Henry Mill

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Henry Mill (c. 1683–1771) was an English inventor who patented the first typewriter in 1714.[1] He worked as a waterworks engineer for the New River Company, and submitted two patents during his lifetime. One was for a coach spring, while the other was for a “Machine for Transcribing Letters”. The machine that he invented appears, from the patent, to have been similar to a typewriter, but nothing further is known. Other early developers of typewriting machines include Pellegrino Turri. Many of these early machines, including Turri’s, were developed to enable the blind to write.


The eldest son of Andrew and Dorothy Mill, was born in 1683 or 1684; according to his epitaph he was a relation of Sir Hugh Myddelton. He obtained an appointment about 1720 as engineer to the New River Company.[2]

Mill’s obituary notice in the Gentleman’s Magazine states that he erected waterworks at Northampton. He was employed by Sir Robert Walpole to carry out the water supply for Houghton Hall.[2]

Mill in later life employed Robert Mylne as assistant.[3] He died unmarried at his house in Strand, London on 26 December 1771, and he was buried in Breamore Church, near Salisbury, with a long epitaph to his memory. The epitaph states that he was aged 87, but he is entered in the parish register as aged 88 years.[2]


In 1706 Mill obtained a patent (No. 376) for an improvement in carriage springs, and also in 1714 another patent (No. 395) for an apparatus “for impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print, very useful in settlements and public records”. The patent contains no description of the apparatus, but it has been regarded as the first proposal for a typewriter.[2]


  1. Jump up^ Woodcroft, Bennett (1855). Reference index of patents of invention, from 1617 to 1852. p. 49. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  2. ^ Jump up to:a b c d  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1894). “Mill, Henry“. Dictionary of National Biography 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. Jump up^ McConnell, Anita. “Mill, Henry”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18706. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1894). “Mill, Henry“. Dictionary of National Biography 37. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


MONDAY, 20 JUNE 2011

On This Day in Typewriter History (XXX)

Four days to Typewriter Day
Henry Orpen:
 The Man Who Really Invented
 the Duplex-Jewett

First there was one. Then there were many. It took 160 years, from the timeHenry Mill was issued with a patent by the court of England’s Queen Anne in 1714, to the first practical typewriter going into production and reaching the market in April 1874. In between there were, according to typewriter historian Michael Adler, no fewer than 104 “typewriter inventions”.

Once Remington did make the Sholes and Glidden, however, the fun really started. It took four years, to the Remington 2 of 1878, with Byron A. Brooks’s shift device, for the typewriter to begin to win a truly broad appeal, and to become a commercial viability. Significantly, in that year, United States patents for typewriters or typewriter-related “inventions” almost doubled.
Clearly, once it had been established that typewriters worked well and sold well, a small army of inventors looked to supply what they believed would be a burgeoning demand.

US typewriter patents continued to steadily increase, each year until the “boom” time, a five-year period from the start of 1889 to the end of 1893, during which a staggering 698 patents were issued. This almost averaged 140 a year, or one every 2.6 days. On one day alone in 1889, November 19, there were 17 typewriter patents issued.
Then, with Franz Xaver Wagner’s “ultimate” breakthrough, the frontstroke design of 1893, the patents began to ease off once more.
In the 28 years from 1868 to 1895, 1177 US typewriter-related patents were issued, the bulk of them from 1886 onwards.

This, of course, was the time of the great American inventing frenzy, a period of remarkable achievement launched by the inventions of Edison andBell in 1876-77, a time of so many fertile, active, creative minds. A lot of people wanted to get in on the act, and to make their fortunes while they were at it. Typewriters presented just one more appealing avenue.

This is the era in typewriter history that makes collecting and studying vintage machines today so incredibly fascinating. There were just so many variations on a theme, an wonderful array of ideas and designs. Many at first simply followed the Sholes example, with the QWERTY keyboard and the upstroke typebars. Then came some new approaches, notably from Hammond, Crandall, Daugherty, Blickensderfer and Oliver – and finally Wagner.

Many designs were just too outlandish; the plans were technically impractical and the schemes to build them financially infeasible. Yet even some of these did not always die a quick and dishonourable death. Take the patent we will look at today.

For Henry Orpen, of St Louis, that a typewriter had been invented and was on the market, and that it employed one carriage with one platen, was not quite enough. He wanted more. He wanted something which would type at twice the normal speed.

Is this the Henry Orpen in question? One of Orpen’s patents was witnessed by Maggie Orpen, and this Henry Orpen (1850-1912, buried in Washington DC) had a first wife called Margaret Moore Orpen.
On this day in 1883, Orpen was issued with a patent for a “plurality of machines connected to a single set of supplemental keys, so that all the machines thus connected can be operated at the same time by one person from a single set of keys for the purpose of producing duplicate or facsimile manuscripts.”

Orpen was persistent with this idea. On September 4, 1883, he was issued with a further patent, this time for a design which used THREE typebaskets.
At the time he applied for these two patents, in December 1882 and April 1883, Orpen already had a much more sensible arrangement in the pipeline. Earlier in December 1882, he had applied for a patent for a single carriage design, but one with duplicate keys. This was granted on April 15, 1884.

