The first early typewriter was made in 1575 by an Italian printer. It was a machine called the scrittura tattile and it impressed letters onto paper. It was rudimentary at best, slow, and never commercially produced.

In 1714, a patent given to Henry Mill described another machine similar to a typewriter. The description on the patent explains that one of the machines was actually produced.

Between 1802 and 1870, there was no shortage of typewriters produced. They were all built by individuals, there were no two alike, and they were not commercially manufactured.

The Hansen Writing Ball was the first commercially produced typewriter. It was invented in 1865 by Reverend Rasmus Mailing-Hansen and production began in 1870. It was successful in Europe and could still be found in London offices in 1909.

Because some of Mailing-Hansen’s models returned the carriage to its original position using a solenoid, people consider him the first person to invent an electric typewriter. (Read more)

The Hansen Writing Ball. The image is in public domain

Typewriters are one of the longest lasting technologies in modern time. The basic front stroke typebar typewriter with the QWERTY keyboard was in place by the 1890s. A typebar is the slender bar with the letter on the end. Front stroke meant you could see what was being typed as you typed. QWERTY are the first 6 leters on a standard keyboard. The key pattern was designed for relative speed, but also to prevent keys from jamming. Bars with frequently used letter pairs are widely separated to prevent jams. This design continued by all major manufacturers until 1961 when the IBM Selectric introduced a typewriter with a rotating typing element that looked like a golf ball with all of the letters and symbols on it. It was somewhat similar to designs in the 1800s which had a single typing element. Some other manufacturers began to use similar elements. Finally, typewriters began to use daisy wheel elements which were a flat wheel with the letters radiating out from the center like the petals on a flower. Typebar typewriters were still made up until at least the 1980s for electric typewriters, however, and are still made today for manual typewriters. (Read more)

To visit a virtual typewriter museum, click here.

underwood manual
Click on the image to see the manual

Item on display in the Archives

Underwood Junior Portable Typewriter