Computer keyboards are peripheral data input devices modeled after the typewriter keyboards era. Since the 1970s, computer keyboards have seen a notable transformation from the traditional paper tape and punched technology to interactions through teleprinters and keypunches.

Facts About the Modern Computer Keyboard

  • The development of the first modern computer keyboard was occasioned by the invention of typewriters, with the first practical modern typewriter patented by Christopher Lathan Sholes in 1867.
  • Shole, Glidden, and Soule are the initial minds behind the most popular QWERTY keyboard layout.
  • The first computer keyboards came from the keypunches and teletype equipment.
  • From the early 1940s until the late 1960s, typewriters were the primary means of data entry and output for computing, becoming integrated into what was known as computer terminals.
  • Whirlwind was the very first computer in the world to enable its users to feed data and programs into the computer using a keyboard. It further confirmed how convenient and helpful the keyboard input device was.
Wireless bluetooth computer keyboard
This wireless bluetooth computer keyboard shows just how far keyboards have come.

Modern Computer Keyboard History

The modern computer keyboard invention can be traced back to the typewriter invention. With that, comes the question, who invented the typewriter?

Quick Facts

Created
October 1867
Creator
Christopher Latham Sholes, Soule, Glidden
Original Use
Typing
Cost
$12000

Like other modern machines such as television, automobile, and aeroplane, several people brought in their interventions and insights that eventually led to the development of the first successful typewriter and the computer keyboard.

Francesco Rampazzetto (1510-1576) is the first man to be recognized. His name comes before the likes of Guild of Booksellers and Printers in Venice (Venezia). The inventor developed the scrittura tattle in1575. This machine impressed letters on paper. The scrittura tattle further served as an auxiliary device for the blind.

Afterwards, Englishman, Henry Mill (1683-1771), a waterworks engineer in the New River Company came into picture. Henry Mill held two English patents; №376 from 1706 and №395 from 1714. The first patent was for chariots, springs for coaches, and other vehicles.

The second one that came on January 7, 1714 was a Machine for Transcribing Letters. This one appears to have been quite similar to a modern typewriter.

In the early nineteenth century, a noble and skilled Italian mechanic, Giuseppe Pellegrino Turri, invented the first working typewriter model. Turri further developed a carbon paper to supply ink to his typing machine.

Another version states that Turri’s typewriter started working in 1802 when Carolina’s brother, Agostino Fantoni da Fivizzanto helped his blind sister actualize it. According to the version, Turri only improved on Agostino’s machine and developed the carbon paper four years later in 1806.

The world’s first commercially produced typewriter came into existence in 1865. Nonetheless, the typewriter remained unpatented until 1870 when Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen took up the challenge.

Malling-Hansen, pictured above, arranged the most frequently-used letters to be pressed by the fastest writing fingers. It had consonants to the right and vowels to the left. This arrangement, along with the placement of the letters on short radial pistons, made the Writing Ball a fast-speed typing machine. 

On the original model, the paper was attached to a cylinder, which moved with the help of an electromagnetic battery, making the writing ball in principle also the first electric typewriter.

The Writing Ball of Malling Hassen

Christopher Sholes, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel Soule from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US pat No 79265), invented the first commercially successful typewriter in 1867. Later, Glidden and Sholes became frustrated because of the low sales and decided to sell their patent to Densmore and Yost for $12,000. Densmore then agreed with E. Remington and his sons to commercialize the machine as the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer.

Remington was also not left behind. The production of his first typewriter began in March 1873. The typewriter had a QWERTY keyboard layout, which saw a slow adoption by other typewriter manufacturers. The first Remington typewriters came with a foot pedal (just like sewing machines) to control carriage returns.

Initially, Remington typewriters’ acceptance was slow. But several improvements later facilitated its widespread adoption. They included the inclusion of the shift key to enable typing of both lower-case and upper-case letters using the keys (1878, in the Remington Model 2 typewriter), printing on the upper side of the roller (1880); the tab key, permitting the setting of margins (1897), to mention but a few.

Hansen Writing Ball
The Writing Ball of Malling-Hansen

Remington’s Typewriter

Thomas Edison patented an electric typewriter in 1872 but introduced the first workable model in the 1920s. So, how did we get to the high tech-age of computers and plastics?

While typewriters stood out as ancestors to all key-based data entry devices, the first computer keyboard was from punch cards and teletype equipment. Herman Hollerith patented the first keypunch devices. But the devices further evolved to incorporate keys for number entry and text.

In 1948, the Binac computer came up with a typewriter keyboard unit. The keyboard carried eight keys with octal numbers ranging from 0-7. Its initial function was to introduce data or programs into the computer. The electro-mechanically controlled typewriter further printed the data from the keyboard and memory data.

Hansen Writing Ball
Remington’s typewriter of Sholes and Glidden from 1867

The BINAC Computer

When it reached 1954, researchers experimented with the keyboard while feeding data into the computer. Before that, computer users utilized paper tapes or punched cards to enter programs into the computers.

In 1955, Whirlwind became the first computer in the world to allow its users to feed in commands through a keyboard and confirmed how useful and convenient a keyboard input device was.

BINAC computer
The BINAC computer

Modern Computer Keyboards: Historical Significance

The many years of inventions, trials, and errors have yielded various modern computer keyboards with premium features. In addition, at the press of every key, you get a corresponding written symbol and often a function. The modern computer keyboard is as ubiquitous as computers themselves in the 21st century.

Modern Computer Keyboard: Everything You Need to Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Who invented the keyboard?

Samuel W. Soule, Carlos Glidden, and Christopher Lathan Sholes invented the first QWERTY keyboard.

When was the keyboard invented?

The first QWERTY keyboard was invented in 1867.

How many types of keyboards are there?

There are more than 13 types of computer keyboards. They include wireless keyboards, multifunctional keyboards, mechanical keyboards, membrane keyboards, gaming keyboards, projection keyboards, virtual keyboards; thumb keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, backlit keyboards, and laptop keyboards.

Why does the keyboard have the QWERTY key layout?

The QWERTY key layout on the keyboard started with the mechanical typewriters. The aim was to slow down typing by spreading commonly used letters because those old typewriters would jam easily.