Hansen Writing Ball, invented in 1865 (1870 model)
In 1865, Rev. Rasmus Malling-Hansen of Denmark invented the Hansen Writing Ball, which went into commercial production in 1870 and was the first commercially sold typewriter. It was a success in Europe and was reported as being used in offices on the European continent as late as 1909.
The first typewriter to be commercially successful was patented in 1868 by Americans Christopher Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden and Samuel W. Soule in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, although Sholes soon disowned the machine and refused to use or even recommend it. The working prototype was made by clock-maker and machinist Matthias Schwalbach. Hall, Glidden and Soule sold their shares in the patent (US 79,265) to Densmore and Sholes, who made an agreement with E. Remington and Sons (then famous as a manufacturer of sewing machines) to commercialize the machine as the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. This was the origin of the term typewriter.
Although electric typewriters would not achieve widespread popularity until nearly a century later, the basic groundwork for the electric typewriter was laid by the Universal Stock Ticker, invented by Thomas Edison in 1870. This device remotely printed letters and numbers on a stream of paper tape from input generated by a specially designed typewriter at the other end of a telegraph line.
Malling-Hansen developed his typewriter further through the 1870s and 1880s and made many improvements, but the writing head remained the same. On the first model of the writing ball from 1870, the paper was attached to a cylinder inside a wooden box. In 1874, the cylinder was replaced by a carriage, moving beneath the writing head. Then, in 1875, the well-known "tall model" was patented, which was the first of the writing balls that worked without electricity. Malling-Hansen attended the world exhibitions in Vienna in 1873 and Paris in 1878 and he received the first-prize for his invention at both exhibitions.
Remington began production of its first typewriter on March 1, 1873, in Ilion, New York. It had a QWERTY keyboard layout, which, because of the machine's success, was slowly adopted by other typewriter manufacturers. As with most other early typewriters, because the typebars strike upwards, the typist could not see the characters as they were typed.
The first commercial typewriters were introduced in 1874, but did not become common in offices in the United States until after the mid-1880s. The typewriter quickly became an indispensable tool for practically all writing other than personal handwritten correspondence. It was widely used by professional writers, in offices, business correspondence in private homes, and by students preparing written assignments.
A significant innovation was the shift key, introduced with the Remington No. 2 in 1878. This key physically "shifted" either the basket of typebars, in which case the typewriter is described as "basket shift", or the paper-holding carriage, in which case the typewriter is described as "carriage shift". Either mechanism caused a different portion of the typebar to come in contact with the ribbon/platen.
The earliest reference in fictional literature to the potential identification of a typewriter as having produced a document was by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes short story "A Case of Identity" in 1891.
One of the first was the Daugherty Visible, introduced in 1893, which also introduced the four-bank keyboard that became standard, although the Underwood which came out two years later was the first major typewriter with these features.
In non-fiction, the first document examiner to describe how a typewriter might be identified was William E. Hagan who wrote, in 1894, "All typewriter machines, even when using the same kind of type, become more or less peculiar by use as to the work done by them". Other early discussions of the topic were provided by A. S. Osborn in his 1908 treatise, Typewriting as Evidence, and again in his 1929 textbook, Questioned Documents.
Another electric typewriter was produced by the Blickensderfer Manufacturing Company, of Stamford, Connecticut, in 1902. Like the manual Blickensderfer typewriters, it used a cylindrical typewheel rather than individual typebars. The machine was produced in several variants but apparently it was not a commercial success, for reasons that are unclear.
The next step in the development of the electric typewriter came in 1910, when Charles and Howard Krum filed a patent for the first practical teletypewriter. The Krums' machine, named the Morkrum Printing Telegraph, used a typewheel rather than individual typebars. This machine was used for the first commercial teletypewriter system on Postal Telegraph Company lines between Boston and New York City in 1910.
James Fields Smathers of Kansas City invented what is considered the first practical power-operated typewriter in 1914. In 1920, after returning from Army service, he produced a successful model and in 1923 turned it over to the Northeast Electric Company of Rochester for development. Northeast was interested in finding new markets for their electric motors and developed Smathers's design so that it could be marketed to typewriter manufacturers, and from 1925 Remington Electric typewriters were produced powered by Northeast's motors.
In the early part of the 20th century, a typewriter was marketed under the name Noiseless and advertised as "silent". It was developed by Wellington Parker Kidder and the first model was marketed by the Noiseless Typewriter Company in 1917. Noiseless portables sold well in the 1930s and 1940s, and noiseless standards continued to be manufactured until the 1960s.
In 1928, Delco, a division of General Motors, purchased Northeast Electric, and the typewriter business was spun off as Electromatic Typewriters, Inc. In 1933, Electromatic was acquired by IBM, which then spent $1 million on a redesign of the Electromatic Typewriter, launching the IBM Electric Typewriter Model 01.
After some 2,500 electric typewriters had been produced, Northeast asked Remington for a firm contract for the next batch. However, Remington was engaged in merger talks, which would eventually result in the creation of Remington Rand and no executives were willing to commit to a firm order. Northeast instead decided to enter the typewriter business for itself, and in 1929 produced the first Electromatic Typewriter.
