Looking at our previous 3 articles about the first computer, the first programmer and the first compiler you’d probably expect today a logical continuation with, say, the first operating system or the first programming language.
But historical facts are always very intricated and amalgamated and many “firsts“, no matter the domain, are impossible to undeniably establish.
We were able to present you the 3 stories before only because these inventions and their inventors are accepted as “firsts” by today’s mainstream. However it wasn’t the case in the past and it is not sure they will remain so in the future.
But for the “first” programming language or operating system, no invention or inventor qualified for getting recognized as such by today’s mainstream.
Quite understandable as -on one hand- many various developments started independently once the idea of automatic calculation and computation got to spread widely.
And on the other hand, these concepts don’t have exact and indisputably-shaped definitions to be used in determining whether a certain achievement matches or not the definition’s clear limits.
Quick example: it seems quite obvious that the first programmer used the first programming language, right?
Well, not quite.
Some say it was just a theoretical proto-application on a theoretical proto-machine and although the “plan” devised by Ada Lovelace for Babbage’s machine to generate Bernoulli numbers had most elements of a “program” as defined today (and they were also proved to be working on actual replicas) there were no further elements of a what we today call a “computer-language” as no-one else ever used it, nor various other programs to serve various other purposes were ever produced using it.
As for operating systems, as an early programmer put it in a short but relevant post on answers.com, “when I developed software for the IBM 704 in conjunction with a missile guidance project in 1957, I had never heard of an operating system but I eventually realized that that’s what I had created“.
So we’ll continue the main thread of this series of articles by skipping the ambigous subjects and today we are going to tell you a few things about typerwriters and their influences in the domain of computers.
Typewriters were invented a really long time ago; a patent submitted by English engineer Henry Mill dates back in 1714, a time when even the USA weren’t invented yet.
And of course, along time many inventions created by many inventing minds lead to what will eventually become the typewriter as we (or at least some of us) know it.
A major breakthrough is due to the American inventor, publisher and politician Christopher Latham Sholes who in the second half of the 1800’s figured out a practical typewriting machine endowed with notable improvements including the QWERTY keyboard still in use today (for example for writing this blog article, mind you).
Funny thing, in this endeavour Sholes had various associates who started as enthusiasts then got discouraged and exited. So in 1873 when Remington (yes, same “Remington” as in “Remington Rand” we’ve mentioned last week) bought the patent, there were just two patent owners: Sholes and a businessman named James Densmore.
But even Sholes himself got tired so he asked for his half an imediate amount of 12,000 $ while Densmore insisted for royalties for his own half, a decision which eventually made him some 1.5 milion $ richer.
At that time, Remington was a firearms and sewing-machines manufacturer, both kind of products requiring high-precision components, as needed for the typewriter too.
And although their first typing machine was not exactly a success (and not surprisingly looked like their sewing-machines) the next version was a hit and founded an entire industry.
Another shotguns producer, Lyman Cornelius Smith, started the less-harmful activity of making typewriters, which later led to the creation of the successful Company named “Smith Corona”.
Other famous names of the industry throughout time include IBM, Xerox, Olivetti, Brother and Canon until the business of making and continously improving typewriters came to an end once computers along with their word-processing applications showed up and spread out.
But the typewriter didn’t “die” without leaving a lasting legacy for its “killer”: the keyboard, the basics of word-processing and even the functional principles for some early computer printers.
Computers inherited the keyboard both in essence and in form so besides the QWERTY disposal of letter keys, we should also remember Shift, Caps Lock, Tab or Backspace functions keys.
The function of typing lower- or upper-case letters is named “Shift” because in mechanical tywriters that was exactly what pressing the “Shift” key produced: it shifted the machine’s paper-holding carriage so that the new position allowed capital letters to punch onto paper.
And since we’ve just mentioned lower/upper cases let’s quickly tell you the origin of these terms too: in early letterpress printing, text was composed by adding letter sorts within a composing-stick to form the text.
Capital letters (majuscules) sorts were kept in upper boxes (cases) while non-capitals letters were kept in lower boxes (cases) in order to avoid confusion and increase productivity.
Nowadays typewriters are history, remaining connected to their famous users and becoming more and more collectible items (famous American actor Tom Hanks knows a thing or two about that).
Or at least they seemed to be history until this very year when the NSA international scandal errupted. One of its surprising consequences being that at least the Russian government and the Indian High Commission in London decided to start using typewriters again to avoid leaking of sensitive information.
OK, so this approach might solve issues as far as text-only documents are concerned.
But what about photos or image-and-text documents, hmm ?
Well, don’t panic, we have a solution for that: use GdPicture.NET SDK, PaperScan and ORPALIS PDF Reducer on isolated computers!
See you next week , folks!