How-To Geek

The Evolution of Computer Keyboards

While the basic shape of keyboards has remained largely unchanged over the last thirty years, the guts have undergone several transformations. Read on to explore the history of the computer keyboard.

ComputerWorld delves into the history of the modern keyboard, including the heavy influence IBM’s extensive keyboard research on early keyboards:

As far as direct influences on the modern computer keyboard, IBM’s Selectric typewriter was one of the biggest. IBM released the first model of its iconic electromechanical typewriter in 1961, a time when being able to type fast and accurately was a highly sought-after skill.

Dag Spicer, senior curator at the Computer History Museum, notes that as the Selectric models rose to prominence, admins grew to love the feel of the keyboard because of IBM’s dogged focus on making the ergonomics comfortable. “IBM’s probably done more than anyone to find [keyboard] ergonomics that work for everyone,” Spicer says. So when the PC hit the scene a decade or two later, the Selectric was largely viewed as the baseline to design keyboards for those newfangled computers you could put in your office or home.

Hit up the link below to continue reading about how the Selectric influenced keyboards throughout the 1980s and what replaced the crisp clacking of early IBM-styled models.

The Past is Prototype: The Evolution of Computer Keyboards [ComputerWorld]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/8/12

Comments (4)

  1. Phil

    Just as important as the IBM Selectric keyboard was the ASR-33 Teletype. Many early computer keyboards, like the Apple II, duplicated the layout of teletypes. While teletypes of the era were upper case only they featured the 7 bit ASCII set. Consequently control-G would ring a bell (an actual bell in teletypes, a software routine which clicked the speaker at the proper rate on the Apple II), and other control sequences and special characters.

  2. Two Replies

    It didn’t HAPPEN! God made them that way!

    //serious scarcasm

  3. Binaryphile

    There were many days I entered a few lines of basic on our borrowed Apple IIe to draw an ASCII machine gun and incessently ring the bell with ^G. :)

  4. Phil

    Apple IIe? Pisshaw! That was a true upper-lower case keyboard (and even with a separate numeric keypad in some versions). WAY too modern (cira 1983) to be considered an early computer keyboard.

    The early Apple IIs (1977-1980ish) had a true upper-case only keyboard based on the layout of teletypes. The later Apple IIs (1980ish to 1982) had keyboards which looked identical from the outside, but once you opened the case you saw that it was a two-piece keyboard (mechanical and electronics). You could make a simple mod (cut two bow-ties on the board and solder in a DPDT switch) to convert it into a true upper lowercase keyboard. When the Apple IIe came out it include a slightly different layout with a true upper lowercase keyboard. That layout was also used for the Apple IIc and Apple IIgs which was the same layout (and interface) as the Macintosh keyboards with ADB connectors.

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