In 1931, an electric typewriter was introduced by Varityper Corporation. It was called the Varityper, because a narrow cylinder-like wheel could be replaced to change the font.
In 1941, IBM announced the Electromatic Model 04 electric typewriter, featuring the revolutionary concept of proportional spacing. By assigning varied rather than uniform spacing to different sized characters, the Type 4 recreated the appearance of a typeset page, an effect that was further enhanced by including the 1937 innovation of carbon-film ribbons that produced clearer, sharper words on the page.
IBM introduced the IBM Selectric typewriter in 1961, which replaced the typebars with a spherical element (or typeball) slightly smaller than a golf ball, with reverse-image letters molded into its surface. The Selectric used a system of latches, metal tapes, and pulleys driven by an electric motor to rotate the ball into the correct position and then strike it against the ribbon and platen. The typeball moved laterally in front of the paper, instead of the previous designs using a platen-carrying carriage moving the paper across a stationary print position.
Some of IBM's advances were later adopted in less expensive machines from competitors. For example, Smith-Corona electric typewriters introduced in 1973 switched to interchangeable Coronamatic (SCM-patented) ribbon cartridges. including fabric, film, erasing, and two-color versions. At about the same time, the advent of photocopying meant that carbon copies, correction fluid and erasers were less and less necessary; only the original need be typed, and photocopies made from it.
The final major development of the typewriter was the electronic typewriter. Most of these replaced the typeball with a plastic or metal daisy wheel mechanism (a disk with the letters molded on the outside edge of the "petals"). The daisy wheel concept first emerged in printers developed by Diablo Systems in the 1970s. The first electronic daisywheel typewriter marketed in the world (in 1976) is the Olivetti Tes 501, and subsequently in 1978, the Olivetti ET101 (with function display) and Olivetti TES 401 (with text display and floppy disk for memory storage). This has allowed Olivetti to maintain the world record in the design of electronic typewriters, proposing increasingly advanced and performing models in the following years.
Unlike the Selectrics and earlier models, these really were "electronic" and relied on integrated circuits and electromechanical components. These typewriters were sometimes called display typewriters, dedicated word processors or word-processing typewriters, though the latter term was also frequently applied to less sophisticated machines that featured only a tiny, sometimes just single-row display. Sophisticated models were also called word processors, though today that term almost always denotes a type of software program. Manufacturers of such machines included Olivetti (TES501, first totally electronic Olivetti word processor with daisywheel and floppy disk in 1976; TES621 in 1979 etc.), Brother (Brother WP1 and WP500 etc., where WP stood for word processor), Canon (Canon Cat), Smith-Corona (PWP, i.e. Personal Word Processor line) and Philips/Magnavox (VideoWriter).
The typewriter was a useful machine during the censorship era of the Soviet government, starting during the Russian Civil War (1917–1922). Samizdat was a form of surreptitious self-publication used when the government was censoring what literature the public could see. The Soviet government signed a Decree on Press which prohibited the publishing of any written work that had not been previously officially reviewed and approved. Unapproved work was copied manually, most often on typewriters. In 1983, a new law required anyone who needed a typewriter to get police permission to buy or keep one. In addition, the owner would have to register a typed sample of all its letters and numbers, to ensure that any illegal literature typed with it could be traced back to its source. The typewriter became increasingly popular as the interest in prohibited books grew.
In the Eastern Bloc, typewriters (together with printing presses, copy machines, and later computer printers) were a controlled technology, with secret police in charge of maintaining records of the typewriters and their owners. In the Soviet Union, the First Department of each organization sent data on organization's typewriters to the KGB. This posed a significant risk for dissidents and samizdat authors. In Romania, according to State Council Decree No. 98 of March 28, 1983, owning a typewriter, both by businesses or by private persons, was subject to an approval given by the local police authorities. People previously convicted of any crime or those who because of their behaviour were considered to be "a danger to public order or to the security of the state" were refused approval. In addition, once a year, typewriter owners had to take the typewriter to the local police station, where they would be asked to type a sample of all the typewriter's characters. It was also forbidden to borrow, lend, or repair typewriters other than at the places that had been authorized by the police.
Due to falling sales, IBM sold its typewriter division in 1991 to the newly formed Lexmark, completely exiting from a market it once dominated.
Russian typewriters use Cyrillic, which has made the ongoing Azerbaijani reconversion from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet more difficult. In 1997, the government of Turkey offered to donate western typewriters to the Republic of Azerbaijan in exchange for more zealous and exclusive promotion of the Latin alphabet for the Azerbaijani language; this offer, however, was declined.
In April 2011, Godrej and Boyce, a Mumbai-based manufacturer of mechanical typewriters, closed its doors, leading to a flurry of news reports that the "world's last typewriter factory" had shut down. The reports were quickly contested, with opinions settling to agree that it was indeed the world's last producer of manual typewriters.
In November 2012, Brother's UK factory manufactured what it claimed to be the last typewriter ever made in the UK; the typewriter was donated to the London Science Museum.