A Forthcoming Book Catalogs the 150-Year History of the Keyboard — Colossal

Home / A Forthcoming Book Catalogs the 150-Year History of the Keyboard — Colossal
A Forthcoming Book Catalogs the 150-Year History of the Keyboard — Colossal




Design
History

#books
#keyboards
#Marcin Wichary
#typewriters

February 7, 2023

Grace Ebert

A spread from 'Shift Happens' showing the early QWERTYkeyboard on a Sholes & Glidden typewriter

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing the early QWERTY keyboard on a Sholes & Glidden typewriter (photograph by Eremeev). The layout established on that typewriter led directly to the layout of every keyboard today. All images courtesy of Marcin Wichary, shared with permission

What if QWERTY wasn’t the standard keyboard layout? A forthcoming book by Chicago-based designer and writer Marcin Wichary examines the now-ubiquitous format and how it came to dominate modern technology.

Fully funded a few hours after launching on Kickstarter, Shift Happens documents 150 years of keyboard history from early analog typewriters to the pixelated versions on our phones. The 1,200-page book is split into two volumes that encompass a broad array of innovations and feuds from “the Shift Wars of the 1880s (and) Nobel-prize winner Arthur Schawlow using a laser to build the best typo eraser (to) August Dvorak—and many others—trying to dethrone QWERTY (and) Margaret Longley and Lenore Fenton perfecting touch typing.”

Seven years in the making, the book features 1,300 photos of devices and typists at work, some of which document collections and archives that have never been seen before. Wichary emphasizes the cultural implications of the commonplace objects, saying he focused on the people behind the technology. “I wanted a book that told all the personal stories about keyboards tied in with a historical, social, and political context,” he shares.

To grab a copy of Shift Happens, head to Kickstarter, and follow Wichary on Mastodon for updates on the project.

 

A spread from 'Shift Happens' showing the author’s photos of the Olivetti Praxis 48 electric typewriter

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing the author’s photos of the Olivetti Praxis 48 electric typewriter. Praxis 48 is regarded as one of the best-designed typewriters in history

A spread from 'Shift Happens' showing various Olivettitypewriters, universally regarded as some of the best-designed typewriters in history

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing various Olivetti typewriters, universally regarded as some of the best-designed typewriters in history. Photos courtesy of typewriter.company, Mr. & Mrs. Vintage Typewriters, and Georg Sommeregger

A spread from 'Shift Happens' showing examples of modernmechanical minimalistic keyboard layouts

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing examples of modern mechanical minimalistic keyboard layouts. Image courtesy of Nathanalphaman

A spread from Shift Happens showing various IBM beamspring keyboards from the 1960s

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing various IBM beam spring keyboards from the 1960s. The beam spring keyboards were a predecessor to modern mechanical keyboards and are highly regarded by today’s collectors. One photo courtesy of Tekniska Museet

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing the author’s photograph of the popular Underwood No. 5 typewriter from 1901, the typewriter industry’s first bona fide hit

A spread from Shift Happens showing variants of the IBMModel M keyboard.

A spread from ‘Shift Happens’ showing variants of the IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M keyboard from the mid-1980s set the tone of most computer keyboards that followed. Photos courtesy of Eric Keppel and Dmitry Nosachev

A photo of two books on a table

Volume 1 shows a juxtaposition of typing classes in the 20th century. Volume 2 cover shows Rolf Hagedorn at the Culler-Fried On-Line System computer at CERN

#books
#keyboards
#Marcin Wichary
#typewriters

 

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