Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back in the 1870's, Sholes & Co., a leading manufacturer of typewriters at the time, received many complaints from users about typewriter keys sticking together if the operator went too fast. In response, management asked its engineers to figure out a way to prevent this from happening. The engineers discussed the problem for a bit and then one of them said, "What if we slowed the operator down? If we did that, the keys wouldn't jam together nearly as much." The result was to have an inefficient keyboard configuration. For example, the letters "O" and "I" are the third and sixth most frequently used letters in the English language, and yet the engineers positioned them on the keyboard so that the relatively weaker fingers had to depress them. This "inefficient logic" pervaded the keyboard, and this brilliant idea solved the problem of keyboard jam-up. -- Roger von Oech: A Whack on the Side of the Head, Creative Think, Menlo Park (1983).

It was E. Remington & Sons, not Sholes & Co., that manufactured the first commercial typewriter, Sholes & Glidden Type-Writer, in September, 1873 (cf. John A. Zellers: The Typewriter - A Short History on Its 75th Anniversary 1873-1948, Newcomen Society of England American Branch, New York (1948)). Original QWERTY keyboard The Sholes & Glid­den Type-Writer was in­vent­ed by Messrs. Chris­to­pher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glid­den, and it had QWERTY key­board at the early be­gin­ning (shown above, taken from U. S. Patent No.207559). The engineers of E. Remington & Sons, including Messrs. Jefferson Moody Clough and William McKendree Jenne, did improve the mechanism of the Type-Writer to speed up, but they never changed the arrangement of the keyboard (cf. U. S. Patent No.199263). Furthermore, the eight-finger typing method was originated by Mrs. Elizabeth Margaret Vater Longley in 1881, eight years after the birth of the original QWERTY keyboard (cf. "Pioneers of Touch Typewriting", Remington Notes, Vol.2, No.12 (September 1912), p.5). Average typists in the 1870's used the forefingers only, never using relatively weaker fingers. Dr. Roger von Oech's "whack" on the QWERTY keyboard is totally fictitious.


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