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The war on compound nouns

From The National Stenographer, November 1890 —

I’ve written about the hyphen here.

© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


The history of the typewriter begins with an English patent for “Impressing Writing on Parchment” which was awarded to Henry Mill in 1714. The four-age patent (offered below) contains but one sentence describing “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing, whereby all writings whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print.”

The precise function or design of this machine is not known, but the patent does appear to describe the action of a mechanical writing machine.

The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer.

For historians seeking to define the origins of the typewriter, Mill’s patent excites considerable interest. The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer, originally conceived in 1866 and introduced in 1874, was not the first mechanical writing machine. Several other machines — the Burt, the Davies, etc. — preceded it, but none effected letters “singly or progressively, as in writing.” The Sholes & Glidden did. (Yes, the Hansen Writing Ball, exhibited in Copenhagen in 1873, achieved practical and commercial success, but not nearly to the level of the Sholes & Glidden.)

Henry Mill appears to have been the first to conceptualize a mechanical writing machine like a typewriter, and his place in typewriter history is thus warranted.

In 1895, The Illustrated Phonograph World sought a copy of Mill’s patent and any illustrations or model of the machine from Author Morton, an English typewriter historian. His reply and a facsimile of the patent (four pages of mostly legal jargon) are offered below.

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.


Jennie Wehle: A lady typewriter

When Jennie Wehle took employment as a typewriter in 1888, her decision excited no small amount of interest. According to news reports, she was the daughter of a millionaire, and she had taken employment for the sake of independence. “I think one is much happier for being independent and having something to employ the mind,” she said, explaining her decision.

(The term “typewriter” indicated either the operator of the machine or the machine itself in the late 1800s and early 1900s.)

An article about Wehle, featured in various publications, chronicled her decision in some detail, though the author reserved quotations for the latter part of the piece.

“I am not working simply to gratify a whim,” she said, “nor am I doing it simply for the sake of the experience, for I intend to continue permanently at it. I consider I have two very good reasons. First, I love my work; and, secondly, I love to be independent. I believe every girl gifted with brains should employ them the way nature intended.”

She also addressed general attitudes about lady typewriters: “I think the public have an erroneous opinion about lady typewriters from what they read in the newspapers about them. There is a disposition to surround them with an air of romance. I have become acquainted with a great number. Many of those whom I know belong to excellent families, and have enjoyed wealth and refinement, but through reduced circumstances are obliged to depend upon their own exertions. They are none the less ladies for doing so.”

The piece, entitled “Mr. James’ Type Writer,” was featured in The Exponent, September 1, 1888. Other publications called the piece “A Lady Typewriter.”

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© 2018, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.