Rhodri Marsden's Interesting Objects: Remington No 1

 

* Christopher Sholes and Carlos Glidden didn't actually invent the typewriter. John Pratt's 'Pterotype' provided much of the inspiration for the two men, a Wisconsin printer and inventor respectively. But the Remington No 1, also known as the Sholes & Glidden, was the first typewriter to achieve any kind of commercial viability. It went on sale this week in 1874.

* Neither made a fortune from it. A patent had been awarded to their 'Type-Writer' six years earlier, but Glidden lost interest, and Sholes was bought out by entrepreneur James Densmore for $12,000. Densmore drove the project thereafter; he ended up making a cool $1.5m.

* Densmore asked his son-in-law to come up with a keyboard layout that would stop the machine jamming during normal operation (QWE.TY) and convinced arms company E Remington & Sons (then experiencing a post-Civil War lull in business) to manufacture it. Remington reckoned the R should go where the full stop was, and QWERTY was born.

* There wasn't much enthusiasm for the CAPITAL LETTERS ONLY machine; just 400 were bought in the first six months. One recipient was Mark Twain, who stopped using it to write letters as he was fed up with having to explain how he'd done it in subsequent letters. "I don't want people to know that I own the curiosity-breeding little joker," he wrote.

* Shown at The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, it was outgunned by Alexander Graham Bell's telephone and Heinz's new tomato ketchup. It wasn't until the launch of the Remington No 2 (with lower-case letters) that the typewriter began to hit its stride.

* At the time of writing, there's a Remington No 1 available on eBay for $29,900. It doesn't work.

@rhodri

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