“I have shown my invention applied to the Remington type-writing machine,“ he said, “but it may be applied to the Caligraph, if desired. My invention relates to a type-writing machine wherein two types may be operated at the same time, so that two letters may be printed at the same time, thus increasing the speed of the machine, which is the principal object of my invention.”

Now, as silly as all this seems, Orpen’s idea didn’t simply disappear off the typewriting firmament. In July 1895, more than 12 years after Orpen had been issued with his first patent, his original design was resurrected by the inveterate typewriter, calculator and adding machine inventor Adolphus Sylvester Dennis, the man responsible for the Dennis Duplex.

In his application for a patent for the Dennis Duplex, Dennis said, “My invention relates to the machine for which United States Letters Patent No 297,086 [the original Orpen design, with one carriage] were granted toHenry Orpen [on] April 15, 1884; and my object, primarily, is to improve different portions thereof, as hereinafter set forth, so that both hands of an operator can be simultaneously applied on the opposite sides of the centre of the keyboard as required to prevent passing the hands across the centre of the machine and alternately from one side of the machine to the other as required to avoid the hands from coming in contact with each other in operating two levers at the same time to simultaneously print two letters in alignment in a horizontal line upon paper on the platen or roller. My invention consists in a novel arrangement and combination of alphabets, numerals, and punctuation-marks with levers, typecarrying arms, carriage moving and spacing mechanism and ribbon holding and operating mechanism.”

The story gets even cmore complicated. The Dennis Duplex was made and Mares said of the speed scheme: “The mechanism by which this end was attained was remarkably simple”. Oden, however, said the Duplex “was an invention that did not serve the purpose for which it was intended, that is, to increase the speed of the typist. It was a double keyboard machine divided into four sections.”

A Condensed History condemned with faint praise, saying the endeavour to increase speed was no more than “theoretical”. “The machine never registered much success, though it was a wonder from a mechanical angle.”

A Condensed History ties the Duplex to the Jewett, as “somehow connected”. Apart from the fact that they were both built in Dennis’s home city of Des Moines, the previously unwritten connection was revealed by Darryl Rehr in his Antique Typewriters (1997).

Rehr pointed out that the Jewett No 1 was an extension of the Duplex No 2 and the American Standard (the name change to Jewett was forced by Remington’s threatened litigation). They are all “apparently identical”.

In other words, they were all designed by Dennis. The name Jewett came fromGeorge Anson Jewett, president of the manufacturing company. A Condensed History assumed this meant he was also the designer. Jewett has no typewriter patents issued in his name.

This is one of those rare examples of a weird idea not getting very far when it was first put forward, but then returning many years later to form the basis of three typewriters which actually did go into production.

We know little about Orpen, but Dennis was a man to whom at least 23 patents were issued, 12 of which were for typewriters. He also designed calculating machines, adding and recording machines, a “typographical adding machine” and a “computing machine”. He assigned seven typewriter patents to Underwood between 1909-1918 and one to L.C.Smith in 1917. He moved to California from Cleveland and was still designing machines up to 1944. In 1941 he designed a power-driven typewriter for the FridenCalculating Machine Company. Friden’s Flex-o-writer is featured in Thomas A.Russo’s Mechanical Typewriters (2002).

Please see Richard Polt’s page on the Duplex at

I have taken the liberty of using some the images from this page to illustrate the Orpen-Dennis-Jewett story. Below are two German variations of the Jewett from the late Tilman Elster’s collection and which feature on Will Davis’s European Typewriter Project:

English comedian, actor and singer Charlie Drake, seen below using an Imperial portable in his attic,was born Charles Edward Springall at Elephant and Castle, Southwark, South London, on this day in 1925. He died in London December 23, 2006.

The 5ft 1in tall Drake had a No 1 hit in Australia in 1962 with the outrageously politically incorrect My Boomerang Won’t Come Back. In some parts of the world he also had a hit with a version of the US novelty songPlease, Mr Custer, written by Al DeLory, Fred Darian, and Joseph Van Winkle and recorded in the US by Larry Verne. This version went to No 1 in the US in October 1960. The song is about a soldier’s plea to Custer not to fight at the Battle of the Little Bighorn against the Sioux.

Drake’s My Boomerang Won’t Come Back was released in the US, and featured the line “blue in the face” instead of the original words. It was also shorter than the version released in Australia, as the entire final bit about “The Flying Doctor” was excised on the assumption Americans would be unfamiliar with the service. It peaked at No 21 in the US, which was considered a rare pre-Beatles achievement for a British artist in the US. It was Drake’s only American chart appearance. The song reached No 3 in Canada.

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      Henry Mill
      Henry Mill was an English inventor who patented the first typewriter in 1714. He worked as a waterworks engineer for the New River Company, and submitted two patents during his lifetime. Wikipedia
      Born: 1683
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      Henry Miller (Writer)
      Born: December 26, 1891, Yorkville, New York City, New York, United States
      Died: June 7, 1980, Pacific Palisades, California, United States
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