Canadian inventor Edward Elijah Horton was issued with a US patent for this fearsome looking typewriter on this day (October 16) in 1883.
At the time of its brief manufacture, the Horton was described as “the most perfect writing machine in the world”. Also, possibly, the most terrifying.
The following details about Horton’s life are based on Alexander G.Seller’s entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Horton, a newspaperman and court reporter, was born on August 6, 1847, on Wolfe Island, Upper Canada. He died on June 27, 1916, in Toronto, aged 68.
Until his teenage years Horton lived on Wolfe Island, near Kingston. By 1870 his family had moved to Toronto, and Horton began work as a reporter with the Globe. He became its city editor in 1873. He was working for the Mail in 1876 when he was commissioned to accompany Governor-General Lord Dufferin on his trip to British Columbia.
The vice-regal party returned through Chicago, where, probably at the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building, Horton may have seen and purchased his first “type-writer,” an early Remington model.
By 1879 Horton had begun work as a reporter (stenographer) in the provincial Court of Appeal in Toronto. A tinkerer, but no engineer, he was intrigued enough by the possibilities of typewriting in his profession to attempt to design of a machine that would allow the operator to see what was being typed.
On this day in 1883, still working as a court reporter, he secured his US patent for a visible-typing apparatus in which obliquely placed type-bars struck from the front. He proceeded to refine this concept and brought it to manufacture. After securing a Canadian patent in 1885, Horton and his reporter brother Albert incorporated the first Canadian company to manufacture typewriters, the Horton Typewriter Company, with its head office and factory in Toronto and a second factory in Buffalo, New York.
In 1884 Horton’s sister, Elizabeth, was a “type writer” with the legal firm of Oliver Mowat in Toronto.
Securing adequate capital to enter the American market and take advantage of the Horton’s briefly held competitive edge was a major problem. In May 1887 the company was reorganised: the original machine was redesigned, a brochure was put into circulation, advertising appeared in Thomas Bengough’s Cosmopolitan Shorthander (Toronto and Boston), and the company was incorporated in New Jersey.
Lacking sufficient backing to continue making the Horton, the brothers were persuaded to sell their American patents in August to a patent dealer, William Henry Cox.
There are only six known surviving Horton machines.
The Horton brothers continued their tinkering and in 1891 they secured patent protection in England for their original machine and for some improvements, including a mechanism “to raise the ink ribbon from the writing surface to inspect the characters hidden by said ink ribbon”.
A digital impression of the HortonIn 1895 Edward obtained an early patent for a radial, steel-reinforced pneumatic tyre. He was working on improvements to typewriters as late as 1898, when he secured a patent in the United States for an end-of-page indicator bell.
He remained a respected career stenographer in the Ontario courts. A member of the Ancient Order United Workmen and a devout Anglican, he died in 1916 following surgery.
His lasting impact was in placing machines on the market for others to see and emulate. His novel oblique, front-stroke configuration encouraged the development of what would evolve into the most successful typewriter design of the 20th century.
Images are from the Canadian Science and Technology Museum.