International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

After the First Click: Typewriters and Tying Literacy in the United States, 1870s-1930s
Ya-Ju Yeh

One of the greatest inventions that launched the modern age of writing technology was definitely the typewriter. Subject to continual tinkering, it was finally invented in the late 1860s; the typewriter underwent a great amount of technical transformation before it became an indispensable tool used by professional writers in private homes or for business correspondence in offices. As the very first pioneer in writing technology, the typewriter challenged human’s cognition and practice with machinery, and furthermore revolutionized business communication from the nineteenth century onward. From cumbersome to portable, from noisy to noiseless, and from manual to electric, the typewriter remained popular for over one hundred years until personal computers largely displaced typewriters by the end of the 1980s. Currently, the typewriter no longer serves as a main clerical device in office work or an efficient instrument for mechanical writing; instead, most of them are relegated to museum artifacts or individual collections for preservation or display. The start of the computer era marked the end of the mechanical typewriter era. Concerning the initial development of the typewriter in the United States and examples of first-generation users, this paper aims to delve into how those prototype typewriters evolved and how the general public undertook to learn the skill of typing. This paper concludes that the typewriter reshaped human consciousness of writing into a new means of mechanical writing, despite its homogenous and impersonal characters, leading the public into a technological age, in which typing literacy thus developed as a primary skill of script in preparation for the advanced word input technology of the present day computer.

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