History Timeline 1820s

Image above: President James Monroe. Image right: Triumph, depicting eventual victory of Union, with reference to the Missouri Compromise. Created by Morris H. Traubel, 1861. Images courtesy Library of Congress.

Missouri Compromise

U.S. Timeline - The 1820s

A Decade of Compromise and Doctrine

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  • Timeline

  • 1829 Detail

    July 23, 1829 - William Austin Burt, of the United States, invents and patents the typewriter, at the time called the typographer.

    William Austin Burt's Typographer

    Yes, at one time, people pressed down on their letter and made an impression on a piece of paper with actual ink. There was no give back, or spell checker, or easy to maintain printer. It was manual labor, in a way, but labor whose invention in 1829 made the promise of Guttenberg's printing press the possibility of every office or writer. So, when you hear the name William Austin Burt, it may not be household, and today, most households don't even have one of the inventions that he would patent. But, that keyboard on your laptop, and that keypad on that iPhone, well, it would not have been possible without the first typographer. So, it's time to thank William Austin. Type out a message and text it to the universe.

    So, how did the typographer, or typewriter, come into being, and who was William Austin Burt. First off, William Austin Burt was an American, born in Massachusetts to a farming family in 1792. They would move to New York and send William to school for a total of ten weeks (four when he was fourteen; six when he was sixteen). Despite the small amount of education, Burt, through reading and other study, became proficient in math and science.

    In early adulthood, William Austin Burt enlisted in the United States Army in 1812, became a millright, held public office in various capacities, including the county surveyor, and traveled extensively, eventually settling in Michigan at the age of thirty.

    Invention of the Typographer

    With Burt's interest in math and science, he began to invent useful equipment for his trades and travels. In 1829, he invented a small wooden box with a swinging lever that he could depress to make an impression. The lever was attached to a short sector beneath; letters could be imprinted in upper and lower case on a sheet of rolled paper, like that of a paper towel dispenser. The paper was then torn off to be used. William Austin Burt received a patent, No. 5581X, on July 23, 1829. The patent was good for fourteen years and signed by President Andrew Jackson.

    How was the Typographer received by the public? Did Burt get rich off this invention? No and no. The typographer, i.e. typewriter was too far ahead of its time to get much love. He built a better model six months later trying to attract investors, and while the public was intrigued, there was no market for Burt's typewriter or the patent. William Austin Burt did have more success with another invention. In 1835, he invented and patented a solar compass for surveyors. That success, however, was financially marginal, although the compass was popular in that field.

    In 1893, Burt's great grandson Austin, built a working model of the typographer for the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, and displayed it. The model is now housed in the Smithsonian Institution.

    There is some debate on how first was Burt's typographer invention. There were drawings for an unbuilt typewriter and British patent in 1714. In 1808, an Italian inventor, Pelligrino Turri is noted for inventing a similar machine.

    Burt's Typographer Patent

    W. A. BURT.
    Patented July 23, 1829.

    W.A. Burt, July 23, 1829

    This patent discloses the actual construction of a type writing machine for the first time in any country.
    The type are arranged on the underside of a segment carried by a lever pivoted to swing vertically and horizontally.
    The desired character is brought to the printing point by moving this letter horizontally to a position over the same character in the index, and the impression is made by then depressing the lever.
    Several styles of type may be used and they are arranged in two rows on the lever; these rows of type can be shifted on the lever to bring either one to the printing point.
    The paper is carried on an endless band which travels cross-wise of the machine, and this band is moved by letter space by the impression lever every time said lever is depressed to print.
    The line space is made by shifting the frame carrying the printing mechanism toward the front or rear of the machine, the paper remaining stationary.
    Ink-pads are located at each side of the impression point, and all the type except the one in printing position are inked every time the impression lever is depressed.
    A dial is provided which indicates the length of paper in inches which has passed the printing point in printing each line, and as the operator knows the width of the paper being used the time to stop printing at the end of the line is indicated.

    Image above: Montage of the original Patent drawing (left) and the model built by Austin Burt for display at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, 1829/1893, U.S. Patent Office/Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Montage of two future typographers and typewriters through the years, 1909-1920, 1915-1920, National Photo Company, Bain News Service. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source Info: Google Patents; Electronic Component News; Wikipedia Commons.


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