Most of us take the keyboard in front of you for granted. Have you ever wondered why the keys are arranged in what seems like a illogical pattern?
QWERTY is the most used modern-day keyboard layout on English-language computer and typewriter keyboards. It takes its name from the first six characters seen in the far left of the keyboard’s top row of letters. The QWERTY design is based on a layout designed by C. Latham Sholes in 1874 for the Sholes and Glidden typewriter.
QWERTY key arrangement first appeared in typewriters. It was designed to minimize typebar clashes, became popular with the success of the Remington No. 2 of 1878, and remains in use on electronic keyboards due to the network effect of a standard layout and the failure of alternatives to provide very significant advantages.
The QWERTY keyboard, so named for the first six characters of the uppermost alphabetic row, was invented during the course of the typewriter’s development. The first model constructed by Sholes used a piano-like keyboard with two rows of characters arranged alphabetically as follows:
3 5 7 9 N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
2 4 6 8 . A B C D E F G H I J K L M
The mechanics of the machine, however, made this arrangement problematic. The typebars were attached to the circumference of a metal ring, forming a “basket”. When a key was pressed, the corresponding typebar would swing upwards, causing the print head to strike at the center of the ring. Gravity would then return the typebar to its initial position. The implication of this design, however, was that pressing adjoining keys in quick succession would cause their typebars to collide and jam the machine. To mitigate this problem, keys were reordered using analysis of letter frequency and trial and error. Typebars corresponding to letters in commonly occurring alphabetical pairs, such as S and T, were placed on opposite sides on the disk. The keyboard ultimately presented to Remington was arranged as follows:
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 – ,
Q W E . T Y I U O P
Z S D F G H J K L M
A X & C V B N ? ; R