christopherSholes“I replied, ‘That machine is very crude, but there is an idea there that will revolutionize business.’ Mr. Remington asked, 'Do you think we ought to take it up?' I said, ‘We must on no account let it get away. It isn't necessary to tell these people that we are crazy over the invention, but I'm afraid I am pretty nearly so.’”

Before word processing, there was the typewriter.  Before Mr. Sholes's invention, handwriting was the only method of transcribing thoughts or activities of individuals.  Sure, there was the printing press, but what if you only needed one copy?  Millions of typewriters were sold in the ensuing years, until they were displaced by the personal computer.  American ingenuity and production capability made it all possible.


Taken from: Herkimer County Historical Society, "The Story of the Typewriter, 1873-1923" (New York: Andrew H. Kellog Company, 1923).  Edited by Gary M. Bohannon.

Christopher Latham Sholes was born in Columbia County, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1819. Sholes was a printer and publisher by trade, the most closely allied mechanical arts to typewriting that the world then knew. As a publisher, Sholes knew the vital help that a writing machine would offer.

At the age of fourteen young Sholes was apprenticed to the editor of the Intelligencer of Danville, Pa., to learn the printing trade. When only nineteen years old, he took charge of the House Journal of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature. In 1839 he became editor of the Wisconsin Inquirer, and in the following year he went to Kenosha, where he edited the Southport Telegraph, afterwards the Kenosha Telegraph, and four years later was appointed postmaster of the town.

Sholes's activities as a journalist finally took him into Wisconsin politics, a career for which, in character and temperament, he was very poorly fitted. Nevertheless, he served two terms as state senator, in 1848 and 1849 from Racine County, and in 1856 and 1857 from Kenosha County. In 1852 and 1853 he represented Kenosha in the assembly. In 1860 Sholes removed to Milwaukee, where he had an active and varied career, first as post- master, and later as commissioner of public works and collector of customs. He was also for a long time editor of the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel and the Milwaukee News. It was in 1866, while serving as collector of customs for the Port of Milwaukee, that the invention of the typewriter enters the story.

The typewriter was not the first evidence of Sholes's inventive genius. Years before he had been the first to conceive of the method of addressing newspapers by printing the names of subscribers on the margin. His more recent work on the machine for paging blank books brings us to the beginning of the typewriter story. Three men, Sholes, Samuel Soule and Carlos Glidden, came together over the idea of a writing machine.

According to one story, the idea arose out of a chance remark of Glidden's, who had become interested in Sholes's paging machine and one day said, “Why cannot such a machine be made that will write letters and words and not figures only?” Nothing further was said or done at the time, but in the summer of the following year (1867) a copy of the Scientific American, which quoted an article from a London technical journal, fell into the hands of Glidden. It described a machine called the "Pterotype," invented by John Pratt, which was designed to do just what Glidden had suggested. This invention had inspired an editorial in the same issue of the paper, which pointed out the great benefit to mankind which such a machine would confer, as well as the fortune that awaited the successful inventor. Glidden immediately brought this article to the attention of Sholes, and it appealed so strongly to his imagination that he decided to see what could be done.

We soon find Sholes working whole-heartedly on the new idea, assisted by Glidden and Soule. None of these men, so far as we know, had any knowledge at the time of any previous attempts to invent a typewriter, with the single exception of John Pratt's “Pterotype.” In the building of the new machine they were, at the outset, wholly dependent on their own creative efforts. All of them were amply endowed with inventive talent, but not one of the three was a mechanical engineer by profession, or even a mechanic by trade.

The work went steadily onward and by autumn of the year 1867 the first machine had been made, although no patent was taken out until June of the year following. This first machine had innumerable defects and was a crude affair in every way. But it wrote accurately and rapidly, and that was the main point. Moreover, as a self-advertiser, it soon scored a notable triumph. A number of letters were written with it and sent to friends, among these one to James Densmore, who was immediately interested.

Like Sholes and Soule, Densmore had been both editor and printer, and could well realize the importance of such a machine. Instantly he saw the possibilities of the new invention and shortly afterwards he purchased, by the payment of all expenses already incurred, an interest in the new machine before he had so much as seen it. Densmore did not actually see the typewriter until March of the following year (1868). He then pronounced it good for nothing save to show that the idea was feasible, and pointed out many defects that would need to be remedied before it would be available for practical uses. Shortly afterwards Soule dropped out of the enterprise, leaving it to Sholes, Glidden and Densmore.

