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Christopher Sholes

AKA Christopher Latham Sholes

Born: 14-Feb-1819
Birthplace: Mooresburg, PA
Died: 17-Feb-1890
Location of death: Milwaukee, WI
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, WI

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Typewriter inventor, QWERTY keyboard

The first modern typewriter was designed by Christopher Sholes in 1868. He was a printer by trade, and familiar with the tedious, time-consuming process of typesetting. With help from two friends, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soulé, he built his machine, which mimicked the appearance of typeset pages by impressing one inked character at a time onto paper. Sholes soon purchased his partners' shares in the invention, and then spent five more years trying to refine the rather cumbersome device.

The keys of Sholes' typewriter had been arranged in alphabetical order, but the mechanical bars which struck the paper consistently jammed, so he rearranged his keyboard, putting the letter-bars that had jammed most frequently farther apart. This arrangement of letters, commonly called "qwerty" for the first six keys in the upper left corner of the keyboard, has been the standard for typewriters ever since, and is used in modern word processors, personal computers, and other devices.

Still, Sholes grew frustrated tinkering with his machine and doubted that it could be manufactured and sold at a reasonable yet profitable price. He accepted a $12,000 offer from E. Remington and Sons Company (the gunmaker now known as Remington Arms Co.) and relinquished all rights to the machine. Remington's engineers made quick work of the remaining mechanical problems, and the company began selling typewriters in late 1873. The first Remington model, marketed as the "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer", was not a great success, but Mark Twain bought one, and later described it as a "curiosity-breeding little joker".

Sholes is usually credited as the inventor of the typewriter, but certainly, his machine was not the first device that could mechanically put letters and words onto paper. Dozens of contraptions had accomplished this in different ways before Sholes began working on the problem.

In 1714, British mill worker Henry Mill received a patent for what he described as "an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print." The details of Mill's machinery have been lost to history.

In about 1808, an Italian inventor, Pellegrino Turri, built a device that allowed his blind friend to "type" notes. A few of the letters written on that machine have survived, but nothing is known about the machine itself or how it worked.

In 1829, William Burt of Detroit patented his "typographer", a machine with the alphabet laid out on a dial. The user would rotate a selection bar until it was over the desired character, then click a button to print that letter, somewhat similar to present-day novelty machines at carnivals.

In 1865, Denmark's Rasmus Malling-Hansen invented the skrivekugle, an elegant and brilliantly-engineered device in which paper was attached to a cylinder and rolled under a 'writing ball' that whirled under fifty-two densely-arranged buttons, which users pushed to select characters. Hansen's machine was quite popular in Scandinavia and it was certainly superior to Sholes' typewriter, but it faded from popularity as the machines made by Remington and its competitors became standard office equipment in America and across the world.

Father: Orrin Sholes
Brother: Charles Clark Sholes (newspaper publisher)
Brother: Henry Sholes
Wife: Mary Jane McKinney Sholes
Daughter: Lillian Sholes

    High School: Danville School, Danville, PA

    National Inventors Hall of Fame



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