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 was born out of 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 mass began marketing the first typewriters starting in 1877. But before the typewriters evolved into computer keyboards, there were a few key technological developments that paved the way for the transition to take place.

Advances That Lead to the Computer Keyboard

One of the first breakthroughs was the teletype machine. Also referred to as the teleprinter, the technology was around since the mid 1800's and was improved upon thanks to 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 through the efforts of Charles Krum that teletype underwent significant development from 1907 to 1910 in ways that made the system much more practical.

Models introduced in the 1930s combined the technology of typewriters that were used as an input and a printing device with the telegraph. Elsewhere, punched card systems were combined with typewriters to create what was called keypunches. These systems were the basis of early adding machines and IBM was selling over one million dollars worth of adding machines in 1931.

You can say that early computer keyboards were adapted from the punch card and teletype technologies.

One of the earliest computers was 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 both input data directly onto magnetic tape in order to feed in computer data and to 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 combined the technology of the cathode ray tube used in televisions and electric typewriters. This allowed computer users to for the first time see what text characters they were typing on their display screens, which made text easier to create, edit and delete. It also made computers easier to program and use.

Computer Keyboards Send Direct Electronic Impulses

Early computer keyboards had been 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.

Nevertheless, the layout of the computer keyboard still owes its origin to the inventor of the first typewriter, Christopher Latham Sholes, who also invented the QWERTY layout. However, the computer keyboard does have a few extra function keys.