One of the rules of good journalism is to never start a story with a question, with a person’s name, or with the date.
Otherwise this column would have started with “Christopher Sholes is a name everyone should know, but few could name his great invention, one of the most important of all time.”
The history books are full of stories about Alexander Graham Bell. Who doesn’t remember “Watson, come here! I need you!”?
Eli Whitney, Henry Ford and even Walter P. Chrysler, who was born in Wamego, are very familiar names.
But Christopher Sholes?
He was born on Feb. 14, 1819 and in 1864 he created a device that is still used today. Unlike Bill Gates and Microsoft, Sholes made only two changes to his invention, which has lasted 146 years.
Sholes is known for being an active inventor and developed several devices during his newspaper career. Yes, he was a journalist.
His lesser-known inventions include a paging/numbering device he created in 1864 and a newspaper addressing machine.
These devices helped Sholes develop what may be the greatest invention of all time, ranking right up there with Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press.
Sholes’ invention was the first practical typewriter in 1867.
Just inventing the typewriter was not in itself that impressive. The first typewriter had the keys in alphabetical order. As Sholes typed out those news stories at rocket speed, the frequently used keys would stick together.
Thus, Sholes and a couple associates deciphered which keys were used the most when typing to not only prevent sticking but allowing for some people to type more words per minute. The keyboard was invented.
It’s called the QWERTY keyboard because the first six characters on the upper left keyboard spell that out.
By 1878, the model had been perfected with a single change. Since some of the letters needed to be capitalized, Soules invented the shift key.
Shortly after this time, Sholes sold the copyright to the Remington Arms Company for $12,000 and the machine was first marketed as the “Sholes & Glidden Type Writer” in 1873.
“Remington No. 2” became a huge success after another decade on the market.
And “the rest of this story,” as Paul Harvey liked to say, is that today, 146 years later, I pull out an iPhone4 to send a text message and there is the Sholes keyboard.
Oh, and it still has a shift key. Never mind that in the computer world the problems with sticking keys does not exist and typing is done mostly today by a single finger or a couple thumbs. Still, no one has changed Sholes keyboard.
What other invention has lasted 140 years and still used in today’s modern technology?