Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vintage typewriters, Mark Twain, and the Paige Typesetter

The history of typewriters is really interesting. Some early typewriters looked very strange. The "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer" was first marketed in 1873. Only 5 000 were sold over the next five years. It did use the QWERTY keyboard, but only typed capital letters. It took a while for the QWERTY keyboard to become standardized. In 1878, it was replaced by a quieter model that type both lower case and capital letters., It took a while but it sold much better then the original model.

The full story of the early Remington typewriters can be found here.

Mark Twain was a very early user of the typewriter, and typed this letter to William Dean Howells on December 9, 1874.

You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters & punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at. Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it just right.

Twain's 1883 novel, "Life on the Mississippi" ,was the first typewritten novel, although Twain didn't type it himself is a great site for information about old typewriters, with lots of photos.

Here are photos of two early typewriters from the site.

The Edison

The Crandall

Twain invested heavily in ,and eventually bought the rights to the Paige typesetter., It looked great, and had over 18,000 working parts. However some of the parts didn't work so well, and it lost out to the more efficient Linotype machine.The failure of the Paige typesetter contributed heavily to Twain's bankruptcy.


  1. Haha, I love Mark Twain. Always brings a bit of wit and fun to most situations. The Edison typewriter looks extremely dangerous.

  2. Haha, i agree. The Edison looks as though it would chop my fingers off. I've been dying for a (working) typewriter, because whenever i try to type something on my computer i just get distracted by the internet. a nice little portable one would be great.
    and i love that little letter by Mark Twain.