What does QWERTY mean?

by techtiptom

Originally posted to wibc.com on 05/09/2011

Look at the keyboard of any standard typewriter or computer. “Q,W,E,R,T and Y” are the first six letters. Who decided on this arrangement of the letters? And why?

The first practical typewriter was patented in the United States in 1868 by Christopher Latham Sholes. His machine was known as the type-writer. It had a movable carriage, a lever for turning paper from line to line, and a keyboard on which the letters were arranged in alphabetical order.

But Sholes had a problem. On his first model, his “ABC” key arrangement caused the keys to jam when the typist worked quickly. Sholes didn’t know how to keep the keys from sticking, so his solution was to keep the typist from typing too fast.

He did this using a study of letter-pair frequency prepared by educator Amos Densmore, brother of James Densmore, who was Sholes’ chief financial backer. The QWERTY keyboard itself was determined by the existing mechanical linkages of the typebars inside the machine to the keys on the outside. Sholes’ solution did not eliminate the problem completely, but it was greatly reduced.
The keyboard arrangement was considered important enough to be included on Sholes’ patent granted in 1878, some years after the machine was into production. QWERTY’s effect, by reducing those annoying clashes, was to speed up typing rather than slow it down.

The new arrangement was the “QWERTY” arrangement that typists use today. Of course, Sholes claimed that the new arrangement was scientific and would add speed and efficiency. The only efficiency it added was to slow the typist down, since almost any word in the English language required the typist’s fingers to cover more distance on the keyboard.

The advantages of the typewriter outweighed the disadvantages of the keyboard. Typists memorized the crazy letter arrangement, and the typewriter became a huge success.