The Dvorak Simplified Layout was one of several attempts throughout the history of the keyboard at improving on its original QWERTY layout. The Dvorak Simplified layout was patented in 1936 (patent no.2,040,248) but its developers were working on it as early as 1932, which is when the patent was applied for. The two men who are credited, and whose names appear on the patent paperwork, are Dr. August Dvorak (1894 - 1975), who was a professor of education at University of Washington at the time, and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Learned Dealey (1892 - 1986), who was also a professor of education but at North Texas State Teacher's College.

Dvorak Keyboard Typewriters

In the early 1930s, Dvorak and Dealey, as reported by the Arizona Republic on January 24, 1985, were prompted to address the traditional keyboard layout by a professor of statistics at Brown University. The two men took on the project and applied for a grant to fund it from the Carnegie Foundation. The Dvorak layout was just the latest attempt of streamline the keyboard. The original layout, QWERTY, was developed specifically for the Sholes & Glidden typewriter of 1873. The S & G typed only in uppercase and had a circular, upstrike typebar arrangement. Its layout was optimized to these attributes. On could assume that as the typewriter progressed, so too should have the keyboard.

In fact, there were a multitude of attempts to revise the layout. One of these newer layouts was Hammond's Ideal of 1884, while another was Blickensderfer's Scientific of 1893. There were also typewriters with double (full) keyboards, typewriters with no keyboards (index machines) and everything in between. The index typewriters proved too slow, and because the S & G had no market competition for about 10 years, and because humans are creatures of habit, folks got used to QWERTY. Hammonds were eventually offered with it as were Blickensderfers.

It's safe to state that each keyboard layout was a good fit for the typewriter it was designed. Eventually the manufacturers and markets settled on an archetypal typewriter, that being a writing machine with a four-row keyboard, a single shift mechanism and a frontstrike typebar arrangement. These specification is what the Dvorak layout was designed for.

The Dvorak layout placed 10 of the 13 most commonly used letters, the ones that comprise 70% of the English lexicon, on the middle, home row. QWERTY achieves just 32%. Purportedly, the Dvorak layout also increased the typist's accuracy and increases speed by an average of 35% (the fastest typist in 1984, Barbara Blackburn, set a new record of 180 words per minute with Dvorak). There was a caveat, however. Most of the words typed with the Dvorak layout should be executed with the right hand because it was developed for right-handed users, which make up the majority of the population. 

Despite the benefits, Dvorak never caught on. There was an increase in interest in the mid 1980s when word processors were introduced, but only about 60,000 units were ordered with the layout. QWERTY was estimated to be on over 20 million keyboards at the time.

Have a manual typewriter with Dvorak layout that you want to sell? Email me at Antikey.Chop@gmail.com