In the past, learning to type was a skill that not everyone bothered to learn. If you didn’t use a typewriter to write letters, you could get by without learning to type. Today, though, computers are a major part of our lives — both at home and at work.

Knowing how to type is now a must for most people. Sure, you can get by with the old “hunt and peck” typing method, but who wants to hunt for each letter and peck them out one by one? In today’s world of fast-paced communication, it’s important to know how to communicate quickly and accurately.

If you’ve ever paid much attention to a keyboard — either on your computer or even on other types of electronic devices, such as smartphones — you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t set up alphabetically. Starting in the upper left corner, you won’t see ABCDEF. Instead, you’ll see QWERTY. What’s up with that?

In case you’re wondering if the QWERTY keyboard layout (yes, that’s what it’s commonly called) was an accident, the answer is no! It was planned that way.

Way back in the 1860s, American inventor Christopher Sholes began working on the first prototypes of the typewriter in his Milwaukee machine shop. In 1874, manufacturer Remington & Sons marketed the first commercial “Type-Writer” — called the Remington Number 1 — which was designed by Sholes and used an early version of the QWERTY keyboard still in use today.

Sholes’ early typewriter design used a mechanism that featured raised characters at the end of a bar. When a key was pressed, a linkage would move the bar with the appropriate character into contact with an ink-coated cloth ribbon. As the raised character hit the ribbon, it would leave the impression of the character in ink on the paper situated behind the ribbon. The spool of ribbon would then rotate to another ink-coated section for the next pressed key.

Unfortunately, Sholes’ original design positioned the bars too closely together. In early tests, the bars frequently collided and would jam easily.

Sholes, who had originally laid out the keyboard in an alphabetical design, decided to redesign the keyboard so that the most commonly used letters would be as far apart as possible on the keyboard. He believed this would minimize the jamming problem. Thus, the QWERTY keyboard layout was born!

Once Remington & Sons began to mass produce typewriters, the QWERTY keyboard layout quickly became the universal standard. Even though subsequent typewriter designs quickly eliminated the problem of jamming keys, the QWERTY keyboard layout stayed the same.

Since it was first, the QWERTY keyboard layout was the first and only type of keyboard most people ever used. Although several alternative keyboards were designed in the following decades, none proved to be superior to the QWERTY layout. Therefore, QWERTY continued to be — and still is — the universal standard keyboard layout.

In 1932, Professor August Dvorak of Washington State University developed what he claimed to be the ultimate keyboard layout. The Dvorak keyboard minimizes the distance the fingers must travel to type the most common characters.

Studies, however, showed that using the Dvorak keyboard didn’t really improve typing speed much, if at all. Since no one wants to learn a new keyboard if it’s not clearly superior to the standard version, the Dvorak keyboard never really caught on.

 

26 Join the Discussion

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    • We’re glad you liked this Wonder of the Day®, Manchester United! Thanks for letting us know by leaving us a comment! :-)

  1. This is such a fascinating site! LOVE it, especially today’s QWERTY Wonder. I am recommending this site to many others, teachers and students. WOW! Will wonders never cease? I hope not! ;)

    • WOW! Thanks for leaving us such an AWESOME comment, K! We appreciate you sharing Wonderopolis with others! Our Wonder Friends are GREAT, and we’re so glad you’re one of them! :-)

  2. I thought that today’s wonder was really cool! It amazes me that people can invent such spectacular things!
    I think that tommorow’s wonder is about treasure hunting. :)

    • Happy Saturday, Liddie! Thanks so much for visiting today’s Wonder and for trying to guess what you think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Cool wonder! QWERTY is a type of keyboard. I took a keyboarding class last quarter and learned how to type right. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about bugs.
    XOXOXOXOXO,
    Paige ;)

    • We think it’s GREAT that you took a keyboarding class last quarter and that you had some background knowledge about QWERTY before you explored this Wonder, Paige! :-)

  4. That is so cool. I wish I could have one but I still think the laptops are cooler because you can do other websites on a laptop and play games and other stuff.
    <3 you guys. Bye. Hope I write a another one to you guys. :)

    • Hi, SsassyCat923! Thanks for sharing what you think about typewriters and laptops…we appreciate your comment! We’re glad you like learning in Wonderopolis! :-)

  5. Thanks guys, for telling me what it means. I have a cell phone and my mom was describing to her friend and she says she has a qwerty keyboard. I’m like, “what in the world is qwerty?”

    • We’re so happy to hear that you learned something new about keyboards by exploring this Wonder of the Day®, Simone! Thanks for sharing your personal connection, too…now you can tell your mom you know what QWERTY means! :-)

  6. Finally, I got an answer to QWERTY!!! I used to wonder why can’t the alphabets be placed in same order. Thanks for this excellent info. You guys rock!!

    -elango

    • Well, we think YOU ROCK, Elango, for visiting this Wonder and for letting us know you learned something new! That’s so AWESOME! :-)

    • We’re glad you learned something new about QWERTY and the placement of letters on a keyboard, Joaquin! Thanks for leaving us a comment to let us know! :-)

  7. Thank you guys! I asked you guys why and you guys gave me an AWESOME! Thank you guys! I really needed this info. for school. Our teachers told us to go home and request a good wonder. I found the best one and this is it. Thanks one more time.

    -Dellon

    • Hey there, Dellon! Thank you for visiting us again, we’re so glad to help! It sounds like you and your Wonder Friends in class are having a SUPER time using your imaginations! Thanks for coming back, we’re happy you’re here! See you soon, Dellon, we’ve got lots of Wonders to share! :)

  8. Now that we have computers, they should make the most common letters closer together. But they should also keep the same keyboard for the people who have already learned how to type. It would make it a lot easier, and everybody has an iPad or iPod now so most people don’t use the home keys, and for phones you use your thumbs. Someone really needs to rethink this system.

    • Hi Emma! Those are some WONDERful thoughts you have! We WONDER if you could be the next one to come up with the new system! That would be pretty awesome! Emma-the next technological leader! Thanks for WONDERing with us, Emma! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is QWERTY?
  • Who invented the keyboard layout?
  • When was the first typewriter manufactured?

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Try It Out

Ready to practice your typing? Or should we call it keyboarding now? Whatever you call it, it helps to know your way around a keyboard in today’s computer-driven age.

So grab your computer and head online to try out one of these fun, free online typing games:

 

Still Wondering

Science NetLinks’ Technology at Home interactive lets you go back through the 20th century to find out when everyday items such as computers, televisions and CD players first appeared.

 

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