INDEPENDENCE DAY DEMING
HIS NOISELESS TYPEWRITERS,
HIS QWERTZ KEYBOARD
AND HIS ‘SANITARY’ INTENTOn Independence Day 2011, we celebrate a truly independent spirit when it came to early typewriter design.
The typewriter was still a mere babe in arms when Philander Deming of Albany, New York, first put his nose into the crib, and right into the affairs of Sholes, Densmore, Yost, Remington et al.
On July 4, 1876, the centenary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Philander Deming was issued with a patent for a “noiseless typewriter” – a dream Wellington Parker Kidder was to later pursue, at great cost and through much heartache, from 1895 until he died in 1924.
We’ve looked at Philander Deming before, in early May. It was Deming’s 1877 idea to put typewriter ribbons in moisturising chambers (below). We promised then we’d get back to Philander, and today, appropriately, we have.
In the same year as his chambers idea, Deming, in yet another attempt to have the typewriter go “noiseless”, came up with the idea of a “sound deadening” or “muffling” glass and fabric case to enclose the Sholes and Glidden during use.
This and Deming’s idea to soften the sound of typewriter keys were all to do with the quiet required during court hearings.
On this day in 1876 – with the Sholes and Glidden in production just two years, still very few takers for it in the typewriter marketplace, and the design and mechanical engineers at Remington busily trying to improve it and launch the Remington 1, Deming was issued with a patent for “soft top”, sprung keys.
He was to follow up two weeks later with another patent, for an improved keyboard (below). For this "invention", Deming's objective was to "improve writing-machines where a stenotypic key is employed; and it consists in using a divisor-bar with keyboard, so as to admit the instant working of the key from any part of the board, the said bar being weighted and pivoted or spring-carried, so as to rise and fall like a key, and arranged diagonally, midway, around, or otherwise with respect to the keys. It is also to be connected with stenotypic key, either permanently or by a swing-button."
Deming had already been issued with one keyboard improvement patent – for a German-style QWERTZ configuration - in November 1875.
Philander is a name of Greek origin, and means “loving mankind”. This Philander, however, pretty much confined his affections and interest to stenographers.
Michael Adler, in The Writing Machine (1973) made the mistake of writing that Deming had “Two 1876 patents for upstroke machines similar to the Sholes and Glidden”. Instead, the Deming patents concerned ways of adapting the existing Sholes and Glidden for stenography work.
As a veteran and top-notch court reporter (The New York Times was to call him "The Father of Stenographic Court Reporting"), Deming was thinking purely in terms of the Sholes and Glidden as a stenography machine. Anything that might make life a little easier for stenographers, he was on to it. It was only much later, in 1896, that he began to think about typewriters in terms of their more widespread use. Happily, in most cases, Deming was short and sweet with his patent application specifications.
The patent we are looking at today (below), concerning soft keytops, was applied for on June 12, 1876. It was intended “to so improve the keyboards of typewriters that the sound of the keys is perfectly deadened and the typewriter worked without noise, so as to be employed in court and other places, for stenotypic purposes, without annoyance.
“The invention consists of the keyboard, provided with a number of layers of cloth, rubber and similar fabric, and intermediate washers, fitted to the stems of the keys.”
Philander was projecting way forward when he said his design applied to the Sholes and Glidden “or other typewriter”. At that time, there were no other machines to which his patent applied.
As early as May 1875, when the Sholes and Glidden was less than a year old, Deming had applied for a patent for a keyboard configuration (below) aimed at an “Improved method of stenotypic reporting with typewriting machines” – using “various typewriters which have come of late into more general use”.
Deming’s intention was to make them “available for shorthand-writing”. “The success of the typewriters which have been heretofore patented, and of late brought more extensively into use, is based on the fact that any writing made with the common English, or any longhand alphabet, can be produced by them in shorter time than by copying by hand, it having been demonstrated by experience that, with average practice, the time required to represent the letters with the typewriter is, to the time required to do the same with the pen, in the ratio of two to three.”
Deming said that to express “the essential elements of words in sentences, either with the pen in stenographic characters, or with the keyboards of the typewriters, about two impulses of the hand for each word are required, and the two impulses by the one mode take up about the same time as by the other. To make the words legible, an average of two elements for each word — that is, two sounds, or two letters — must be represented, and to do this in stenographic or phonographic characters requires two impulses or movements of the hand, and the same is required to do it with the keyboard in letters.”
Deming wanted to not space the words, but the initial letter of each word to be different from the others composing it. “This, together with the grouping of different capital and lower-case letters on the keyboard, constitutes the gist of my invention.
“The typewriters may … be effectually employed for shorthand reporting by dispensing with spacing, and suitably grouping different sets of lettered keys on the keyboard.”
Deming’s keyboard would be divided, with capitals on the left and a second series of keys with lower-case letters on the right side, “the most frequently used letters being arranged in front or middle, so as to be most convenient for the hands in working the keyboard”.
