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The space bar

George Bernard Shaw, typing a Remington Portable Typewriter No. 1 – a very early version of the machine.

I was taught to employ only the right thumb, but in practice I find myself using both thumbs – though mostly the left. Of course, as I write this, I find that typing is like breathing: it gets awkward when you think about it. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “The unconscious self is the real genius. Your breathing goes wrong the moment your conscious self meddles with it.”1

From The Phonographic Magazine (Cincinnati), July 1, 1889 —

© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

  1. From Maxims for Revolutionaries, though as a trained vocalist, consciousness of breathing is quite a natural experience. []
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Typewriter, too long? Really?

From The Stenographer (Philadelphia), June 1892 —

Perhaps in reply to this.

© 2019 – 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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Typewriter too long a word?

From The Phonetic Journal, July 9, 1892 —

Scorecard:

Typewriting (verb) – typing
Typewriter (machine) – typewriter, sometimes typer – I prefer type-writer
Typewriter (operator) – typist
Typewritten (adjective) – mostly typed, sometimes typewritten
Typewrite (verb) – type

© 2019 – 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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This is the arrangement of the original Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, which was submitted to E. Remington and Sons for manufacture in 1873:

“Q W E . T Y I U O P”

This is not the familiar arrangement known today as QWERTY. According to press accounts in 1905, the person who suggested the final arrangement was Mrs. M.A. Saunders, an early pioneer in typing. (Unfortunately, press accounts do not spell out her initials. Her father was Dr. Edward R. Percy.)

In 1905, the Remington Typewriter Company presented Saunders with a gold watch, inscribed with the following: “1875-1905. To the pioneer typewriter operator. From the pioneer manufacturer.” In press accounts, she was heralded imprecisely as the first “typewriter,” i.e. typist, but she was certainly among the first typists and her contributions were significant.

Saunders found the arrangement of the original keyboard unnecessarily awkward and suggested the movement of a few keys. Interestingly, she deemed the arrangement in general to be satisfactory. As a pianist and organ player, she did not apparently subscribe to the idea that some fingers are weaker than others. (Pianists, interestingly, were often sought as typists in the very early days before typewriting schools were established.)

She was, however, critical of the design of the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer:

“It was an awful old trap. The connections between the keys and the type bars were wires and they were everlastingly breaking. And the types were just driven into peg holes with a lick of a hammer and they had a way of flying out. Often when you had written a page you found the machine had skipped every ‘i’ or ‘e.’ Then you’d have to fish around in it and find the missing type. We had to give a guarantee with every machine that it would last six months, and they were always coming back on us. They used to send me with nearly every machine to get it working right.”1

Early typists were also typewriter mechanics, fixing and re-aligning their machines daily (see also this blog post).

Saunders was a remarkable pioneer, achieving a number of distinctions:

  • Typing 70 words per minute (before touch typing was invented)
  • Suggesting the final arrangement of the keyboard
  • Recommending a double-case typewriter (the S&G was an upper-case model only), though she was likely one of many who had that idea
  • Writing an early (the first?) instruction book for typewriting
  • Starting a typewriting school in England

In a flurry of press accounts and reprints, she was recognized for these accomplishments 25 years after beginning her career.

The following is an account from The Christian Advocate, January 26, 1905:

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© 2019, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

  1. The Salt Lake Herald, February 19, 1905 – press here to view. []
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The American Typewriter: Perfect for boys and girls

Worth noting: 3,000 machines sold by 1894. From Scientific American, Dec. 1, 1894 —

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© 2019 – 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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