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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 began with the invention of the typewriter. Christopher Latham Sholes patented the typewriter that we commonly use today in 1868. The Remington Company mass marketed the first typewriters starting in 1877.

Inventions Leading to the Computer Keyboard

A few key technological developments created the transition of the typewriter into the computer keyboard. The teletype machine, introduced in the 1930s, combined the technology of the typewriter (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. Keypunches were the basis of early adding machines and IBM was selling over one million dollars worth of adding machines in 1931.

Early computer keyboards were first adapted from the punch card and teletype technologies. In 1946, the Eniac computer used a punched card reader as its input and output device. In 1948, the Binac computer used an electromechanically controlled typewriter to both input data directly onto magnetic tape (for feeding the 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, multi-user system. Multics encouraged the development of a new user interface, the video display terminal. The video display terminals (VDT) combined the technology of the cathode ray tube used in televisions and electric typewriters. Computer users could now see what text they were typing on their display screens making text easier to create, edit and delete, and computers easier to program and use.

Computer Keyboards Send Direct Electronic Impulses

Earlier computer keyboards had been based either on teletype machines or keypunches. 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.

Continue > History of Computer Peripherals

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