His keyboard had KOIPL across the top row, from left, and QWERTZ (followed by M) in the second row. H moved to the far left of the third row, making it HYASDFGJ, but the fourth row was completely different to the Sholes configuration: NUCXVBY.
Deming explained, “The alphabet on the left side is used for making the initials of the words, that on the right for making the remaining letters, in expressing the words stenotypically. The typewriter may be worked with this keyboard without spacing the words, as the difference between the initial letters and the remaining or finishing letters clearly indicates the separation of the words. The separation of the sentences may be indicated by punctuations.”
Deming imaged his keyboard would be useful to “compositors, telegraphists, copyists, lawyers, and others, with a considerable saving of time and labor”.
Deming’s December 1877 patent (above) for the “sound-deadening or sound muffling case” would enable the operator to “readily view the work as it is being done, and have ready access to the same, while the annoying monotonous clicking noise produced by the typewriter in operation is perfectly deadened, and the typewriters thereby adapted in a greater degree for the different purposes for which they are intended.”
In April 1876, Deming was issued a patent (above) to “improve the well-known typewriters that they may be made available in effective manner for shorthand reporting, and also the speed of the same in copying common writing be considerably increased.
“The invention consists of a double escapement in connection with the rack-bar of the carriage of the printing-cylinder, the escapement being operated by an anvil and key, that may be brought in connection with the spacekey.”
In a May 1879 patent (above), Deming set out to change the mode of controlling the movement of the carriage and of the typebars; “and it consists in combining, with the rack commonly employed for holding the carriage at the required point for imprinting the letters, a forked detent...”
The idea behind this forked detent is a little beyond my comprehension, but I gather the purpose was in part “sanitary”. Deming explained, “ … the impression should be made and the types cleared from the paper instantly, in order to prevent any blurring of the letters, which would inevitably occur from holding the type against the paper during the feeding movement of the carriage … This mode of effecting the printing of the letters entirely relieves the arm of the operator from the distressing and injurious effects of the dead blow usually given by the types against the paper-roller; and while this new mode of operation is absolutely necessary to produce a clear impression of the letters on the moving paper … it is on sanitary grounds as necessary in machines in which the letter is printed while the paper is held stationary.”
Having given away his ambitions to shape the typewriter for the seemingly exclusive use of stenographers, and having failed to convince anyone of a “sanitary necessity” in typewriters, Deming took off his well-worn thinking cap, put down his pens and pencils, and left the typewriter drawing boards to the experts.
In January 1894, however, Deming returned with great, if passing, gusto, to offer some suggestions about improving John Becker’s 1886 World index typewriter (below).
“The object of my improvement,” Deming declared, “is to render more rapid, definite, and easy the work of the hand in turning the wheel and stopping it at the right place for each character used in the writing. I do this by adding a spring which tends to rotate the wheel in one direction, a handpiece or ‘pen’, so called, connected with the wheel by a ligament, whereby the hand pulls the wheel in the other direction, controlling the spring, and parallel rows of mechanically-defined stations in the index, which stations are successively engaged by the handpiece in stopping the wheel as required”.
Philander Deming was born in Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York, on February 6, 1829, the third son and one of nine children of the Reverend Rufus Romeo Deming, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Julian Ann (nee Porter).
Philander learned shorthand as a child, graduated from the University of Vermont in 1861 and then from the Albany Law School. He became a court reporter, demonstrating successfully a verbatim system of shorthand reporting. He was The New York Times legislative reporter, and the official stenographer to the Albany District Supreme Court until he retired in 1882.
He wrote The Court Stenographer in 1879 and was a noted author, being proudly recruited by William Dean Howells in 1873 to write regularly for The Atlantic Monthly.
Philander's stories were about actual incidents of Adirondack life, "as unadorned and uncoloured as the matter he recorded in court; with awareness of New York mountaineers' responses to the vicissitudes of life, he recounted narratives of people, self-possessed and reticent, yet ready to follow their convictions to the limit".
He died in Albany on February 9, 1915, having just celebrated his 86th birthday three days earlier.
One biographer described him as having "reflective, shy, mellow qualities".
Deming's obituary in The New York Times (above) might have gone on to mention he had once been an ardent and successful typewriter designer. Ah, but it wasn't to be ...
On this day in 1927, the great American playwright and screenwriter Marvin Neil Simon (above) was born in The Bronx. His numerous Broadway successes have caused his work to be amongst the most regularly performed in the world.
Two of American’s best known advice column writers, the second incarnation of Ann Landers and the first of Abigail Van Buren, were born identical twins in Sioux City, Iowa, on this day in 1918. Esther Pauline Lederer (née Friedman) took over the Ann Landers column from the original author, Ruth Crowley, in 1955. She wrote the column for 47 of its 56 years and publicly assumed the 'Ann Landers' name. She died in Chicago on June 22, 2002, aged 83.
Esther Pauline’s identical twin sister, Pauline Esther Friedman (later Pauline Phillips) began the "Dear Abby" column in 1956. She turns 93 today.
Esther Lederer at her typewriter in 1968.
Pauline Phillips at her typewriter in 1962.