Origins of the QWERTY Keyboard

Sholes-Glidden Typewriter, 1874. “The familiar “QWERTY” keyboard layout, virtually unchanged to this day, was featured on the very first Sholes & Glidden machines. There is no “shift” key because the machine only typed capital letters. Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Museum, ID 1964.31.

Was QWERTY designed to slow down the typist, or was it a deliberate design for telegraphers? The QWERTY keyboard appeared on the first Remington typewriters produced and sold in 1848.[ii] It is commonly thought that Sholes designed his typewriter keyboard to keep the machine from jamming. But, this may not be the real reason for the layout.

Sholes’ modification of the keyboard layout was influenced by the needs of the telegraphers. The keyboard layout can be traced to the Morse Code sequencing used in communications. As proof of the telegraphers’ influence, several common Morse Code sequences such as “e z” and “s e” are close to each other on the QWERTY keyboard because they are used in Morse Code sequences. He even sold one of his early machines to Porter’s Telegraph College in Chicago in 1868 where individuals were trained to become telegraphers.[i]

 

Written by Cheryl Kaufenberg, September 2021.


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FOOTNOTES

[i] http://yasuoka.blogspot.com/  “St. Joseph Harold Vol 3 #29 November 21, 18168, p. 3

[ii]https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47460499