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History Matters: Typewriter
6/9/2014
Innovations and trends that shaped our ancestors' lives.
As you squint and struggle to decipher old handwritten records, pause and ponder for a moment the glory of the typewriter, which made more-recent genealogy documents mercifully legible. Next year marks the 300th anniversary of the first patent issued for “an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing,” issued in 1714 to Henry Mill, an English engineer. Alas, there’s no evidence that Mill actually produced or sold his device.

The first working typewriter probably wasn’t developed for nearly another century. In 1808, Italian Pellegrino Turri invented a typewriter for his blind friend, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano. No plans for the machine survive, but letters typed by the countess do; the invention and their relationship inspired a 2010 novel, The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace. Many such early typewriter attempts aimed to benefit the vision impaired rather than office workers and authors.
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