February 17, 1890 - Christopher Latham Sholes died on this day of tuberculosis. He was a newspaper publisher, politician and most notably - the inventor of the QWERTY keyboard.
Primitive typing machines had been around since the 1700s, but in 1869 Sholes filed a patent for the first practical typewriter. He would tinker around with the design for many years to come and one of his greatest innovations was the optimization of the keyboard.
One of the biggest problems with early typewriters was that each key was connected to a lever that would apply that character to the paper. In order to accommodate the levers for all the alphanumeric characters, the keys would have to be arranged in a slightly diagonal array. This allowed each of the levers to line up side by side without slamming into each other.
After studying the frequency of common letter combinations, Sholes arrived at a configuration of the actual characters that placed often-paired letters apart. Once again the concern was that if the keys were too close together, the levers would collide.
Another interesting bit of trivia is that Sholes made sure to place the keys for W, E, R, T, Y, I and P all on the top row. This was so that his typewriter salesmen would be able to easily tap out the word "Typewriter" during demonstrations.
Amazingly, Shole's original design for the QWERTY keyboard has endured long past the mechanical limitations that dictated its design. There are no longer levers inside most modern keyboards, but the keys are still arranged in a diagonal pattern.