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Greenville Bicentennial Tidbits Pratt’s Pterotype

Did you know that the first practical typewriter made, sold, and used in the entire world was invented by someone from Greenville, Alabama?

Inventor John J. Pratt was born in 1831 in South Carolina and came to Alabama with his parents in young manhood.

He studied law under Judge Benjamin F. Porter, and in 1853 married the Judge’s daughter, Julia Rosalie.

Not liking the law, Pratt entered the newspaper business where he probably conceived the idea for his typewriting machine.

Before this, most of the typing devices were large and unwieldy and much slower than real handwriting.

Pratt’s invention’s chief novelty was a printing wheel which moved by levers which manipulated the correct key to print each letter.

Pratt had begun developing a typewriter in Alabama, but due to the Civil War and the secession of the state, he could not acquire a patent.

Pratt sailed for England where he succeeded in obtaining an English patent for “an Improved Pterotype, or Machine for Writing with Type” in 1866. He sold his first models in England for $15.

After the war ended, Pratt returned to the United States and secured a second patent with improvements on his original design.

He sold his invention to a company which became the Hammond Typewriter Company and received lifetime royalties.

Pratt died in 1905. An early model of his Pterotype can be seen today at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D. C.

Most historians agree that it was Pratt’s technical ingenuity that made the modern typewriter possible.


From the files of the Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society.



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