History of the Computer Keyboard

The invention of the computer keyboard begins with the typewriter

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The invention of the modern computer keyboard sprung from the invention of the typewriter. It was Christopher Latham Sholes who, in 1868, patented the typewriter that we commonly use today. Soon after, the Remington Company began mass marketing the first typewriters starting in 1877. After a series of technological developments, the typewriter gradually evolved into the computer keyboard your fingers know so well today.


Early Breakthroughs 

One of the first breakthroughs in keyboard technology was the invention of the teletype machine. Also referred to as the teleprinter, the technology has been around since the mid-1800s and was improved by inventors such as Royal Earl House, David Edward Hughes, Emile Baudot, Donald Murray, Charles L. Krum, Edward Kleinschmidt and Frederick G. Creed. But it was thanks to the efforts of Charles Krum between 1907 and 1910 that teletype system became practical for everyday users. 

In the 1930s, new keyboard models were introduced that combined the input and printing technology of typewriters with the communications technology of the telegraph. Punched card systems were also combined with typewriters to create what was called keypunches. These systems were the basis of early adding machines (early calculators), which were hugely commercially successful. By 1931, IBM had sold over one million dollars worth of adding machines.


Keypunch technology was incorporated into the designs of the earliest computers, including the 1946 Eniac computer, which used a punched card reader as its input and output device. In 1948, another computer called the Binac computer used an electro-mechanically controlled typewriter to input data directly onto magnetic tape in order to feed in computer data and print results.

The emerging electric typewriter further improved the technological marriage between the typewriter and the computer.

Video Display Terminals

By 1964, MIT, Bell Laboratories and General Electric had collaborated to create a computer system called Multics, a time-sharing and multi-user system. The system encouraged the development of a new user interface called the video display terminal, which incorporated the technology of the cathode ray tube used in televisions into the design of the electric typewriter. This allowed computer users to see what text characters they were typing on their display screens for the first time, which made text easier to create, edit, and delete. It also made computers easier to program and use.

Electronic Impulses

Early computer keyboards were based either on teletype machines or keypunches. But the problem was that there were many electromechanical steps in transmitting data between the keyboard and the computer that slowed things down. With VDT technology and electric keyboards, the keyboard's keys could now send electronic impulses directly to the computer and save time. By the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, all computers used electronic keyboards and VDTs. 


Christopher Latham Sholes, the inventor of the first typewriter and the designer of the QWERTY layout, is largely responsible for the computer keyboard design we know today. 

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Bellis, Mary. "History of the Computer Keyboard." ThoughtCo, Jan. 12, 2018, thoughtco.com/history-of-the-computer-keyboard-1991402. Bellis, Mary. (2018, January 12). History of the Computer Keyboard. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-computer-keyboard-1991402 Bellis, Mary. "History of the Computer Keyboard." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-computer-keyboard-1991402 (accessed January 16, 2018).