When you learn to read and write, you learn the alphabet as A, B, C, and so forth. But when you look at your computer keyboard or even your phone, why do you see the letters organized in an entirely different pattern? Well, this is called a QWERTY keyboard (QWERTY is the order of the top row of letters—check it out!), and the world celebrated its birthday earlier this week!
What makes it so special? Well, before the keypad on a phone, the keyboard on a laptop, and the keyboard on a desktop computer before that, there were typewriters. How did they work? The “typing” of typewriters was basically a bunch of metal stamps attached to little metal arms. The frequency and combination of letters used in English were important to consider when laying out the keyboard. For example, S and T are oftentimes together in words (such as in stairs, steps, or stone), but if they were laid next to each other and tapped in quick succession, those metal arms could get jammed. So it was necessary to put letters that were not commonly combined next to each other. In fact, the first version of the QWERTY keyboard looked like this:
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 – ,
Q W E . T Y I U O P
Z S D F G H J K L M
A X & C V B N ? ; R
Notice that the numbers 0 and 1 were missing. Can you guess why? Because the assumption was that they could be replicated easily by using the letters O and I. After many more models, the first Remington Typewriter was sold on July 1, 1974. It would be a nice story if it had been an immediate success, but it actually wasn’t! The typewriter often broke down, so a better one emerged four years later, and that typewriter’s keyboard is what has been used ever since!
Happy Birthday, little QWERTY!