Thursday, August 14, 2014

Made in Wisconsin: The QWERTY Keyboard

Even as I type this post, I am indebted to the ingenuity of a fellow Wisconsinite, who, mirabile dictu, invented the QWERTY keyboard.

The QWERTY keyboard arrangement was designed to minimize jamming on a manual typewriter in which the type face actually flew up on metal bars to hit the paper. And that is exactly the type of machine I first learned to type on back in the day.

And I can tell you, it minimized jamming, it didn't make it impossible. I can remember needing to slow myself down in order to prevent jams which still inevitably happened. And I would pull the type one by one off the jam by the page, assess the damage, use white out, and go back to work.

When I later took a typing class in high school, in Madison, Wisconsin, we used IBM Selectrics, in which a magnetized ball hit the paper and jamming was now impossible. We had arrived!

But far too many people knew how to type on the QWERTY to even think of changing that up that arrangement.

And now that no one ever types anything that immediately hits type face against paper, you'd think we'd consider a new keyboard arrangement that might speed up typing.

Nope, too late. 2 million years from now, people will still be using the QWERTY keyboard.

Christopher Latham Sholes
The QWERTY keyboard was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes. While he was born in Pennsylvania in 1819, he moved to Wisconsin in 1837, where he would live and work the rest of his life.

He is called the "Father of the Typewriter" because he invented and patented the first practical and widely used typewriter. In trials with his machine, he was
Shole's Typewriter. You can see the QWERTY keyboard
encountering the problem of typeface jamming. By trial and error he arrived at the QWERTY arrangement we still use today and since that is what he patented, that is what all subsequent typewriters ended up using.

Thank you, Mr. Sholes. Your invention arguably changed the world even more than the printing press. And we're proud to claim you as a Wisconsinite.


Keith Massey was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. He has his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Biblical Hebrew, with a minor in Arabic. After 9/11, he served as an Arabic linguist at the NSA. He is currently a Latin teacher at a public high school in New Jersey.

Keith is the author of Intermediate Arabic for Dummies. His fiction novels follow the adventures of Andrew Valquist, roughly patterned after himself--a man born and raised in Wisconsin who gets pulled into the world of international intrigue. 

Keith's novels are A Place of Brightness, Amor Vincit Omnia: An Andrew Valquist Adventure, Next Stop: Spanish, and In Saecula Saeculorum.