A Brief History
On July 1, 1874, E. Remington and Sons placed the first successful typewriter on the market, a model also known as the Remington No. 1 and invented by Christopher Sholes, Samuel Soule, and Carlos Glidden.
Not particularly easy to manufacture, the inventors had sold out to Remington after failing to easily produce the machine. Remington did not find an immediate market, as the machines were costly to make and still had some shortcomings such as the inability to type lower case letters. It did however, introduce the familiar QWERTY 4 row keyboard, which despite appearances made typing much faster than an ABCtype layout.
The Remington No. 2 model incorporated the ability to type lower case letters, but incredibly the typist could not see his or her work as it was typed. When businesses caught on to the idea of producing legible correspondence at a faster rate, the typewriter also caught on. As it did, many women proved adept at mastering the skill of typing and a new job market for women was created, the office typist. As more women moved into the office and clerical field via typing, other office and clerical jobs opened up as well.
Although Remington had the only commercial typewriter available those first few years, sales lagged with the $125 price and poor reliability. Only 400 were sold the first 6 months, although by 1887 4000 had been sold. Even Mark Twain bought one.
In 1881 another manufacturer (American Writing Machine Company) put a typewriter on the market so Remington dropped the price to $80. Remington had come out with the No. 2 in 1878 and sales began to pick up. Other manufacturers started to pop up, and the typewriter became an everyday office necessity.
Another typewriting milestone came in 1881 when the YWCA opened the first typing school. Prior to that typists were trained by the manufacturer. As women made less pay then men regardless of occupation, it was more fiscally responsible for businesses to hire women to type. In spite of the pay inequality, the pay for typing greatly exceeded the pay women made working in factories and such, causing women to flock to typist jobs.
Christopher Sholes, the main inventor of the typewriter, said late in life that he thought he had made it easier for women to make a decent living. In 1874 a mere 4% of clerical jobs were held by women, and by 1900 the percentage had increased to 75% (in the US).
Question for students (and subscribers): So what do you think? Did the typewriter make life better for women or did it help trap them in subservient jobs? Let us know what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Linoff, Victor M. and Typewriter Topics. The Typewriter: An Illustrated HIstory (Dover Pictorial Archive Series). Dover Publications, 2000.