Mechanised writing systems were first developed as writing aids to those who were blind or had impaired vision. These systems included the ‘typographer,’ designed by William Burt in 1829, whereby the user turned a dial to select keys and the ‘chirographer’ designed by William Thurber in 1845. The need for an automated system was more widespread, however, with stenographers and telegraphers in popular demand for their efficiency in communication. In 1865 the first marketable version of the typewriter was patented by Rev. Rasmus Malling in Denmark and became known as the ‘Hansen Writing Ball.’
Two years later in Wisconsin, Christopher Soles, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule put their design for the ‘QWERTY’ typewriter into production with Remington (a company then famous for its manufacture of sewing machines). By 1910, this design had become the standard throughout the industry. Early designs often featured floral patterns in order to appeal to the vast number of female secretaries and typists who used them. The typewriter soon broke through this stereotype and became popular with journalists, novelists and in the home. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina famously records her tale using a typewriter; she transcribes every letter and document in order to standardise and make legible the disparate elements of her story.
The electrification of the typewriter was investigated as early as 1870, as Edison experimented with relaying typed information down a telegraph line. It was not until nearly a century later that this idea was popularised. Indeed, electrification was the death knell of the mechanical typewriter, with electronic keyboards taking their place. Today the romantic notion of ‘typecasting’ keeps the typewriter alive (a process where bloggers type their posts and scan the results onto a computer), as do collectors (who famously count Tom Hanks among their number.