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How did QWERTY end up on our keyboards? © Getty Images

How did QWERTY end up on our keyboards?

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Clack, clack, clack, ting…the QWERTY keyboard was first invented for a typewriter about 150 years ago and later tweaked to produce what we use today.

Asked by: Leon Davies, London


 The arrangement that we’re so familiar with today evolved over many iterations. When newspaper editor Christopher Latham Sholes first patented a design for a typewriter in 1867, he arranged the keys alphabetically. Over the next few years, he experimented with different layouts, such as moving most of the vowels to the top row, and consonants lower.

The idea that Sholes’s layouts were designed to slow down typists, and hence avoid jammed keys, is now thought to be an urban myth. In fact, there’s evidence that Sholes was actually trying to speed up typing, following feedback from telegraph operators.

Either way, when the rights to manufacture the device were sold to E. Remington and Sons in 1873, his upper row was QWE.TYIUOP, and it took only a couple of tweaks to give the QWERTY layout that’s now widespread. If you look at a keyboard, you can still see the remnants of Sholes’s first alphabetical layout in the middle row keys: DFGHJKL.

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Dr Peter Bentley is a computer scientist and author who is based at University College London. He is the author of books including 10 Short Lessons in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and Digital Biology: How nature is transforming our technology and our lives.


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