Mark Twain’s Typewriter QWERTY Frustration, the First Typed Book Manuscript, Life on the Mississippi

Mark Twain’s Typewriter – QWERTY Frustration, the First Typed Book Manuscript, Life on the Mississippi

Most sources will tell you that the first novel written on a typewriter was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Strangely, Twain himself is the source of this persistent near falsehood.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer wasn’t the first novel written on a typewriter, but another of Mark Twain’s books, Life on the Mississippi, most likely was.

In a letter Twain wrote in 1904, he said, ” I will now claim, until dispossessed, that I was the first person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature. That book must have been The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I wrote the first half of it in 1872, the rest of it in 1874. My machinist type-copied a book for me in ‘74, so I concluded it was that one.” Although Twain sounds fairly sure of himself in that statement, one of his biographers later investigated the claim and determined that Twain’s machinist had actually typed Life on the Mississippi, which was submitted to publishing companies in 1883 as a typewritten manuscript.

The Sholes and Glidden typewriter was invented in 1868 and first sold in 1874 by E. Remington and Sons, a manufacturer of fire arms and sewing machines. The early models were clunky and difficult to work with, but Twain was enthusiastic about publishing innovations, so he bought one of the first upon their debut. The type-writer introduced the QWERTY keyboard in order to allow common letter pairs to reside on different type-bars, preventing frequent jamming. Twain was working on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1874, but he wasn’t sure which of his books was the first to be tapped out on that particular typewriter.

Twain had a difficult time learning to use his new typewriter, so he pawned it off on his friend William Dean Howells, author of the novel The Rise of Silas Lapham. In a 1904 biographical piece, Twain confesses that the machine “ was full of Caprices, full of defects, devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or so, I found it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells. He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered.”

mark twains typewriter


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