Go to the homepage...

Invention // Finding Financial Success // Women's Work // Remington //
Rival Companies // Expansion and Consolidation

While James Densmore and George Yost marketed the Sholes & Glidden machines that Remington manufactured, it took several years before the typewriter was used widely.  For several reasons, only 5000 typewriters were sold in the first five years (1874-1879).  When the typewriter was originally marketed in 1874, the nation had recently entered upon what would be a long economic depression (lasting through 1878).  Also, the early models were inefficient and expensive, costing about $125 in the 1870s or the equivalent of more than $2000 in 2002 dollars.  In addition, Americans at first considered typed correspondence to be rude in much the same way that formal correspondence, such as job or school application or rejection letters, transmitted via e-mail were initially rejected as too informal in the 1990s.

Most importantly, the machine’s early marketers were uncertain who would want or need to buy a typewriter.  Christopher Latham Sholes assumed his invention would be used primarily by clergy (writing sermons) and literary authors, a small segment of the population (which helps explain his readiness to sell his patent rights).  The confusion over who were the most likely potential customers was revealed in an advertisement placed by George Yost’s new firm of Locke, Yost, and Bates in the March 18, 1876 issue of Harper’s Weekly.  The ad text appealed to diverse groups, but emphasized the clerical and legal professions:  “It is invaluable to CLERGYMEN, LAWYERS…, all business men, and private families.”  (In the ad, note also the typewriter table’s resemblance to a sewing machine table.) 

The key to the commercial success of the typewriter was its increasing use in business, a phenomenon that began in the 1870s but increased greatly in the 1880s with the return of a robust economy, as well as with important changes in the scope and structure of American business and industry.  The telegraph and the railroad made it easier to develop national markets and encouraged the rise of large business corporations that could plan, coordinate, and distribute their products regionally, nationally, and internationally.  Before the Civil War, many office functions, such as record keeping and accounting, often took place in separate counting houses.  As the number and size of enterprises expanded after the war, those and other office functions multiplied exponentially, became specialized, and were incorporated into the businesses’ headquarters, necessitating numerous layers of business managers and the staff to support them.  The typewriter made office transactions and communications more efficient by systematizing the creation, reducing the time, and lowering the cost of business documentation.

Like an understanding of computer technology today, the acquisition of typing skills was viewed in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as an advantage for personal economic success.  The number of American men and women working as typists or stenographers rose sharply from 5000 in 1880 to 300,000 by 1910.  They were employed primarily in big cities by banks, government agencies, insurance companies, and large department stores.  In the December 6, 1890 issue of Harper’s Weekly, the National Typewriter Company advertised not only that its product was “An Acceptable Holiday Present,” but also quoted a national educational leader’s claim that “The addition of Stenography and Type Writing to the education of young people increases very materially their chances of making a livelihood.”  (Notice in the ad that the price of a typewriter was half what it was in the 1870s, a downward price trend similar to that of personal computers in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries.)  With the bold headline “Get Next to Big Pay,” a holiday ad from the December 2, 1905 issue announced dramatically that the selling of typewriters also led to financial success.

Harper's Weekly References
1) March 18, 1876, p. 236, col. 2
illustrated ad, typewriter (Locke, Yost, & Bates)

2) December 6, 1890, p. 957, col. 3-4
illustrated ad, National Type Writer

3) December 2, 1905, p. 1757, col. 2-3
illustrated ad, Oliver typewriter

Sources Consulted

Gu, Charles.  “Typewriter History at a Glance”

Lubar, Steven, and Kathleen Kendrick. “Looking at Artifacts, Thinking About History,” the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies,

McCann, Dennis, “Milwaukee man’s invention was first draft of the modern typewriter,” April 5, 1998, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online,

Polt, Richard. “A Brief History of Typewriters”

Prial, Frank J.  “When a Nickel Opened Doors.”  The New York Times, April 8, 2003.

Schlereth, Thomas J.  Victorian America:  Transformations in Everyday Life (NY:  Harper Collins, 1991).

Smithsonian Institute, “Carbons to Computers,” online exhibit,

Sutherland, Daniel E.  The Expansion of Everyday Life:  1860-1876 (NY:  Harper & Row, 1989).

“Typewriters—From the Idea to a Standard.” Heinz Nixdorf Museum.

Go to the homepage...

Invention // Finding Financial Success // Women's Work // Remington //
Rival Companies // Expansion and Consolidation





Website design © 2001-2005 HarpWeek, LLC & Ampersand Graphic Design, Inc.
All Content © 1998-2005 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to