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Simpson Street Free Press

Wisconsin History and the Invention of Typewriters

Christopher Latham Sholes created the first practical typewriter in 1874, right here in Wisconsin.

He was born in Pennsylvania in 1819 after finishing his apprenticeship in newspapering and moved to Green Bay when he was 18 years old. There, he started working for his brothers at the Wisconsin Democrat as a publisher. Around a year later, his brothers promoted him to edit the Madison Enquirer. Sholes later moved to Kenosha and created the Southport Telegraph, which he worked on for seventeen years. He also worked in Wisconsin politics, organizing the Republican Party and Free Soil Party, which resulted in a successful campaign to outlaw the death penalty.

In the fall of 1867, Sholes created a working typewriter with the help of Matthias Schwalbach, a machinist, and Samuel Soule, an inventor. Later, he had a test race with the superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph; the superintendent was writing with his hand and Sholes using the new typewriter. In the end, Sholes was quicker in finishing the sentence. One would think it would give them more sales, yet that wasn’t the case.

The group had financial issues that prevented their large-scale production and promotion of typewriters on the market. To solve this, the group decided to write letters to prospective financiers using the typewriter. One of the letters was sent to Shole’s former newspaper associate, Densmore, who went on to purchase a quarter of interest in the invention. When Densmore initially saw the working model, he was disappointed in its efficiency and urged the inventors to improve the machine. Over the next few years, Sholes and his colleagues made various improvements to their typewriter model, including the implementation of the “QWERTY” system of letter arrangement on the device.

Densmore managed to fund the manufacturing of typewriters on a small scale in 1872, but over time, the labor became too intensive to gain profit. By 1873, Sholes and his colleagues sold most of their shares to Densmore who later pitched the machine to E. Remington & Sons – a company known for its production in firearms and sewing machines. An agreement between Densmore and Remington was established to improve the typewriter, leading to the shipment of the first model of Sholes & Glidden Typewriter to big cities by July 1874. Over time, the typewriter became a standard device for producing newspapers and was used across many businesses.

Today, the typewriter is practically an obsolete device. However, features of this invention have remained and been improved in today’s technology. Christopher Latham Sholes and his group created an invention that changed the lives and workflow of society for generations to come, it is thanks to these innovators that modern-day techniques of typing exist.

[Source: Wisconsin Historical Society; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Madison.com]

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