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Click, Clack, Ding! A Look Back at the Typewriter

From Henry James to Jack Kerouac, the familiar clickity clack of the typewriter was like a love song that accompanied many writers' works.

In fact, James became so used to dictating his novels to a typist that he needed to have a typewriter near him before he could even begin composing. In his book The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting Darren Wershler-Henry captures this love affair with a writing machine that's largely confined to history.

Wershler-Henry, a communications professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, traces the typewriter's history, highlighting unusual typewritten texts, the creation of Kerouac's On the Road, and even the exploits of typewriting animals. Throughout history, the typewriter's unique sound has been one of its most lasting features. Indeed, a 1940s-era soundless typewriter failed, a fact Wershler-Henry attributes to the unsatisfying "thud" sound the keys made, as well as its unconventional keyboard.

Liane Hansen spoke with Wershler-Henry about the typewriter's varied history and its unique sounds.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.