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A Pioneer Typewriter

From The Phonetic Journal, October 28, 1899 –

Robert Messenger blogs about the Hood invention here.

© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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The one-armed typist, a workhouse girl

From various news accounts, Ethel Thomas lost her right arm around the age of 11. By the age of 16, she was living in a workhouse in England and learned to type and take shorthand. Her story garnered sympathy, and authorities eventually placed her in a situation where she could learn to weave. Whatever came of her is unknown, but her story is worth remembering.

The Pall Mall Gazette (London), July 11, 1900 –

Birmingham Daily Post, September 13, 1900 –

© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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Francesco Rampazetto and the Scrittura Tattile

Francesco Rampazetto was an Italian printer, noted for his edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He was also a member of a printers guild.

Earliest typewriter?

In 2014, Francesco Rampazetto reentered the typewriter narrative when the Museo Dinamico Della Technologigia A. Olivetti posted a blog entry asserting Rampazetto as the inventor of the earliest typewriter:

The first attempt, of which we have knowledge, unanimously recognized, to build a typewriter, which replaced the common handwriting, dates back to 1575. The Italian typographer and publisher, active in Venice, Francesco Rampazetto, designs a mechanical device with the intent to allow the blind to communicate with each other and with others. It was a rudimentary mechanism consisting of cube-shaped pieces of wood, bearing characters in relief. – link

By this account, Rampazetto precedes, by nearly 140 years, the Englishman Henry Mill, who patented a mechanical writing machine in 1714.

Subsequent to the museum’s posting, a slew of bloggers published articles asserting Rampazetto as the inventor of the earliest typewriter. Wikipedia references the museum’s post and places Rampazetto first in its list of inventors.

But did he invent or even design a machine called the Scrittura Tattile?

Documentation lacking

Problematically, there is no documentation for such an invention. No patent. No image. No primary source documents. The earliest reference to Rampazetto’s device is a 1924 article in Il Carrorcio, an Italian-language American magazine, which wrote (translated by Google):

The idea of replacing handwriting with typing first arose in favor of the blind From the Roman Rampazzetto 1575 who was the first in the world to try to make the blind correspond to seers by means of a special tactile writing on a species of nuts.1

The magazine cited a pamphlet by Count Emilio Budan of Venice, which was published in 1911: “J Precursori delle moderne macchine da scrivere” or “Precursors of the modern typewriter.” While that document was frequently quoted in subsequent narratives, those sources omit that Budan mentions Rampazetto and indicate that the narrative begins in 1713 with Henry Mill.

The pamphlet is apparently available in some libraries, but none of which I have access.

Il Carroccio cited Budan’s pamphlet previously in 1916 but did not mention Rampazetto. Nor did the magazine mention Rampazetto in 1923, when once more it cited Budan’s pamphlet. The 1924 article, containing one sentence about the 1575 invention, appears to be the only source for the claim.

Budan wrote at least two pamphlets, but none apparently covers any history before 1714. The following is from Typewriter Topics (1907):

Conclusion

That Francesco Rampazetto invented any type of writing machine is doubtful, though it is worth exploring why and how his name came to be associated with the invention. It is evident that many individuals attempted to design a writing machine through the ages, and it is possible that this Italian printer ranks among them, but until further documentation can be provided, Henry Mill ranks first.

Note: A biography of Rampazetto can be found on this page – click here.

1924 source

Il Carroccio (New York), July 1924 –

Il Carroccio (New York), 1923 –

© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

  1. Edited: Google Translate finished the sentence with “to the Nob,” but, as Richard Polt noted in his comment, “Nob” attaches to the following clause as a title for the next inventor. []
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An early adopter

A report from the New Orleans Stenographers’ Association includes this interesting detail of the use of a typewriter in 1874:

The Stenographer (Philadelphia), September 1899 –

Other early typists are noted in this blog post: click here.

© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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George Eliot and the typewriter

In 1899, Oscar Browning of The National Union of Typists offered this interesting anecdote about George Eliot’s encounter with what was likely a Sholes & Glidden Type Writer. He recounted a conversation he had with her some 25 years earlier:

“I remember, however, that that typewriter had a certain distinction conferred upon it, because it was noticed by the famous novelist George Eliot. She happened to be in my room at Cambridge, and I introduced to her the first typewriter she had ever seen. On her enquiring what it was, I said it was a machine by which you could print by touching the keys as if you were playing the piano. She immediately jumped to the conclusion that you could produce books in that way, and that all you had to do was to sit down and play on the typewriter, and books would tumble out at the other end. She was so deeply impressed with the idea that there were quite as many books in the world at the present moment as was good for the world, and that it would by no means be a benefit to humanity if they were increased indefinitely, that she recoiled from the object with horror, and was not at all in the mind to bless the person who had inflicted this new evil upon humanity. That attitude was based upon a misconception, and, if she had known what the majority of us know, I feel sure she would have greeted it in a different manner. Her handwriting was so beautiful and clear that she did not need any such invention as I require, but she must, I think, have welcomed the introduction of a machine which was likely to give so much stimulus to literary labours.”

The Sholes & Glidden was introduced in 1874; Eliot died in 1880.

His own experience with the machine is also noteworthy:

“I think my first introduction to typewriters was about 25 years ago, when a friend presented me with what I suppose was a very antediluvian specimen of a typewriter. It stood on four legs, and it was of considerable height. I do not think I ever typewrote anything with it, because I am not sure that I could understand the mechanism; but my recollection is that it made a horrible noise so as to drive everyone out of the room. The type was inked with a tape, as it is now, but the tape, either by its fault or mine, was continually impressing terrible marks on my fingers. After about a year’s acquaintance with it, in which it was not of very much use except for the purpose of amusement, I was very glad indeed to dispose of it. Nothing can be more different than the typewriter of that date and the typewriter of the present, which is a noiseless, elegant, and comparatively harmless machine.”

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© 2021, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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