A History Lesson With Booze ®

Inventing the Typewriter (and Beginning the ‘Hunt-and-Peck’)

Christopher Latham Sholes’ “literary piano” led to the 1868 invention of the typewriter - and, along with it, the QWERTY keyboard layout. Learn about some of the quirks of Sholes’ device, and then try to type the alphabet while drinking this cocktail.

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See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Angry no one has good penmanship these days? Blame Christopher Latham Sholes. Sholes was a printer, newspaper editor, and politician. And somewhere in there he also found time to invent stuff. Like a machine that printed page numbers into books. And then he read a magazine article that changed his life.

It was about a newfangled contraption described as a “literary piano.” By hitting keys, you could print letters right onto a piece of paper. But it was a clumsy gizmo, and with the help of a pal, Sholes designed a better one in 1868. With it, he could tap out a sentence faster than the fastest penman in town could write it longhand.

Sholes called it “the typewriter.”

Christopher Sholes sits before his invention, the typewriter. ([Public domain], <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASholes_at_his_typewriter.jpg">via Wikimedia Commons</a>)
Christopher Sholes sits before his invention, the typewriter. ([Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
One problem, though: he didn’t have cash to manufacture the thing. So, to possible financial backers he sent letters – typed on the typewriter, of course. A guy named James Densmore took one look, and he was in.

A decision he regretted when he actually saw Sholes’ prototype.

It printed letters on the underside of the paper, so you couldn’t see what you typing. It could only print capital letters. And if you weren’t an expert typist the keys kept jamming … An issue, since Sholes was the only expert typist on Earth.

Sholes fixed the jamming problem by making sure common letter pairs — like “t” and “h” – didn’t sit next to each other on the keyboard. Voila! The “qwerty” configuration we know today.

As for those other flaws? The machine became the first big-selling typewriter anyway. Alas, before it proved a hit, Sholes sold his share of the patent for a few thousand bucks. But it made Densmore a millionaire.

The Hunt and Peck

Photo: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

To get those creative juices flowing, mix up this cocktail as tapped-out by John Dye at Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee, where the typewriter was invented.

Ingredients:

  •  2 ounces of Kinnickinnic Whiskey (distilled in Wisconsin)
  • .5 ounce of Punt e Mes
  • .5 ounce of Ramazzotti Amaro
  • 1 pinch Salt
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

Combine all the ingredients over ice and give it a stir. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a twist of orange peel. Try not to text while drinking.

 

  • Donald C. Willeke

    This article omits something important. Sholes’ device was poorly thought-out. It was Thomas Alva Edison who re-engineered it and made it practical. Edison did the same thing with the toy invented by Alexander Graham Bell that Bell called the “telephone” since it used a magnet connected to a diaphragm as both a transmitter and a receiver. Edison invented the carbon button microphone (two carbon buttons with carbon granules in between that was connected to a diaphragm and thus capable of varying the amplitude of a much stronger electric current that could be transmitted over much greater distances). So don’t leave Edison out of both inventions.

  • Bobbo

    Other than the salt, I doubt, seriously, that I have any of the other ingredients. I don’t even have the foggiest idea what Punt e Mes or Ramazzotti Amaro are. Why would you put a 6 ingredient cocktail in this – when most people might have salt and perhaps one of the bitters? Instead of Hunt and Peck – it should be called Esoterica.

  • Donald C. Willeke

    Bobbo, you are RIGHT ON. C’mon, Download. You aren’t writing to the Koch Brothers. Consider us po’ folk.

  • J K

    Not having the ingredients is not relevant to the recipe. Some recipes require specific ingredients in order to be what they are. Look at lots of the Southeast Asian recipes on this site, which might require a dozen unfamiliar ingredients, that doesn’t make them esoteric or elitist, they just come from a different tradition. Note that this recipe is from a bartender at a cocktail lounge, so it seems reasonable for him to offer the authentic recipe that he uses.

    Punt e Mes is a strongly flavored vermouth. Ramazzotti is an amaro, of a class of Italian bitter liqueurs. Ramazzotti has orange flavors, but is much stronger by ABV than the more familiar Campari.