The relationship which then began between Sholes and Densmore was a strange meeting of opposites, for two men more unlike could hardly be imagined. Densmore is described as bold, aggressive and arrogant. If Sholes was a dreamer and an idealist, Densmore in some respects was a plain ''crank." He was a vegetarian of the militant type, and did not hesitate to remonstrate with meat eaters, even total strangers in public restaurants. His own diet consisted mainly of raw apples, a reminder of the raw turnips of Colonel Sellers. He was always impervious to the shafts of ridicule and insensible to slights. Indomitable and resolute, in the pursuit of any object he could not be discouraged or repulsed. But Densmore, in his own rough way, was usually kind to the gentle Sholes, and it may be set down to his credit that more than once, during the years of inventive struggle from 1867 to 1873, when difficulties thickened and Sholes, if left to his own devices, would have become discouraged, Densmore's unquenchable faith was the salvation of the infant enterprise.

The proper naming of the typewriter had been quite as long and difficult a job as the evolution of the practical machine itself. Those who came before Sholes failed in this, quite as much as in their inventive efforts. Henry Mill did not even attempt to name his invention. Burt called his a "Typographer." Thurber called his first machine a 'Tatent Printer"; his second a "Mechanical Chirographer." Eddy, like Mill, made no effort to find a name. Jones called his invention a "Mechanical Typographer"; Beach called his an improvement in "Printing Instruments for the Blind" ; Francis called his an improvement in "Printing Machines"; Harger called his an "Improved Mechanical Typographer"; DeMay also described his machine as an "Improved Mechanical Typographer or Printing Apparatus." Livermore, following the same lead, called his an "Improved Hand Printing Device or Mechanical Typographer." Peeler stated that he had invented a new and valuable "Machine for Writing and Printing." Hall did a little better when he described his invention as a "Machine for Writing with Type or Printing on Paper or Other Substance." Of all those who began before Sholes, the only one who showed any originality in picking a name was John Pratt with his "Pterotype," a word the meaning of which few people knew. It remained for Sholes himself, in his simple, direct way, to hit upon a name which no one has ever been able to improve upon.

With a workable prototype was finally constructed, the time now draws near for the opening of the second chapter of typewriter history, the entrance into the story of the great house of E. Remington & Sons. In casting about for a suitable manufacturer for the new invention, the minds of the inventors turned naturally to the noted gunmakers who had already made the name Remington famous. The origin and the rise of the house of Remington carries us back many years into the past. The story goes that in 1816 a young boy named Eliphalet Remington, who was working with his father at their forge in the beautiful Ilion Gorge in the Mohawk Valley, asked his father for money to buy a rifle and was refused. Not daunted, the boy Eliphalet welded a gun barrel from scraps of iron collected around the forge, walked fourteen miles to Utica to have it rifled, and finally had a weapon that was the envy of his neighbors. Soon he was making and selling other guns, and step by step the old forge grew into the great gun factory which in Civil War times did so much to equip the northern armies in the great struggle. In time the firm made big contracts to supply arms to foreign governments; they also added other lines of manufacture, including sewing machines and agricultural implements. In 1873, when the type writer begins to figure in the Remington story, the first Eliphalet, the boy gunmaker of 1816, had already been twelve years in his grave, and the business was in charge of his three sons, Philo, Samuel and Eliphalet, Jr. At the time of the signing of the typewriter contract, Samuel was absent in Europe. The president and active head of the business was the elder brother, Philo, and it was Philo Remington who was destined to father the new machine with his name and devote his utmost efforts and resources to its manufacture and sale.

It was late in the month of February, 1873, that Densmore came to the Remington Works at Ilion, bringing with him the precious model that was the culmination of six years of effort and struggle. Sholes, it appears, did not accompany Densmore on this journey, which per- haps was just as well, for he was far too modest a man to make a good pleader of his own cause. But Densmore did not go alone. He was accompanied by G. W. N. Yost, a salesman par excellence. Yost sold more typewriters through his own personal powers of persuasion than any other man in the early days of the business.

