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The Origin of QWERTY Keyboard Report

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021

The origin of the QWERTY keyboard can be traced as far back as the 1870s when typewriters were invented. It is called the QWERTY keyboard because of the arrangement of the alphabetical letters in the first row of the keyboard (Torbjon L 2000). If you check on the modern computer keyboard, you will realize that the arrangement of the first SIX letters in the first row spells out the word QWERTY. This model was first invented by Christopher L.Sholes, a US mechanical engineer.

After the invention of the typewriter, typists became too fast in their typing work that the manufacturers at that time received numerous complaints from various users that the typewriter keys were sticking together in case the operator typed too fast (Friendrich A, & Geoffrey Winthrop-young 1999). The typebars used to intertwine and become stuck forcing the operator to manually unstick them ad as such frequently blotting the document. In addition, the typewriter manufactures had the task of impressing the buyers of the typewriter. They hence decided to arrange the typewriter keys in such a way that the buyers would type the word “typewriter” without ever having to move their hand to the second row, called the home row, and probably by using only two fingers.

In designing the new keyboard, the two factors were taken into consideration. The typing bars sticking together problem was the first to be solved. The manufacturers decided that they were to solve this problem by slowing down the operators. This called for the creation of an efficient keyboard-configuration (Torbjon L 2000). Consequently, they decided to put the most frequently used English language letters as far apart as possible, and that the weakest fingers should depress these particular letters. For instance, the letters “I” and “O” are the third and sixth most frequently used English language letters, yet the manufacturers placed them on the keyboard in such a way that, the weakest fingers depress them.

On the other hand, to improve their sales, the manufactures had to arrange the letters in such a way that they would impress the buyers. The letters were to allow for the typing of the word ‘typewriter’ during demonstrations without too much movement of the hand and using as few fingers as possible. This aim was achieved with the QWERTY keyboard. One can virtually type the word ‘typewriter’ without having to move your hand to the home row.

This new arrangement had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was that, for some period, the intertwining of the typing bars was taken care of. In addition, the letters were alternated between hands allowing one hand to move into position while the other hand struck. This increased the typing speed to the new users of the keyboard (John A,1948). The disadvantage was that, with time, the operators gained speed and again the typing bars still stuck.

Though Sholes, a US mechanical engineer invented the first typewriter and hence the QWERTY keyboard, the first man to manufacture the QWERTY keyboard for commercial use was E.Remington & sons in the year 1873 (Torbjon L 2000). Nevertheless, the QWERTY keyboard is still in use today despite the challenges involved and attempts to introduce other new types of keyboards.

Reference

Friendrich A. Kittler, Geoffrey Winthrop-young (1999). Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford University press.

John A Zeller (1948). The typewriter: A short history on Its 75th Anniversary 1873 – 1948, Newcomen society of England. American Branch.. New York.

S.J.Liebowttz and Stephen E. Margolis ( 1990). The fable of keys. Journal of law and economics. Vol. XXXIII.

Torbjon Lundmark (2000) Quirky Qwerty; A biography of the keyboard. New south Wales University press Ltd.

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