repeatedly stated his belief that computers are bad for writing, maintaining, "Art is not supposed to be easier!"[100]
  • Author Cormac McCarthy continues to write his novels on an Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter to the present day. In 2009, the Lettera he obtained from a pawn shop in 1963, on which nearly all his novels and screenplays have been written, was auctioned for charity at Christie's for US$254,500;[101] McCarthy obtained an identical replacement for $20 to continue writing on.[102]
  • Will Self explains why he uses a manual typewriter: "I think the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head."[103]

Typewriters in popular culture[edit]

In music[edit]

  • Erik Satie's 1917 score for the ballet Parade includes a "Mach. à écrire" as a percussion instrument, along with (elsewhere) a roulette wheel and a pistol.[104]
  • The composer Leroy Anderson wrote The Typewriter (1950) for orchestra and typewriter, and it has since been used as the theme for numerous radio programs. The solo instrument is a real typewriter played by a percussionist. The piece was later made famous by comedian Jerry Lewis as part of his regular routine both on screen and stage, most notably in the 1963 film Who's Minding the Store?.
  • The Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO) has performed at numerous art festivals, clubs, and parties since 2004.[105][106]
  • South Korean improviser Ryu Hankil frequently performs typewriters, most prominently in his 2009 album Becoming Typewriter.[107]


  • The 2012 French comedy movie Populaire, starring Romain Duris and Déborah François, centers on a young secretary in the 1950s striving to win typewriting speed competitions.[108]

Forensic examination[edit]

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.[109]

The determination of a make and/or model of typewriter is a 'classification' problem and several systems have been developed for this purpose.[109] These include the original Haas Typewriter Atlases (Pica version)[110] and (Non-Pica version)[111] and the TYPE system developed by Dr. Philip Bouffard,[112] the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Termatrex Typewriter classification system,[113] and Interpol's typewriter classification system,[114] among others.[109]

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.[115] In non-fiction, the first document examiner[115] 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".[116] Other early discussions of the topic were provided by A. S. Osborn in his 1908 treatise, Typewriting as Evidence,[117] and again in his 1929 textbook, Questioned Documents.[118] A modern description of the examination procedure is laid out in ASTM Standard E2494-08 (Standard Guide for Examination of Typewritten Items).[119]

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.[120]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "typewriter (2)". Oxford English Dictionary. Vol. Vol 18 (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. 1989. p. 789. {{cite book}}: |volume= has extra text (help)
  2. ^ Cortada, James W. (2015). Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865–1956. Princeton University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-4008-7276-3. Archived from the original on 2018-06-26.
  3. ^ "Typewriters". www.officemuseum.com. Archived from the original on December 27, 2016.
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  • US79265 – Improvement in Type-Writing Machines (the patent that laid the basis for the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer)
  • US349026 – typewriter ribbon, by George K. Anderson of Memphis, Tennessee.

Further reading[edit]

  • Adler, M.H. (1973). The Writing Machine: A History of the Typewriter. Allen and Unwin.
  • Beeching, Wilfred A. (1974). Century of the Typewriter. St. Martin's Press. pp. 276 Beeching was the Director of the British Typewriter Museum.

External links[edit]