Happy Birthday Christopher Latham Sholes

I know that today is Valentine’s Day.  But it’s also the anniversary of the birthday of a man, whose name you might not recognize, but who impacts your life nearly every day.

In fact, you are probably impacted by this man on not only a daily basis, but on an hourly basis and maybe even most waking minute of every day.


Because this man is the mechanical engineer who re-designed an invention to finally make it work right.  Part of this invention remains in use today.

The Sholes Typewriter, picture from Wikipedia, patented in 1868.

What Christopher Latham Sholes did to make this invention, the typewriter, finally work was to invent the QWERTY keyboard – nearly 150 years ago!  You know the one.  The one that is on every computer and every smart phone being used today.

Did you ever wonder why or how we ended up with the particular configuration of letters on the QWERTY keyboard?  Well, it was designed to maximize the use of the mechanical arms that flung up and hit the paper thus imprinting it with the letters.  All previous designs resulted in the arms getting hung up.  Many typewriter designs were abandoned until Christopher Latham Sholes came along and finally designed a keyboard that by virtue of how often a particular letter was used or not used allowed each arm to work without getting tangled up in another.

There really was a reason to place the letters on a keyboard in this random fashion!

I remember learning how to type in high school.  We didn’t have computers back then.  Our typing class was filled with the newest design in electric typewriters, the IBM Selectric model, but it was also filled with good old-fashioned manual typewriters.  We were forced to learn on both types.

My typing teacher was named Mrs. Geekie.  She was an interesting woman who wore bright green hose on St. Patrick’s Day every year.  Other than that she looked just like every other business class teacher including those my own kids had in high school.  Of course, by the time they were in high school, there was no more learning to type on a typewriter.  You learned on a computer keyboard.  But the speed typing tests and techniques were the same as when I learned to type nearly 40 years earlier.

Our two oldest daughters learned to type correctly by taking a keyboarding class in high school.  By the time our youngest kids got to middle school, keyboarding classes had moved down to that level.  Which is where they should be since kids are typing on computers and smart phones before they even start school!

Christopher Latham Sholes (February 14, 1819 – February 17, 1890), picture from Wikipedia.

Why am I talking about Christopher Latham Sholes today?  Because every time I type on my computer keyboard or my smart phone keypad I think about Mrs. Geekie.

You see, I was getting a “B” in typing class and I knew that if I ended up with a “B” on my report card in typing class that my father would hit the roof first and me second.  So, I very timidly went to visit Mrs. Geekie after class one day and begged for a chance to do extra credit to bring my grade up.  I know that I ended up crying.  She was a no-nonsense woman who proceeded to tell me that I would never make it in life and I certainly would never make it through college if I was so worried about getting a “B” in a typing class.  Of course, she didn’t seem to understand that it was fear of my father that was driving my request.  I got no sympathy from her.

As a result, I think about her nearly every time that I type.  And I type a lot every day.  For years, I wanted to find her and tell her that not only have I been successful in my life, but I managed to graduate from college, by myself, with no support from my family, in four years with straight “As”.

For the record, I did end up with an “A” in Mrs. Geekie’s typing class.  And the only scar was to my ego for having to ask someone for help and getting none in return.

DSH’s Valentine’s Day gifts for his three college girls.

Oh and Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!  I hope that someone you love and who loves you back is kind to you today.

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