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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

A Summer of Typewriter Digitization

August 10, 2012 Archive Insight

My name is Danielle and I am currently a museum studies graduate student interested in becoming a museum registrar. I spent this summer at The Henry Ford, working in the department of Historical Resources to digitize the museum’s typewriter collection.

As an intern in the Registrar’s office, I had the opportunity to work with the museum’s extensive typewriter collection, which consists of over 100 typewriters. The typewriters range from a Sholes & Glidden, invented in the 1870s, to a Typatune musical typewriter (above). The collection also includes typewriter accessories, such as stands and cleaning kits, as well as trade catalogs produced by typewriter manufacturers and photographs of typewriters found in offices and workspaces.


The Henry Ford is currently in the process of digitizing its collection. This process requires that records for each object must be up-to-date and the object properly cleaned and photographed before it can go online. My job was to update the records for each typewriter and to assist in cleaning the typewriters and preparing them to be photographed.


When I was not updating records, I spent time in the conservation lab cleaning a caligraph typewriter from the early 1880s, pictured above. This machine was invented by George Washington Newton Yost and manufactured by the American Writing Machine Company in New York City. It was the first commercial type-bar machine that was sold with a key for each character that it printed.


This typewriter has an awkward keyboard design that was influenced by the QWERTY design. Through my research on typewriters, I learned about the history of the QWERTY keyboard. It was patented by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1878, one of the men credited with inventing the first commercially successful typewriter. Several explanations for the rationale behind this arrangement have been offered, but they have all been disproved. This leaves typewriter collectors and historians with the conclusion that there may be no legitimate reason for the most popular arrangement of the keys.


Although this is the most common keyboard arrangement and the one we are most familiar with today, it is not the only arrangement. There are typewriters with two keyboards and the Ideal keyboard, with "DHIATENSOR" in the home row. The earliest keyboards only had capital letters, while others intended for use by the blind only had seven keys. Some typewriters even had keyboards that could be used to type in several different fonts, types, and languages.

This summer, I learned about the operations of a large museum, its collections, and the various responsibilities of the museum’s staff. I had the opportunity to interact with multiple departments and experienced the process of digitizing a collection from start to finish. My internship was a rewarding experience that taught me that The Henry Ford is not only a great place to visit but a great place to work.

Danielle Bowman is a Summer Intern in Historical Resources at The Henry Ford.

21st century, 2010s, communication, research, digitization, conservation, collections care, by Danielle Bowman, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford

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