“Now is the time…” aka The Birth of the Typewriter

By Patricia L Johnson

One of the SearchWarp authors mentioned the term “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their …” in their bio and the quote immediately caught my attention due to the fact it was different from what I learned in typing class.

The writer was taught the following: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party” while the version I learned is “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

I began writing with three questions in mind. Where the term did come from, when was it changed and why was it changed? I’m sorry to say that after numerous hours of research I only have the answer to one question – where the term came from, but the story is interesting enough to want to share.

If you Google the term “Now is the ….” you’ll see many references to Charles E. Weller as the author of the phrase, but that’s an incorrect assumption on the part of the writers. Charles E. Weller was in the room when the words “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” were first uttered, but he was not the originator.

In 1918, while Secretary of the National Shorthand Reporters’ Association, Charles E. Weller wrote the book “The Early History of the Typewriter”. In his book, he explains that while he was employed as the Chief Operator of the Western Union Telegraph Company located in Milwaukee Wisconsin, Christopher Latham Sholes came to the telegraph office to request a piece of carbon paper. At the time carbon paper was used by the telegraph office to make duplicate copies of Associated Press reports received for the press, but seldom used anywhere else.

This was sometime during the month of July 1867. As Sholes was leaving the office with his piece of carbon paper, he asked Weller if he would be interested in coming over to his office the next day around noon, as he had something interesting to show him.

The next day Weller went over to the Federal building where Sholes currently held the position of Collector of the Port of Milwaukee and found him with Carlos S. Glidden discussing the small mechanical unit on the table in front of them. The unit had a bar with the letter ‘w’ cut into it, a piece of glass, as well as other parts and a Morse telegraph “Key” attached in such a manner that if you held a piece of carbon paper and a thin piece of white paper against it and tapped the Morse key repeatedly, a perfect line of w’s would appear as follows: wwwwwwwwwwww

At the time the only form of printing that was known was the extremely slow process of typesetting so it was amazing to see the line of w’s printed evenly across the page with so little effort.

Sholes explained to Weller and Glidden how adding more bars with letters cut in the ends could eventually allow the operator to ‘type write’ the entire alphabet, at the time a difficult concept for both Weller and Glidden to comprehend.

Glidden, a fellow printer, along with Sholes became interested in the design and manufacture of the machine and the two eventually teamed up with Samuel W. Soule, a machinist. The three of them worked on the design of the machine at 318 State Street in Milwaukee, in the machine shop of C.F. Kleinsteuber and by late fall of 1867 the first working type writer was completed and ready to be tested for speed by repeatedly typing the same sentence over and over again.

Weller doesn’t indicate in his book which of the three men, Sholes, Glidden or Soule came up with the test sentence “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party” but he does mention there was an ‘exciting political campaign’ going on at the time. Sholes in addition to having been the former publisher of the Kenosha Telegraph was also a politician and had served in both the Wisconsin State Senate and the Wisconsin State Assembly so it’s entirely possible he may have coined the term, or it may very well have put together piece-meal by all three men.

That was the beginning. The term was subsequently changed to “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party” and “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country“, to the current version “Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country.”

On June 23, 1868, Sholes, Glidden and Soule were issued U.S. Patent No. 79265 [which has no resemblance to the final product] and spent the next year perfecting their ‘type writting machine’. By September of 1969 the first practical typewriter was operational and due to the fact funds were running low Sholes wrote a letter to James Densmore explaining the potential of the machine. Without Densmore ever seeing the unit Sholes negotiated selling Densmore a 25% interest in the invention in 1870 in order to cover future development costs.

When major corrections were made a unit would be shipped to Weller, who had subsequently moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Weller would test the new unit and send his findings back to Sholes, who would then incorporate Weller’s suggestions into the design as well as adding additional upgrades.

Several times Sholes wrote to Weller explaining he thought he had finally perfected the machine, only to write back several months later explaining new changes were being incorporated and this process went on for several years.

Finally, on April 30, 1873 Sholes wrote a letter to Weller explaining he was finally satisfied with the machine and a contract had been signed with Remington Arms Company, Ilion New York to manufacture 1000 units.

While Sholes was the genius behind the invention Densmore was the person that received the majority of financial gains from the invention by eventually obtaining controlling interest in the product and selling to E. Remington and Sons.

Although different versions of a typewriter have actually been around since the early 1700’s the Sholes typewriter is the only one that became a commercial success. It’s also the only typewriter that contained the QWERTY layout still used today on all keyboards. QWERTY refers to the first six letters on the left side of the keyboard.

Born on Valentine’s Day, Charles Latham Sholes died a poor man on February 17, 1890 at the age of 71, and was buried at Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He died with so little money that a marker was not even purchased for his grave.

The Nineteenth annual convention of the National Shorthand Reporters’ Association was held in Cleveland, Ohio on August 13, 1917, ninety-eight years after the birth of C. Latham Sholes. At that convention a resolution was made and unanimously carried by the members to set up a system of soliciting contributions for the purpose of erecting a monument to C. Latham Sholes at his gravesite.

Whether or not they succeeded on their own in obtaining the funds, or if donations were received by other organizations, I don’t know, but what I do know is there is a beautiful monument erected at his gravesite giving homage to the inventor http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=7656870&PIpi=2795520

The words on the plaque at the top of the monument read as follows:

Christopher Latham Sholes

1819 – 1890







© 2013 Patricia L Johnson



This entry was posted in News and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Now is the time…” aka The Birth of the Typewriter

  1. Richard Walrath says:

    Here am I typing away on Branden’s computer just as though I kn ew what I was doing. This is slow going, but I am slowly learning.

    Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2013 21:09:29 +0000 To: walrath@articlesandanswers.com

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