Computer History

Why did they invent the keyboard?

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April 14, 2007 8:22PM

Keyboards were developed in the 19th century to operate the

first typewriters. The concept most likely came from musical

instruments such as pianos and organs, where a series of keys

and/or levers are used to access individual notes. By the 1930s

keyboards were used as interfaces to electrical devices such as

teletypes because they were already widely familiar and the

technology was well-established. Because computer interfaces began

as an outgrowth of teletypes and electric typewriters, and office

workers were already familiar with typing, there was no call to

develop a different interface. The keyboard, albeit with

modifications, simply migrated from the typewriter to the computer

as we know it today. Interesting sidelight - the near-universal

QWERTY key layout was developed in the 19th century by a man named

Christopher Sholes. They layout was actually chosen to be as

inefficient as possible! Early keyboards were totally mechanical,

and good typists could type faster than the mechanisms responded

which caused jams and breakage. Sholes put the most-used letters

(e, s, a, etc.) under the weakest fingers of the left hand as a way

of forcing typists to slow down. Electric keyboards weren't

developed until decades later, but by that point Sholes' layout had

become standard, kind of like the oddball size of railroad tracks

or the U.S.'s continued use of feet and pounds that are rooted in

history. There are alternative key layouts, notably the Dvorak

keyboard, that allow typists to work almost twice as fast but they

remain a very marginal part of the marketplace.

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