Take a shortcut through keyboard history

jlund on 26 Feb 2020

A stylized version of the Signal keyboard shortcuts reference card for macOS.

Beginning at the end is the ultimate shortcut. Go for it.

  • 1440

    Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. Depending on whom you ask, monks either hated this development or they were totally monk-like about the whole thing. Gutenberg does his best to fit in.

    Copper engraving of Johannes Gutenberg.

  • 1575

    Francesco Rampazzetto develops the “Scrittura Tattile.” The machine could impress letters onto paper, but no one is impressed by the visual evidence because it happens around 260 years before the first camera is ready to take a picture.

  • 1715

    Henry Mill comes up with a “Machine for Transcribing Letters.” The charming patent was approved by Queen Anne herself:

    The text of Henry Mill's patent from a reference index.

    Althovgh the spelling looks ovtdated to vs in hindsight, Henry wovld probably admit that being able to jvst completely skip several keys helped spare him some amovnt of paine and expence while developing the prototype.

  • 1802-1861

    Fueled by a shared hatred of their own handwriting, Agostino Fantoni, Pellegrino Turri, Pietro Conti di Cilavegna, William Austin Burt, Charles Thurber, Giuseppe Ravizza, and Father Francisco João de Azevedo each invent different “typewriters” (a term which doesn’t even exist yet).

    The various disputed claims over which one counts as “the first” are still hotly contested to this day – just one of many things that people can endlessly argue about using modern variations of their inventions.

  • 1865

    Rasmus Malling-Hansen creates the Hansen Writing Ball. Among other impressive technical achievements, the ball is notable for being the only keyboard ever made that cats have no interest whatsoever in using as a sleeping surface.

    A diagram of the Hansen Writing Ball.

  • 1873

    E. Remington and Sons, a manufacturer of guns and sewing machines, begins making the Sholes and Glidden typewriter. For the first time in history, people can stitch fabric, inflict damage that requires stitches, and stitch together sentences like “sorry for accidentally shooting a hole in your curtain” using products from a single company.

    The Sholes and Glidden typewriter that was manufactured by Remington.

    As seen above, the first iterations of this typewriter were equipped with a pedal instead of a carriage-return lever (what we now know as the “Enter” key). Operators could emphatically bring their foot down after writing a particularly powerful line, but Christopher Latham Sholes was not related to Dr. Scholl and his family didn’t receive any royalties when people injured their feet while doing this.

  • 1878

    The shift key lives up to its name and changes the direction of every future keyboard.

  • 1914

    The typewriter goes electric. When Bob Dylan does the same thing 51 years later, people get really upset.

    Bob Dylan and Joae Baez.

  • 1931

    Long before MySpace made the practice popular again, the Vari-Typer electric typewriter gives people the ability to change the default font that their friends see when they read their status updates (but everyone just calls them letters).

    The Vari-Typer typewriter with a new font plate being installed.

  • 1936

    August Dvorak and William Dealey patent a keyboard layout that results in hundreds of thousands of the nerdiest broken New Year’s Eve resolutions every year. Shout out to everyone for whom the tradition endures in 2020.

    An excerpt from the Dvorak keyboard patent.

  • 1961

    IBM inverts the Hansen Writing Ball concept and introduces a “typeball” on their Selectric typewriter. The resulting keyboard is 100% cat-compatible while still retaining a bit of that classic 1865-era roundness.

    A close-up of the Prestige Elite 72 IBM typeball.

  • 1979

    WordPerfect and other word processors for personal computers begin to accelerate the decline of traditional typewriters, but they also expose more people to “desktop keyboard shortcuts” – a concept that they may find useful later.

  • 1987

    Mavis Beacon teaches typing, and Mavis Beacon also teaches students to develop a healthy level of skepticism (along with just a hint of sadness) when they find out that she isn’t real. The truest teacher is always yourself.

  • 19XX-20XX

    Life is an endlessly cascading wave of discovery. Many people are born. Some of them later discover Signal Desktop and learn that it now includes comprehensive support for a wide variety of keyboard shortcuts.

    With a renewed awareness of the magnitude of history, people print convenient reference cards for their favorite operating system and start sending and receiving messages more efficiently.

Ending up at the beginning is always a good way to (re)start. Go for it.