Illustrated Keyboard Evolution

I have a really bad typing habit. It seemed I’ve always had it, but that’s not really true. It finally dawned on me: my fingers must be remembering something. But, what? It turns out our lack of a uniform keyboard character standard dates back to the 1920’s, if not earlier.

When I type contractions like isn’t, can’t, doesn’t or won’t, likely as not, I won;t type it correctly. It’s embarrassing. It looks like I just don’t care enough to proof-read my text. As my eyes increasingly reveal symptoms of old age, it becomes harder for me to spot my little mis-punctuations.

On a modern Mac or PC keyboard, the semicolon (‘;’) is adjacent just to the right of the apostrophe (”’). But I first became aware of my new typographical problem some time in my early Mac days. I’m not even a touch typist; I’m a hunt-and-peck artist, summa cum laude, at speeds up to 70wpm on a good day. What, then, were my fingers “remembering?”

I Googled search term “typewriter keyboard,” quickly learning that American typewriters, at least, were uniform as to letter key placement. But they were somewhat inconsistent on punctuation character placement. Most of the early mechanical manual typewriters placed the apostrophe above the ‘8’ key, or SHIFT-8.

My first typewriter as a kid was an awful old Smith Corona, literally not much newer than the one pictured below. My parents palmed it off on us kids, and bought themselves an Underwood – on which I stole hundreds of hours.

Smith Corona



My last typewriter was a state-of-the-art IBM Selectric. Note that its keyboard layout is identical to those on the modern Mac and PC:

IBM Selectric


But my first desktop computer was my Apple II, and it seemed clear some of the punctuation keys went “anywhere there’s room.”

Apple II











I’ve composed on modern Mac and PC keyboards since I bought my Mac Classic, around 1986. The keyboard layout had morphed back to the now “standard” Selectric layout, where key placement has largely remained on mainstream keyboards ever since.

Mac Classic










I used Keytronics keyboards for years on the PC. I’ve used Apple Extended and Logitech on Mac ever since. I close this riff with a photo of my Logitech. It’s solar powered, and really works, even in low ambient light. It has a standard layout, and may be the best keyboard I ever owned. But my fingers are still confused.

Logitech Solar






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Correspondence: More on DataDesk Keyboards

I think DataDesk has been in the slow process of going out of business for about a decade, but not enough people ever show up at the office at one time to close it. I think they congregate there mainly to party when someone actually buys a keyboard.

I agree they are the most brilliantly designed ergonomic keyboards ever made. But they were noisy. Complaints at the office made me retire mine – people thought I was “angry” when I was typing, until I figured out what was going on, explained, and apologized.
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DataDesk Keyboard Fans

Five years ago I posted a review on the DataDesk 101E keyboard. I went out to the DataDesk website today and it is still there; it looks much like what I can remember from the year 2001. Not many people know about this excellent but obscure keyboard. Still, I’ve received a trickle of mail on the topic. The latest round was just a lot of plain fun; with the author’s permission I’ve copied it below.
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Datadesk Mac-101E Keyboard

Feature Review: Datadesk Mac-101E Keyboard reviews the coolest standard computer keyboard. The written word is a big part of our life at It should come as no surprise that many of our reviews focus on the best writing tools. Our review below praises the AlphaSmart, a self-contained keyboard and text processor. The Datadesk is a standard computer keyboard, but it’s the best standard keyboard we ever used in our life. Both products are outstanding in their respective categories, and serve very different functions. Read how we re-discovered Datadesk, and why we’ll never be without one again. June 2, 2001

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