June 23, 2010

Take a letter

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:36 am
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Christopher Latham Sholes (1819-1890) got his first patent on this day in 1867.  One of those determined entrepreneurs that are the hallmark of 19th Century America, Sholes was out in Wisconsin when he started  working with a friend – Sam Soule – to design a page numbering machine for the printer they worked for.

A very early typewriter, but not actually the first. LoC, PPD.

They showed it to a friend – Carlos Glidden – a lawyer and parttime inventor who suggested they adapt it for letters. (Glidden himself was working on a mechanical plow – everybody was working on something in those days.)

Sholes saw an article about an English machine, but thought he could make a better one and decided to call it a typewriter.

Soule and Glidden helped and the three applied for a patent.  They sent out typed letters and one reached James Densmore of Pennsylvania, who was so impressed he offered to buy a share of their patent without even seeing the machine. Eventually Soule and Glidden dropped out but Sholes stuck with it and Densmore urged more and more improvements.

Advertisement for Underwood typewriters, Library of Congress, PPD

By 1873, they had a good working model which they took to the Remington Sewing Machine Company for an evaluation and instead they got an offer for the patent.  Sholes agreed to sell his half, but Densmore held out for a royalty deal.

You can see where this is going: Sholes walked away with $12,000, while Densmore collected, over time, $1.5 million.

Typewriters then were also the people who used the machines – for the most part the women who were just entering the workforce.  Typewriters were often decorated with flowers to please the typewriters.

Today is also the anniversary of the most expensive hailstorm in US history – Kansas, 1951, 14 million dollars. This is the second hailstorm anniversary in just a week because we are entering hail season, but the most interesting hail story ever comes from Roopkund in northern India, high in the Himalayas.

In 1942, a park ranger discovered hundreds of skeletons scattered around a lake (now called Skeleton Lake).  Nobody knew what had happened to them until 2004, when a forensic team started studying the remains – which dated from some time before the 15th century.

The scientists came to the conclusion that more than three hundred people, stranded on a open plain, had all been killed by very big hailstones.  Be careful out there.



  1. Didn’t Mark Twain invest heavily in the typewriter? Besides the computer and an old electric typewriter, I have a very old Remington portable that proved a lifesaver when Jacob (now 31) had a high school paper due the next day and we had no power. “Yeah, ya hafta hit the keys harder!”

    I also have a very very old Royal desk typewriter with a Yiddish keyboard, just to have one.


    Comment by Barry Goldstein — June 23, 2010 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  2. have to check out the twain info. those all sound like valuable antiques (except for Jake)…
    ha! you are right – found this at “…I will now claim–until dispossessed–that I was the first person in the world to apply the typewriter to literature…The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects–devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or two I found that it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells…He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.”
    – “The First Writing Machines”


    Comment by jchatoff — June 23, 2010 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

    • I like the quote. I looked him up on Wikipedia, and he lost a lot of money on the Paige typesetting machine (which lost out to the Linotype [why does Wikipedia and this spell-checker think that should be capitalized?]). It must have been someone else who invested in early typewriters (or it’s just my own delusion).

      Yeah, Jake’s valuable, I’m the antique.



      Comment by BG — June 23, 2010 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

      • lol…ditto…because it’s a trademark?


        Comment by jchatoff — June 23, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  3. I love those stories top drawer


    Comment by avery zia — June 24, 2010 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

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