The QWERTY design first appeared in typewriters in 1873, replacing an older alphabetical layout. The American company Sholes and Glidden separated frequently-used pairs of letters on their machines in an attempt to stop the typebars from intertwining and becoming stuck, thus forcing the typist to manually unstick the typebars and also frequently blotting the document. (The home row (ASDFGHJKL) of the QWERTY layout is thought to be a remnant of the old alphabetical layout.) It also alternated keys between hands, allowing one hand to move into position while the other hand strikes a key. This sped up both the original double-handed hunt-and-peck technique and the later touch typing technique; however, single-handed words such as "stewardess" and "monopoly" show flaws in the alternation.
Tests have shown that other arrangements of keys may lead to slightly more efficient typing of typical English text, and the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard arrangement has had some success in that regard, but the QWERTY arrangement remains the most popular, largely due both to market inertia and to tests showing little significant performance difference between those who first learned to type on QWERTY and those who first learned to type on Dvorak. (In fact, Sholes himself patented a different arrangement more similar to Dvorak's, but it never became popular.) Minor changes to the arrangement are made for other languages; for example, German keyboards interchange the "Z" and "Y" keys because Z and A often appear next to each other in the German language.
The Qwerty layout:
- "The Fable of the Keys." http://wwwpub.utdallas.edu/~liebowit/keys1.html