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Definition: typewriter

A mechanical or electromechanical device that is used to print text on a paper document. Although there were various typewriter-like devices created throughout the 1800s, the first typewriters with a carriage that moved the paper to the next character location began to emerge in the 1870s. The first commercially successful machine was the "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer" made by the Remington Arms company in Ilion, NY from 1874 to 1878. The QWERTY keyboard was created in that same time frame.

Electric and Selectric
Greatly reducing the effort it took to produce a typewritten page, electric typewriters were introduced by Remington and IBM in the 1920s and 1930s, still using the horizontal moving carriage.

In 1961, IBM revolutionized the typewriter world with the introduction of its golf ball-like Selectric type wheel. Allowing the machine to reside in less desk space, the platen only moved the paper to the next line, while the type ball was moved across the page. Balls came with different typefaces and could be easily switched to change fonts. For an enchanting collection of old typewriters, visit www.typewritermuseum.org.

High Tech in the 1890s!
Considered the first portable typewriter, George Blickensderfer created this beauty in 1893. (Equipment courtesy of Dorothy Hearn.)

The Selectric "Golf" Ball
Selectric typewriters were office workhorses for decades. This type element sits in a 33-year old Selectric II still going strong in 2013, probably because the machine was professionally cleaned every five or six years.

Going Strong in the 2010s
This photo was taken in 2012 at the Mesa Typewriter Exchange in Mesa, Arizona. Not only are people still having typewriters repaired, but some young adults are actually purchasing them to write on. (Image courtesy of Mesa Typewriter Exchange.)