Quality History Tea: QWERTY Keyboard

a very mini side bar: this is an older photo (i.e. not current) but thought to use it as it went well with the topic and uh I kind of don't have another photo to use for this crash course. 

Seeing as we're either looking at our phone keyboard when writing tweets, captioning our latest instagram photos, writing papers, or writing blog posts, have you ever wondered what exactly is the birth story of the QWERTY keyboard?

Okay, realistically speaking probably not, but uh hi I am curious and that means a quality history tea session is about to begin. You may have heard of the placement of the letters being for back in the day when we had typewriters to avoid jamming it, and to make typists type slower. And I am here to tell you that that is a lie.

So before we dive into the history of the keyboard itself, and how QWERTY came to be, we're going to have to jump into history for a long ride. First stop, Denmark 1865: The first commercially produced typewriter - The Hansen Writing Ball (or, in danish, skrivekugle - my duolingo danish that I've abandoned after a couple of months is most likely side-eying me through my phone now)

What did this typewriter look like?

The english name of the typewriter is very much relevant to what it looks like - freeze frame, me looking into camera ~ to my danish fam - does skrivekugle mean writing ball like google translate is telling me? I've learned never to trust google translate with anything. Ok please tell me if google translate is lying to me ~

To put it plainly, it looks like a massive ball with letters on top with paper placed underneath it. Okay, so to make this visual in your mind a lot better in the event that you don't want to click on this link to see the photo, think of a pin cushion it instead of pins going into it, letters are.

Black and White Photo | Color Photo 

(You kind of need to see the two photos of The Hansen Writing Ball to see how epic this really is)

Who invented it?

This invention was actually made by Reverand Rasmus Malling-Hansen, the principal of the Royal Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Copenhagen.

The really cool thing about this machine (honestly can I buy one? I don't know where I'll put it, but I'll Marie Kondo my room for it) is that the most frequently used keys were placed where your fingers would be placed for a pen - i.e. in the center! And then on the righthand side there were consonants and on the lefthand side we have our lovely vowels.


So, while placing the letters on the ~writing ball~ he paid attention to pianists. Why? Because while playing the piano, the main objective is sort of getting your fingers to the keys you want to push down quickly. So, Hansen used the speed a pianist had to touch certain keys at a pretty fast speed as an example of how ~elegantly fast~ he wanted people who used this machine to type. Also, can I just mention there was a bell to signify the end of a line.

Did this invention snowball and eventually lead to everyone wanting to be a typewriter inventor?

I want to say yes, because I really want to believe it, but no. That would be John Pratt's Pterotype in 1867 that got the aspiring typewriters that didn't know they were aspiring type writers to the drawing board.

Mini Side bar
who would I be if I didn't go on random tangents during my crash courses

Ok, so John Pratt is actually American right, now stay with me folks for this tea. With the Civil War happening, he decided to pack his bags and take a lovely voyage to England where he secured the bag from Queen Anne (i.e. secured a patent for his typewriting machine that gives him the title of grandfather of the typewriter)

Wait but please get this: His typewriter was really popular in England, however in America something else was happening, someone invented a better one. I like to think that's America saying oh you think you can just pack your stuff and leave like the dust, that's cute.  HAI BOI WE ARE ON TOP with a better typewriter than yours, enjoy your tea x

End of mini side bar

Who is this American that's not John Pratt that created the first commercially successful typewriter?

That would be Christopher Latham Sholes. However, he didn't actually think hey I want to join this typewriter race, it just sort of happened. And no I don't mean he went to sleep one day and the typewriter appeared on his pillow the next day as if it were delivered by the tooth fairy. In 1864, he and his friend Samuel Soule got a patent for a page numbering machine. Then an inventor - Carlos Glidden- brought up the idea of ~joining the best typewriter race~ by showing Christopher an article of John Pratt's typewriter invention in the Scientific American.

In 1873,  he began to have a difficult time raising money for the development of it, so he sold the patent he had for $12,000 to Remington Arms Company. At the time, Remington sold sewing supplies and machines for shooting and felt like getting their feet wet in the business of typewriters. Christopher still worked on the design of the keyboard which went through some changes here and there, nothing set in stone, and then 1878 happened.

Wait a second, so what you're saying is some American guy just put the keys together on the keyboard and QWERTY keyboard layout is standard forever?

Well, sort of. There were some thoughts floating around that QWERTY might not be the most perfect design. So this lead to some competition to make a better keyboard, a more perfect one. And guess who also made a competition keyboard? Christopher Latham Sholes. Yes, you read that right. The man who created the QWERTY keyboard created another one. He created another keyboard layout in 1889 before he died called: XPMCHR.

