Thank You, Christopher Latham Sholes
Who is Christopher Latham Sholes and why am I thanking him? He’s the man who patented the typewriter, way back in 1868. His wasn’t the first typewriter, but those that came before weren’t very practical. Using them, it took longer to type a document than to handwrite it. Those early machines were so cumbersome that they were considered novelties and were used only by people who were very rich or very bored.
What prompted Mr. Sholes, a newspaperman in Milwaukee, to improve the existing typewriters? His printers went on strike and he had a paper to get out. What did he do? He, along with some collaborators, kept experimenting until they had a machine that made their jobs easier. Once again, necessity was the mother of invention.
The machine to the right doesn’t look much like the one on which I learned to type in high school and even less like the computer on which I pound out my ideas now. In fact, it looks downright intimidating. I’m not sure how long it would take me to write an entire book on one of those. Still, it was a huge step forward and I’m grateful for his persistence, as I’m sure are most of my writing cohorts. Ernest Hemingway is said to have loved his typewriter, which he placed on a high piece of furniture so he could write standing up. Jack Kerouac was so impatient he couldn’t stand having to change paper so often. He trimmed long sheets of drawing paper to fit in the typewriter. When he finished, he taped them together, creating a manuscript that was 120 feet long. How many words do you suppose that was?
I can’t help but wonder how many of today’s books would be unwritten if Mr. Sholes hadn’t persisted until he came up with a machine that was practical for use by ordinary people. I wonder if I would have the tenacity required. I have a hard time imagining writing without a delete key. Thank goodness I don’t have to.
So, join me, my friends, in thanking Christopher Sholes and all the other intrepid souls whose vision and persistence have given us tools that we take for granted.