You’ve probably heard this story a thousand times. So many times in fact, that most people assume it is true;
In the late eighteen hundreds, mechanical typewriters would jam if people hit the keys too quickly, so they had to put the common letters as far apart from each other as possible to slow down the typing speed. Hence, mechanical typewriters and the QWERTY keyboard is a holdover of the mechanical age
The true story behind the QWERTY keyboard on the other hand, has nothing to do with mechanical engineering. The QWERTY keyboard is a story about sales and marketing..
A short history about typewriters
In 1867, a Milwaukee printer named Christopher Latham Sholes, filed a patent application for a mechanical writing machine. His machine had its typebars on the bottom, striking upward to leave an impression on the paper. This arrangement had two serious flaws. First, because the printing point was underneath the paper carriage, it was invisible to the typist. Second, if a typebar became jammed, it too, remained invisible to the operator. Sholes worked for the next six years to try to eliminate this problem, trying mechanical changes and different keyboard arrangements. The result of his experiments was the first version of todays keyboard.
The true story behind the QWERTY keyboard
In 1873, E. Remington & Sons licensed the design from Scholes, and set their engineers to work to on the design. One of their changes was the keyboard layout and this was manly driven by a clever marketing idea. The Remington brand name, TYPE WRITER, could be most speedily typed if all of its letters were on the same row (..just give it a try;). Remington’s salesmen used this slight bit of subterfuge to impress potential customers and demonstrate how much faster the Remingtons were compared to their competitors.
The DVORAK keyboard
Over the next decades competing designs continued to be introduced that solved the mechanical jamming problem, and enabled faster typing. The result was the Dvorak keyboard, patented in 1932. How much better were these other designs? Research shows that the Dvorak keyboard could increase typing speed with more than 200% compared to the QWERTY keyboard! So why weren’t these designs successful in the marketplace? The answer lies not in the device, but in the context of how the devices were employed. Typewriters productive employment requires the presence of a skilled operator – the typist. In the late 1880’s, the practice of “touch typing” was developed. And it was developed for the Remington keyboard. While the competitors were busy opimising their product, Remington was optimising the customer experience and their marketing!
Sources & Resources
www.theatlantic.com “The Lies You’ve Been Told About the Origin of the QWERTY Keyboard”
www.wikipedia.com “QWERTY keyboard”
www.earthlink.net “Why the QWERTY keyboard was invented”
www.superkids.com “QWERTY, The real story”
Freddy Aurso, MD Lighthouse8