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Keyboard Builders' Digest / Keyboard Spotting

Ergonomics of the 1880s

This Hammond 12 typewriter raises some questions. Posted by 47x18ict.

47x18ict posted this photo without context, and, as it usually happens, I immersed myself in the history of early typewriters, especially Hammonds.

The Hammond Typewriter was the first office typewriter that appeared as a true alternative to the Remington Standard 2 (the first commercially successful typewriter) in 1884.

Hammonds are easy to recognize of their turret in the middle which hides a remarkable invention: a type-shuttle, a semi-circular rubber strip that allowed usage of different type faces (IBM Selectric, anyone?). Here is a gif.

The heart of the machine is the turret with the semi-circle of vertical pins that are pushed up when a key is pushed. At the same time the type shuttle turns and is stopped by the pin, in the correct position for the right type to face the paper. The spring is released, the hammer strikes, the pin drops back and the shuttle swings back into neutral position – typewritermuseum.org.

However, early Hammonds were still backstroke ones, just like the Remington 2 (the archetype of typewriters), which meant you couldn't see the work being done while typing. In the case of early Hammonds it was hidden behind the turret and the ink band.

The Hammond 12 (pictured above), manufactured from 1905, solved this issue by introducing the ribbon vibrator, turning this model into an actual visible typewriter.

On the 12, the ribbon was raised when a key was struck and lowered when the key was released. The work was now in full view.

The photo above depicts a later, more humble specimen, but Hammond made some luxury items on demand:

The Hammond factory produced a number of luxury versions of machines, like aluminium bodies to make it lighter and specially decorated cases. And of course they charged for these extra's.

Aside from this analogy with the mechanical keyboard hobby, contemporary keyboard builders may wonder how this curved physical layout was "ideal" – as it was advertised.

To say the truth and avoid some confusion, the Hammond 12 was marketed in two different physical layouts: the "ideal" layout with curved keys and the "universal" with the now common rows and QWERTY. You can see both versions on TWDB.

The "ideal" one was probably an early attempt similar to our splits today, or better said unibody/monoblock splits, to mitigate ulnar deviation.

In addition, check the logical layout too!

Similarly to Dvorak, all the vowels are on one hand. However, in this case, all the frequent consonants too, which results in a very unbalanced layout.

With a little exaggeration, you almost type with one hand on this spectacular artifact.

Published on Tue 17th Aug 2021. Featured in KBD #40 (source).


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