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
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.)
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.
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.