It's hard to know where to ask this question, but I decided to ask it here because of how uniquely the keyboard relates to the language being typed. The keyboard appears to be English-specific, but I'm not experienced enough to tell for sure.

Were the key placements chosen logically, or randomly? Can someone explain the history behind it?

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Ironically, the QWERTY keyboard layout is designed to actually slow down typists so there would be fewer jams on the original mechanical typewriters. Newer layouts like DVORAK were designed to do the opposite but never caught on because people were too used to the QWERTY layout.

There is another story that says the top row contains all the letters in the word "typewriter" so salesmen could demonstrate it easily to customers.

  • Both claims may be right. I've typed on a manual typewriter, and the keys that jam tend to be adjacent ones (since these keys follow very similar paths on the way to the paper). The designer of the typewriter used a study of English digraph frequencies, and put letters in common digraphs far apart. Why, then, are "E" and "R" adjacent? Because somebody moved "R" just before the machines went into production. Why? Maybe to put all the letters of TYPEWRITER in the top row. Maybe to group punctuation marks together. See wikipedia on the history of qwerty. – Peter Shor Sep 18 '11 at 13:50

The layout was designed so that typewriter salesmen could spell TYPEWRITER without taking their fingers off the top row of keys. I don't know whether any other considerations went into the design.

  • That sounds apocryphal to me. Got a source? – user362 Jun 21 '11 at 17:12
  • If that was true, why not just bunch them all together in one place? – Django Reinhardt Sep 18 '11 at 12:59
  • @Django: Because that would be so obvious that the customer would notice that the salesman was "cheating." I do not have a source ... I did hear this, but it could easily be apocryphal. – Peter Shor Sep 18 '11 at 13:07

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