Everyday Objects

Typewriter


If you don’t know what a typewriter is… well, there isn’t much hope for you. Don’t worry, though – I’m here to tell you all about them. First off, it does exactly what it says on the tin: types, and writes. But the typewriter didn’t always have such a mysterious name. Created by English inventor Henry Mill in 1714, the first typewriter was called an ‘artificial machine’, which I think tells us all we need to know. It was also the size of a piano and slower to use than writing by hand, so not your grandma’s typewriter. 

Italian inventor Pelligrino Turri holds the honour of building the first working typewriter in 1808, and the reason is super sappy. Turri built this typewriter to help his blind ‘friend’, Countess Carolina Fantoni de Fivizzano (try saying that five times fast) make letters which were easier to read. Note the ‘friend’ in quotation marks, as lots of people reckoned Turri and the Countess were actually lovers. Better gift than a box of chocolates, eh? Although we don’t know what the device looked like or how it worked (besides, you know, the typing and writing parts), the typewriter was built before the invention of Braille, making it a brilliant development for those with visual impairments. To this day, we’ve got 16 of the Countess’ letters preserved in a museum, in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia. Human progress aside, I wonder if the Countess would be embarrassed knowing her love letters are up on display? 

Things really got cracking with the typewriter in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when it started being commercially produced (fancy talk for ‘sold on the market’). But don’t think these typewriters had keyboards like the ones we have now; the popular Malling-Hansen ‘Writing Ball’ typewriter put all its consonants on the right, and vowels on the left. This layout was such a great idea that E. Remington and Sons completely revamped the key order in 1873, coming up with the ‘QWERTY’ system we still use today. Fun fact: E. Remington and Sons specialised in typewriters, and firearms. If I had a penny for every time E. Remington and Sons specialised in something that was prone to jamming, I’d have two pennies – which isn’t a lot, but it’s weird that it happened twice. 

Words by Quinn Clark
Research by Stephanie Crowe
Illustration by Noni Farragher-Hanks