Many of us have heard (and perpetuated) the myth that the QWERTY keyboard layout was designed to slow typists on typewriters down–preventing jams and mistakes. As it turns out, this is incorrect, and the QWERTY layout was actually designed to speed typists up! Placing commonly used letters far away from one another decreased the chance of paper jams and required typists to alternate hands, which also led to increased type-speeds. The QWERTY layout started to see wide use after the Remington no. 2 typewriter became successful in 1878. It has been widely adopted as the standard latinate alphabet keyboard layout.
In 1932, August Dvorak finalized a new keyboard layout, one he believed would decrease hand and neck strain by keeping the most commonly used keys all on the home row. This decreased the amount of space the hands have to cover as they type. These claims are, however, not beyond dispute, though in the 1930s (according to unsubstantiated sources) Dvorak-trained typists took first place at the International Commercial Schools Contest for typists.
Whatever the truth behind the Dvorak – QWERTY rivalry, typewriters increased the amount of available material for archiving and recording history exponentially. Hand-written WPM (words per minute) typically reaches rates of around 30, while the average keyboard typist can reach between 60 and 70 WPM. The world record holder is Stella Pajunas, at a rate of 216 WPM in 1946 on an IBM electric (using the QWERTY keyboard, no less!). The typewriter forms a bridge between the analogue and digital worlds, and contributed greatly to the use and familiarity of the world with computers.
The Special Collections and Archives of Brigham Young University-Idaho have an old Remington typewriter, from approximately 1870-1875. Come take a look!