Biographies

Christopher Latham Sholes

Christopher Latham Sholes :- (born February 14, 1819, near Mooresburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.—died February 17, 1890, Milwaukee, Wisconsin) American inventor who invented the QWERTY keyboard, and along with Frank Haven Hall, Samuel W. Soule, Carlos Gladden and John Pratt, has been contended as one of the inventors of the first typewriter in the United States. He was also a newspaper publisher and Wisconsin politician.

After completing his schooling, Sholes was apprenticed as a printer. Four years later, in 1837, he moved to the new territory of Wisconsin, where he initially worked for his elder brothers, who published a newspaper in Green Bay. Shortly thereafter Sholes became editor of the Wisconsin Enquirer, in Madison. After a year, he moved to Southport (later Kenosha) to take charge of the newspaper there and soon entered politics, serving in the state legislature. In 1860 he became editor of the Milwaukee News and later of the Milwaukee Sentinel, a position he gave up to accept appointment from Pres. Abraham Lincoln as collector of the port of Milwaukee.

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Inventing the typewriter

Typewriters with various keyboards had been invented as early as 1714 by Henry Mill and have been reinvented in various forms throughout the 1800s. It is believed to be Sholes among others, who have invented the first one to be commercially successful, however many contest it and couple his inventions with that of Frank Haven Hall, Samuel W. Soule, Carlos Gladden and John Pratt.

Sholes had moved to Milwaukee and became the editor of a newspaper. Following a strike by compositors at his printing press, he tried building a machine for typesetting, but this was a failure and he quickly abandoned the idea. He arrived at the typewriter through a different route. His initial goal was to create a machine to number pages of a book, tickets, and so on. He began work on this at Kleinsteubers machine shop in Milwaukee, together with a fellow printer Samuel W. Soule, and they patented a numbering machine on November 13, 1866.[13]

Sholes and Soule showed their machine to Carlos Glidden, a lawyer and amateur inventor at the machine shop working on a mechanical plow, who wondered if the machine could not be made to produce letters and words as well. Further inspiration came in July 1867, when Sholes came across a short note in Scientific American[14] describing the “Pterotype”, a prototype typewriter that had been invented by John Pratt. From the description, Sholes decided that the Pterotype was too complex and set out to make his own machine, whose name he got from the article: the typewriting machine, or typewriter.

1874_Sholes__Glidden_NMAH_SI_OM

For this project, Soule was again enlisted, and Glidden joined them as a third partner who provided the funds. The Scientific American article (unillustrated) had figuratively used the phrase “literary piano”; the first model that the trio built had a keyboard literally resembling a piano. It had black keys and white keys, laid out in two rows. It did not contain keys for the numerals 0 or 1 because the letters O and I were deemed sufficient:

3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M

Sholes returned to Milwaukee and continued to work on new improvements for the typewriter throughout the 1870s, which included the QWERTY keyboard (1873). James Densmore had suggested splitting up commonly used letter combinations in order to solve a jamming problem caused by the slow method of recovering from a keystroke: weights, not springs, returned all parts to the “rest” position. This concept was later refined by Sholes and the resulting QWERTY layout is still used today on both typewriters and English language computer keyboards, although the jamming problem no longer exists.

Sholes died on February 17, 1890 after battling tuberculosis for nine years, and is buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee.

 

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