There is a lot of speculation that goes in to why the QWERTY keyboard was invented. Some say that the QWERTY keyboard was originally designed to slow down typing speeds in order to prevent the mechanical lock up of the strikers. Typewriters with keys in alphabetical order often experienced this issue due to the close succession of frequently-used keys adjacent to one another (for example, the “S” and “T” keys). Others debunk this saying that if this theory was actually correct, the QWERTY keyboard system should separate common letter pairings to avoid this same issue. Skeptics will argue that the “ER” and “RE” letter pairings are both in the top ten most common letter pairings, and the fact that they are adjacent to one another on the QWERTY design, opposes this theory.
The first keyboard design by Christopher Latham Sholes to sway from the traditional alphabetic design was actually not the QWERTY design. The first design Sholes sold to Remington in 1873 was actually the QWE.TY keyboard. The typewriter with this keyboard layout, the Sholes and Glidden typewriter, was released in 1874. This first design was very similar to our now QWERTY keyboard, with the exception that the “R” and “.” keys were swapped and there were no “1” or “0” keys. The reason that the “1” and “0” keys were left out was simply to cut production costs on the basis that these characters could be produced by using other keys such as an upper-case “I” for “1” and a “O” for “0”.
The QWE.TY keyboard design is more consistent with the theory that the keyboard design was meant to slow down typists since the “E” and “R” keys were separated. However, the typewriter with this keyboard design didn’t sell well because it could only type in upper-case, was expensive at $125 per unit, and often broke. After this design was made, Sholes tweaked the keyboard design and the QWE.TY keyboard became the QWERTY keyboard. Around the time of the release of the new typewriter, Remington sold the typewriter business to three former employees.
This is where the speculation deepens for the validity of the “to slow down typing” argument. In the hands of new owners, Remington began to partner with business colleges, universities, and The World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) to offer “touch typing” courses. “Touch typing” was the idea of typing by memorization with four fingers from each hand placed on the “home keys.” Before this, people used the so called, “hunt and peck” method with their two index fingers. To make this an offer that colleges and universities could not turn down, Remington offered these classes in conjunction with the offering of a free or discounted typewriter. After mastering the typing courses, those trained in the QWERTY keyboard found it almost impossible to switch to a new layout. The QWERTY design was programmed into their heads so well that moving to a layout different from QWERTY would have caused typing speeds to decrease dramatically.
You can imagine that with these classes programming the minds of typists, the QWERTY keyboard basically became a monopoly. All other brands of typewriters were basically forced to adapt the QWERTY keyboard if they wanted to survive in the market. Marketing ploy or not? That’s up to you.
Furthermore, it was rumored that in the sales presentations of the Sholes typewriter the representative would type the word “TYPEWRITER” very fast in a single motion. Sholes wanted to impress buyers that by the fact that this typewriter could type so quickly. The QWERTY layout could enable the sales representatives to type the fastest since all the keys were on one row. This is another piece of information that opposes the theory that the QWERTY keyboard was meant to slow down typing. But as technology advanced and flaws from the first Sholes and Glidden QWE.TY typewriter were fixed, maybe this allowed the “E” and “R” keys to reside next to one another without an issue. Whatever the reason for it’s invention may be, the QWERTY keyboard is now so engrained in the minds of many that we could not fathom learning a new layout– even if that mean faster typing.