A Brief History of Typing, Typists, Sex and the Typewriter

James L. Qwerty

Lets begin with a little typewriter history. The first practical typewriter was manufactured by Remington, then an armaments company, in 1873. However, writing machine patents had been around much earlier and go back as far as the 1700s.

The keys on the early machines jammed easily but this problem was solved by splitting up the keys of the letters commonly used together. This resulted in the famous QWERTY keyboard, so named not because it was invented by James L Qwerty but because these were the first letters on the top left hand of the new keyboard.

Major drawbacks of the traditional typewriter include the need to replace the typewriter ribbon on a regular basis and the difficulty in correcting mistakes.

In spite of many attempts to redesign and improve the Qwerty keyboard, it remains, to this day as the input medium for modern computers including PDAs, tablets and laptops and also many gadgets such as mobile phones and blackberries.

Women and the Typewriter

In the 1910 US census over 80% of typists were women. Similarly the job of a secretary became associated in North America and Europe almost exclusively with women.

By the 1900s Typists often worked in typing pools, a faceless document production line where employees were assessed by more by the number of words per minute they could handle rather than their ability or worth as a human being. The only men expected to sit at a typewriter were writers and authors.

Barbara Blackburn was the fastest typist in the world in 2005 maintaining a speed of 150 words per minute for 50 minutes and reaching 170 WPM for shorter periods.

Secretary

The traditional role of the secretary as personal typist, coffee maker and general dogs-body has been challenged by Hollywood since the 80s through a number of movies.

The anger of women about the perception of them in business as second-class citizens and servants of men was neatly summed up in the Dolly Parton movie and song 'Nine to Five' with accompanying typewriter percussion.

Melanie Griffiths in 'Working Girl' struggled to be taken seriously in a financial world dominated by men with Ivy League educations.

The slightly controversial movie 'Secretary' focuses on a concenting BDSM relationship which is underpinned by the traditional male fantasy of the secretary as a 'sub'. This is emphasised by the boss (James Spader) spanking his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal) for typing errors which she deliberately makes because she enjoys the punishment.

Picture From the Virtual TypeWriter Museum

"One day, Mr Crevis, you'll be able to surf the net for sexual gratification but for now  you'll just have to make do with me and my typewriter..."
"One day, Mr Crevis, you'll be able to surf the net for sexual gratification but for now you'll just have to make do with me and my typewriter..."

Sexual Overtones?

This slightly perverse view of women and typewriters can be traced right back to the turn of the century. This promotional picture for a new typewriter model clearly has sexual overtones. Surely the focal point of the gentleman's interest isn't the typewriter?

Decline of the Typewriter

The decline of the typewriter began around 1980 when the first word processors appeared on the shelves. The decline increased with the advent of the personal computer and affordable word processing software packages.

The demise of the typewriter in turn lead to the fall of the typist, the typing pool and the traditional view of a secretary. But this dramatic change had a tremendous positive impact on the perception of women in the office and the careers of women.

Great Movie of Old Typewriter in Use

The Future

The new information technologies enable everyone to do their own typing and printing, setting women free to take a more equal role in business. Although the job of typist has all but disappeared, accurate touch-typing and keyboard skills are still in demand and typing courses, both online and on CD are still very popular.

Amazingly the qwerty keyboard has survived all of this change and is even used, in rollup form, with Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

However, It is just a matter of time before voice recognition, touch screens such as Apple's Ipad or Iphone, virtual world technologies and position and motion sensing devices, consign the traditional keyboard to the garbage can.

Meanwhile women and men are still typing away at qwerty keyboards, instantly recognisable with space bar and shift key, to a time traveller from more than a hundred years ago.

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Comments 13 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I enjoyed this hub immensely, Rik. When I was a boy I often leafed through a little book my mother had on the shelf called "Typing Self-Taught." In 1954 I rented a typewriter and spent the summer learning to type. In the fall I joined the Army and passed a required typing test to enter the Army Information School. I've been typing ever since, from Remington's to IBM's to my present IBM laptop. Your history is very interesting -- and accurate. Thanks.


Vivenda profile image

Vivenda 8 years ago from UK (South Coast)

Great hub, Rik! I'd never before considered the PC as an instrument for women's equal opportunities in the workplace. Now when someone gets the bioligical issues sorted out as well we may really be able to give you a run for your money...


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 8 years ago from England Author

William - glad you enjoyed it - it is amazing how so much has changed over the years but the qwerty keyboard lives on and the ability to type well is still a valuable skill.

Vivenda - I'm quite happy with the biology as it is and luckily I think I'm past child-bearing age!


2patricias profile image

2patricias 8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

I don't think that qwerty keyboards will disappear - how would we talk/watch TV/ walk and TEXT at the same time. Well, actually I can't because I'm over 30 (plus a bit).


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 8 years ago from England Author

2Patricias

You could be right - after all QWERTY has survived its first 100 years!


Woody Marx profile image

Woody Marx 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

You took a rather blah topic and made it sing!


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 8 years ago from England Author

Many thanks Woody - glad you enjoyed it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America

This was a grerat, fun Hub. Some people are already saying, "What's a typewriter?" So soon they forget....


aBy 7 years ago

magaling un lang!!!!....

ahehehehehe.......


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 7 years ago from England Author

aBY - do you or anyone else have a translation?


H.Shima 5 years ago

Can the recent innovation on the creating web page lead to the fall of some Web Creators as that of the word processors did the fall of the typists?


Cameron Duckworth 5 years ago

Sorry the QWERTY keyboard was not named after James L Qwerty. I'm not sure where you got that information but you've have to site a source which from my research on typewriters doesn't not support that claim at all!


Rik Ravado profile image

Rik Ravado 5 years ago from England Author

Cameron - My hub does says it is NOT named after James L Qwerty (this is a joke!)

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