History Bytes: The Literary Piano

August 10, 2021

Piano keyboard style typewriter, also known as a “literary piano,” shown alongside a portrait of its creator, Newport resident Samuel Ward Francis (1835-1886). 1886.8 and 44.2, NHS Collections.

This early typewriter, also referred to as a “literary piano,” was patented by Dr. Samuel Ward Francis in 1857. Francis’ principal improvement on earlier models included arranging the letter hammers in a circle, so that each would strike in the same place on the paper. The paper would move in conjunction with the keys. The keys moved in function with wires and bell-cranks, similar to the function of a piano, hence the “literary piano” designation.

Francis was born in New York City on December 26, 1835, and relocated to Newport in the 1860s, where he resided until his death in March 1886. An avid inventor, he obtained 17 patents during his life. In addition to his inventions, he was a practicing medical doctor and published several books. Following his move to Newport, he was a consulting surgeon at Newport Hospital and founder of the Newport Natural History Society.


Banner: ‘The Story of the Typewriter, 1873-1923’, Herkimer County Historical Society.