The Origin Of The QWERTY Keyboard


Your computer keyboard serves two main purposes. First, it collects the crumbs from your lunch. Secondly, it’s the hardware that transposes your typed words into text on a screen. Have you ever wondered why the keyboard is laid out the way it is? Why is the top row of letters QWERTYUIOP? That’s been the accepted standard for ages now. Computers, tablets, phones, they’re all QWERTY. Think of the typos that would result if some computer company decided to change it!

Let’s take a look at why your faithful keyboard companion looks the way it does.

This Goes Way Back

In our definition of QWERTY, we note that the first mechanical typewriter was patented in 1867, and the QWERTY layout is said to date to 1887. Christopher Latham Sholes was the man credited with the invention of the QWERTY design. The earliest designs had an alphabetical layout, but were prone to fail. This prompted Sholes to come up with what he thought would be a more efficient design.

Sholes Makes A Deal

In 1873, inventor Sholes made a typewriting manufacturing deal with Remington, the gun company. Remington wanted to diversify after the Civil War, as they figured guns weren’t going to be as profitable, after all. A few years later, Sholes locked down his eventual QWERTY design. says “issued in 1878, U.S. Patent No. 207,559 marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout.”

QWERTY, The Standard

The manufacturing deal with Remington proved to be profitable. By 1890, more than 100,000 QWERTY keyboard typewriters had been sold, and that meant the writing was on the wall to come up with an industry standard. adds “the fate of the keyboard was decided in 1893 when the five largest typewriter manufacturers—Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore, and Smith-Premier, merged to form the Union Typewriter Company and agreed to adopt QWERTY as the de facto standard that we know and love today.” Remington also provided training on how to use their typewriters, so they had everyone hooked into their own ecosystem.

Don't Get In A Jam

Now, back to our definition for QWERTY. The QWERTY layout isn’t meant to slow down typists, but “to separate the letters in common digraphs ( -sh-, -ck-, etc.) to reduce jamming of swing-arms in old-style machines.” BTW, a digraph is “a pair of letters representing a single speech sound, as ea in ‘meat’ or th in ‘path.'”

Zoom Zoom

The QWERTY layout speeds typing up. It requires you to use alternate-hand strokes, which is the reason the alternative DVORAK keyboard is not appreciably faster. Just like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, you feel the need for speed, and QWERTY delivers.


There may still be some old school holdouts clack-clack-clacking along, but by and large mechanical typewriters are a thing of the past, consigned to eBay and Saturday morning flea markets. The QWERTY keyboard rolls on via the computer keyboard in front of you, whether it’s on your desktop, tablet, or your phone!

But the next time you look at your keyboard, make a note of history: a tiny bit of the original alphabetic typewriter keyboard still remains, in the second row of letter keys. But you have to admit, FGH-JKL is a lot harder to say than QWERTY.

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