The First Visible Typewriter was Canadian

Edward Elijah Horton was born on Wolfe Island, near Kingston, ON, in 1847. When he was a teenager his family moved to Toronto and Horton became a reporter, and later the city editor, of The Globe newspaper. By 1976 he had moved to The Mail (long before these papers merged into The Globe and Mail), and was also vice-president of the Canadian Shorthand Society. One assignment led him to accompany then-Governor-General Lord Dufferin on a cross-country trip. They returned via Chicago where, at the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building, it is thought that Horton bought his first typewriter, an early Remington model. (Typewriters had only started being mass-produced at around this time.) When he returned to Toronto, he became a reporter — translation: stenographer — for the provincial Court of Appeal.

Horton wasn’t an engineer, by any stretch of the imagination, but he liked to tinker and one flaw with his Remington — and all typing devices of the era — was that it was a “blind” machine. Because of the design, the typist couldn’t see what had just been written until the paper rose a couple of lines later. In 1883, Horton secured in the U.S. and Canada the first patents for a visible-typing apparatus in which the type-bars struck from the front, allowing the typist to see what had just been written. (One of the most revolutionary developments in typewriter history.) Two years later, with his brother, Albert, Horton incorporated the first Canadian company to manufacture typewriters: the Horton Typewriter Company, with a head office and factory in Toronto and a second factory in Buffalo, N.Y.

Originally, the Horton was called a typograph, a term often applied to writing machines before the Sholes & Glidden “Type Writer” of 1874. Shortly thereafter, the Horton was referred to as a typewriter.

Unable to raise funding to continue making the Horton, the brothers sold their U.S. patents and, although they continued to perfect the design, their role in typewriter manufacturing shrank.

Today, there are only five or six existing Horton typewriters in the world, and the one above, in the Canadian Science and Technology Museum, is the only one in Canada.