Mini Side Bar
Can you imagine being so good at what you do, dominating the field of design for the keyboard like you're the king of typewriters, that your only competition is yourself!? 

Can't relate.

End of Mini Side Bar

I like to think Christopher Sholes thought process of seeing Remington Arms Company promoting the QWERTY layout like it was the best thing since sliced bread went a lot like this: If Remington Arms Company promotes my rough draft of a Keyboard - QWERTY - ONE MORE TIME I'm going to lose my whole mind.

Okay - but how did we end up with QWERTY as a final result?

Well, let's take a look at the old typewriter ads. Most of them featured women - more specifically women in classes. Why does this matter? Well, unlike in today's day in age where typing is as easy as 1 2 3, back then typists trained and took classes to type faster and more efficiently. (Who else has flashbacks of computer classes where they were taught how to efficiently type with Mavis Beacon?) 

With classes, they took it on the most common keyboard - the Remington Arms Company was THRIVING in the typewriting industry, their QWERTY layout was the queen of all keyboards - so this meant everyone was taking classes on how to efficiently type on the Queen of all Keyboards: QWERTY. 

And where did they take those classes?

At Remington! They provided training courses for typists, which meant the more typists they had, the more that companies would have to buy the Remington typewriter for the typist they hired to be able to do their job efficiently.

So the real answer here is: 

QWERTY was so well promoted by Remington Arms Company that it became the standard.

There is also another theory which I find interesting:

The first people to use typewriters were telegraph operators who needed to quickly write messages. One of the first keyboard layouts was alphabetical - this wasn't the most efficient for typists to type when translating morse code. So, it is said that QWERTY could also be the product of the input from telegraph operators.

In conclusion: Telegraph Operators + Remington Promotion = QWERTY Success 


And there ya have it, myth of of letters being placed for typists to slow down is A LIE and now you know the entire birth story of QWERTY! I hope you all enjoyed this VERY long ride through history - I learned a whole lot (my brain is currently filled with a lot of QWERTY information wow).

ps. To let you know, the last known Writing Ball was sold for $123,000, guess I won't need Marie Kondo my room after all.


  1. I did not know any of this. That's super cool to actually know. I grew up with an AZERTY keyboard so switching to QUERTY was so hard! I still use AZERTY on my own laptop though!

    1. I found it so much fun to research! Oh wow, the AZERTY is the French version of QWERTY - that's so interesting to hear that you (and others I'm sure!) still use other keyboards rather than QWERTY!

  2. Who knew the history of the keyboard would be so interesting and diverse! I always learn so much random stuff from your blog - but I love it! Another amazing post, you can tell how much research went into this :)


    1. Right?! I found it so much fun to research - I really love researching and writing crash courses on the simplest things - chances are they have a long wild ride of history! So happy to hear you enjoyed reading it :)

  3. This is such a cool history lesson! I didn't know any of this before and now I have some fun facts I can share with friends.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Loren | Plaid & Sugar

    1. YAY so happy to hear you enjoyed reading it! The best thing about doing these crash courses is that I have a lot of Did You Know Facts ready to go whenever I see my friends haha - thank you so much for reading!

  4. I love it when you do posts like this! That's actually so interesting, and it's something we all use every single day and probably knew next to nothing about which I think makes it even more interesting. I've just read Corinne's comment about AZERTY, which I had no clue existed, and my brain is struggling with this concept. Such a great post x


    1. Crash Courses will always have a special space on my blog - I just love researching and learning so many new things on the simplest things that we ourselves use daily! I did a double take when I saw Corinne's comment about AZERTY - I hadn't realized that people still use different keyboards (AZERTY is the french version of QWERTY so minor differences but still! so interesting to see people use something that's not QWERTY!)

      Thank you so much for reading Sophie, so happy to hear you enjoyed reading!

  5. This is such a fascinating read! I had no idea about the history surrounding the qwerty keyboard, this has been such an education! xxx


    1. YAY so happy to hear you enjoyed reading! It was really fun to research and learn all about the QWERTY keyboard - thank you so much for reading!

  6. Ha ha ha! This was so interesting and made me laugh! I love your writing!


    1. Happy to hear you enjoyed reading it - it was really fun to write!

  7. I LOVE that your posts make me interested in such random things! I actually have wondered why the layout of the letters are in such a random order but I've never actually been bothered to look into it to be honest! Imagine being your only competition- I wish!
    Soph - https://sophhearts.com/ x

    1. YAY - so happy to hear you enjoy my crash courses, they are my favorites to write, even if they do take a few days to research thoroughly about certain topics! I always wondered how our current keyboard became ~the one~ so this was really fun to see the history ride for the QWERTY keyboard.

      Thank you so much for reading Sophie!