It is now fifty years since the signing of the history-making contract between the owners of the typewriter and the Remingtons, and all but one of the actors in these scenes have long since gone to their rest. It is fortunate, however, that there is one man now living who was present and an active participator in the conferences which resulted in the signing of the contract, and his memory of them is as vivid as though they were the events of yesterday. This man is Henry Harper Benedict, who after- wards became one of the founders of the commercial success of the writing machine.

Mr. Benedict, one of the founders of the commercial success of the writing machine, was employed by E. Remington & Sons, with whom he remained for thirteen years in a confidential capacity, becoming in time a director on the board of the corporation and treasurer of the Remington Sewing Machine Company. The story of the typewriter contract, and the events leading up to it, is thus told in Mr. Benedict's own words.

“One day I saw on the mantelpiece in Mr. Philo Remington's office an envelope addressed to him in something that looked like print. I asked him what it was. He said, ‘Read it.’ It proved to be a letter from one James Densmore setting forth at considerable length the facts in connection with the invention of a machine to take the place of the pen, that is, to write by manipulation of keys. He told who were the inventors, and said that after many years of effort they had finally produced a working model, and they wanted to find someone to undertake the manufacture of the machine. He wished to bring the model to Ilion to see whether the Remingtons would care to take it up.

“I said to Mr. Remington, ‘Have you done anything about this?’ He said, ‘No, what do you think we had better do?’ ‘Why,’ I said, ‘of course we want to see the machine; it is a wonderful invention if it's anything, and we should not neglect the opportunity offered us to examine it.’ The result was that the model was brought to Ilion early in 1873 by Mr. James Densmore and Mr. Yost.

“Densmore and Yost opened up the model, and exhibited it to us in a room at the Osgood House, then known as Small's Hotel. There were present at the meeting, Mr. Philo Remington, Mr. Jefferson M. Clough, Super- intendent of the Remington Works, Mr. William K. Jenne, Assistant Superintendent, Mr. Densmore, Mr. Yost and myself. We examined and discussed the machine for perhaps an hour and a half or two hours and then adjourned for lunch or dinner. As we left the room, Mr. Remington said to me, ‘What do you think of it?’

“I replied, ‘That machine is very crude, but there is an idea there that will revolutionize business.’ Mr. Remington asked, 'Do you think we ought to take it up?' I said, ‘We must on no account let it get away. It isn't necessary to tell these people that we are crazy over the invention, but I'm afraid I am pretty nearly so.’”

The party met again later in the day and a tentative agreement was entered into which developed into the contract which opened a new chapter in the story of human progress.

The actual date of this contract was March 1, 1873. The original contract was for manufacture only, but in due course of time the Remingtons acquired complete ownership. Densmore was unsuccessful as selling agent and made little money in this role, but when the ownership passed to the Remingtons, he accepted a royalty, by which he was subsequently enriched. Sholes, either at this time or shortly after, is said to have sold out his royalty rights to Densmore for $12,000 [$249,000 in 2018 dollars], the only reward, so far as we know, that he ever received for his priceless invention and the years of labor he had bestowed upon it.

As soon as the Remington firm had agreed to undertake the manufacture of the new machine, the ample resources and the skillful workmen available at their great factory were brought into service in the further improvement of the typewriter. There was still much work to do, for the Sholes and Glidden machine, even after the years of labor expended upon it, was, after all, only the inventor's crude model. Sholes and Glidden had worked out the basic ideas, and that was about all. To make these ideas practical, in a machine that could be produced and sold in quantities, now became the manufacturer's task. It was a fortunate thing for the infant typewriter that the Remingtons had in their service at this time a notable group of mechanical master minds, and the efforts of these men were now centered on the new machine.

We now come to the fateful hour, the appearance on the market of the first commercial typewriter. The actual manufacture of the machine began in September, 1873, and it may be said that in this year and month occurred the birth of the practical writing machine. In the early part of the following year the first machines were completed and ready for sale. The machine was then known simply as ''The Type-Writer' Today it is known as the ''Model I Remington'' and it will always be known as the "Ancestor of All Writing Machines.''


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