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The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard

Posted May 08, 2013 9:29 AM

From Neatorama:

How did the keyboard layout we are used to, known as QWERTY after the first letters in the top row, come about? The earliest typewriters didn't use it, but it became the layout that typists learned. Christopher Latham Sholes developed typewriters and filed several patents in the 1860s, and first one that included the QWERTY pattern in 1878. The story most told about the layout goes like this: The popular theory states that Sholes had to redesign the keyboard in response to the mechanical failings of early typewriters, which were slightly different from the models most often seen in thrift stores and flea markets. The type bars connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed. So, it is said, Sholes redesigned the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters like "th" or "he". In theory then, the QWERTY system should maximize the separation of common letter pairings. But there are problems with this story. For one thing, the combination "er" is too common to have the two letters side-by-side. And people of a certain age know that even 20th-century typewriters with mechanical levers would tangle if you typed too fast. Recent research turns up a different theory, which involves telegraph operators. Read how these operators helped to determine the way we type today at Smithsonian.

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#1

Re: The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard

05/08/2013 12:47 PM

'... For one thing, the combination "er" is too common to have the two letters side-by-side. And people of a certain age know that even 20th-century typewriters with mechanical levers would tangle if you typed too fast....'

.

This seems less like proof the common explanation is untrue, and more like revealing a weakness or possibly trade off in the design, and pointing out the consequence of the weakness in the design.

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Engineering Fields - Biomedical Engineering - New Member Fans of Old Computers - TRS-80 - New Member

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#2

Re: The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard

05/08/2013 11:07 PM

In a 'normal' attempt to be efficient, another glitch occured?

"for ever action, there is a reaction"?

And this day, nothing works well? We trod along and adapt...

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#3

Re: The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard

05/08/2013 11:55 PM

Then there is the story of all the letters required to spell typewriter were put on the same line for the convenience of salesmen,who would not have to learn the whole keyboard.

I have an antique Robbins typewriter, and the keys are laid out in a semicircle,and when activated, they converge on the exact same spot on the platen.By arranging most used letters far apart, it reduced, but did not eliminate jamming of the keys.A very fast typist can jam them anyway.Perhaps the "er" was an oversight or an error in production that was too expensive to correct.At any rate, an efficient typist soon learns how not to jam keys together, with a subtle delay when required.

I learned to type on a mechanical typewriter,and it required a lot more mechanical effort than modern keyboards,but far less than the predecessors like the
Robbins,(which I played on as a child.)There is a tactile feedback that is missing from the new keyboards that is hard to adapt to,a simple matter of un-training of muscle groups,I guess.Yet, the feeling of accomplishment is not as great as when everything was mechanical..a loss of connection with your work. You had to be very careful because errors were not easily corrected,so you made every stroke count,there was no spell check,so you had to know proper spelling and grammar as well as sentence structure.I know there are keyboards with a different layout,and for a newbie, it should be faster,but for an old phart like me, it is not worth the retraining.

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#4

Re: The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard

05/09/2013 12:59 AM

The best typewriter in history (my lifetime, anyway) was the IBM Selectric. My dad owned one, and the keyboard feel was better than about anything you'll find today. It had the old interchangable type ball. I still remember in high school my folks asked me what I'd like for my birthday and I said: "A typewriter like Dad's." Little did I know that the Selectric cost over $1,000 which in the '70's was real money.

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