Patent no. 22833. Filing year 1885.
"Type-Writing Machine," Edward E. Horton.
Imagine a typewriter that doesn't allow you to see what you're typing. This was in fact the case with the very first mass-produced typewriters of the 1870s: they printed upside down, so that you had to remove the finished page from the bottom of the machine to see what you had written. It was a Canadian, Edward Horton of Toronto, who in 1884 invented the front-stroke typewriter with angled type bars. While aspects of his design caught on, Horton's machine failed to make a dent in the commercial market and is now a museum curiosity, a tangent in the evolution of the typed word.
The typewriter has a long history, with a number of early attempts in Europe dating from before the 18th century. An American printer, Christopher Scholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is credited with inventing the first mass-produced version, in 1868. Scholes' concept was to mount printer's type on long rods that swung towards a glass surface, which was covered with a layer of carbon paper and regular paper. When a telegraph-like key was pressed, the rod struck the carbon and left a carbon impression of the letter on the paper.
With the help of his printing partner, Carlos Glidden, and an investor, Scholes developed this model. Unfortunately, the keys, which were originally in alphabetical order, tended to jam when two were struck in rapid succession. Scholes' solution was to devise a keyboard with the most common letters spread out to slow down typing; his "qwerty" keyboard is still the standard today. The first "Scholes & Glidden" typewriters came out in 1874, made by Remington. It is thought that Edward Horton, then a young Canadian journalist with the Toronto Mail, bought a model in 1876 in Chicago while passing through on a business trip.
As mentioned above, the platen, or striking surface, was hidden from view on early Remingtons. Horton became interested in devising a way to make the page visible while typing. He was not alone, as thousands of other inventors at the time worked on their own front-stroke concepts. However, at least one expert identifies the "Horton" as being the very first oblique front-stroke machine, meaning that the bank of type keys were set up on an angle to the platen, allowing the typist to peer over them at his or her work. (Eventually, it became standard to lay the type bars flat, offering the best visibility.) Unlike the horizontal ribbon design common to 20th-century typewriters, though, Horton mounted his ribbon perpendicular to the typed line, which obstructed the view to some degree.
Horton and his brother founded the Horton Typewriter Company, the first Canadian company to produce typewriters. Unfortunately, manufacturing costs were high, and a lack of capital hampered their efforts to break into the all-important American market -- a difficulty many Canadian entrepreneurs can relate to!
Horton sold the U.S. patents for his typewriter to a patent dealer in 1887, although he continued to work on improvements to his original design over the years. He completed his career as a court stenographer but continued to invent sporadically; for instance, he filed a patent for a radial, steel-reinforced pneumatic tire in 1895. It is thought that only five or six original Horton typewriters are still in existence.
Thanks to Anna Adamek, assistant to the curator at Canada Science and Technology Museum, for her assistance with this profile.
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