Few innovations have withstood the test of time and fervent user loyalty as steadfastly as the mechanical keyboard. This computer peripheral is used in millions of desktops, workstations, and gaming areas worldwide.
This article tells the story of the mechanical keyboard, spotlighting the people and companies whose ingenuity and contributions have shaped this integral tool of modern computing. We review the pivotal moments and key players that have propelled the mechanical keyboard from its humble origins to the diverse and vibrant community it is today.
What are the Origins of Mechanical Keyboards
The origins of mechanical keyboards can be traced back to the typewriter, which was invented by Christopher Latham Sholes in 1868. Let's travel back in time and learn about the history of mechanical keyboards, starting with the typewriter.
Typewriters (1860s-1870s): The first commercially successful typewriter, the Sholes and Glidden, was introduced in 1873. It featured a mechanical key mechanism that utilized typebars to imprint characters onto paper.
Mechanical Key Switch Patents (1920s-1930s): Inventors began exploring improvements to typewriter key switches. Notably, patents for mechanical key switches were filed during this period.
IBM Model F (1981): IBM introduced the Model F keyboard, which utilized capacitive buckling spring key switches. This design provided a tactile feel and audible click, becoming popular among typists.
Cherry MX Switches (1983): German company Cherry GmbH introduced the Cherry MX switch, a customizable, mechanical key switch that gained widespread adoption in various keyboards.
IBM Model M (1984): Following the Model F, IBM released the Model M, another iconic mechanical keyboard with a compact design and buckling spring key switches. It became a standard for many computer users.
Membrane Keyboards (1980s-1990s): Despite the popularity of mechanical keyboards, membrane keyboards (which use a different, less tactile technology) gained traction due to their lower cost. Many consumer keyboards during this era were rubber dome and membrane-based.
Mechanical Keyboards Resurgence (2000s-2010s): Mechanical keyboards experienced a resurgence in popularity among enthusiasts and gamers who appreciated their tactile feedback and durability. Companies like Das Keyboard and Razer played a role in bringing mechanical keyboards back into the mainstream.
Diversity in Switch Designs (2010s-Present): Various companies introduced their own mechanical switch designs, contributing to a diverse market. Examples include Cherry MX, Razer switches, Romer-G, and more. Each switch type offers different tactile feedback and actuation force.
Custom and DIY Mechanical Keyboards (2010s-Present): Enthusiasts started building custom mechanical keyboards, often with unique layouts, keycaps, and switch combinations. This DIY culture has contributed to the growth of niche mechanical keyboard communities.
Wireless and RGB Features (2010s-Present): Modern mechanical keyboards often include wireless connectivity and RGB backlighting, adding new features to cater to a broader audience.
The typewriter had a significant influence on the development of mechanical keyboards. Christopher Sholes created the first typewriter in 1868. In traditional typewriters, each key was connected to a typebar that would swing up and strike an inked ribbon, leaving an impression of the character on paper. This mechanical system was the precursor to the key switch mechanisms found in mechanical keyboards
Typewriters provided tactile feedback to users as they pressed keys, offering a physical sensation when a key was actuated. This tactile feedback was crucial for typists to know that a character had been successfully typed.
The typewriter laid the groundwork for the development of mechanical key switches. As technology advanced, inventors and engineers explored ways to improve upon the original design which led to the innovation of mechanical switches.
The QWERTY layout, which is now a standard keyboard layout, was initially designed for typewriters to prevent jamming of the mechanical typebars. As computers and keyboards evolved, this layout became the norm. Mechanical keyboards, continuing the legacy of typewriters, often maintain the QWERTY layout, contributing to the standardization of keyboard designs.
Fast forward to 1964, and the first computer terminal keyboards, which were modeled after the typewriter, were introduced by M.I.T. and Bell Labs. The satisfying click and tactile feedback that you enjoy on your mechanical keyboard can be traced back to the typewriter.
Role of IBM in Mechanical Keyboards
The origins of mechanical keyboards can be traced back to the typewriter, but it was IBM's contribution in 1986 that truly transformed the industry. The company played a significant role in the history and development of mechanical keyboards. Two of IBM's notable contributions to the mechanical keyboard world are the IBM Model F and the IBM Model M:
IBM Model F (1981): The IBM Model F was one of the earliest mechanical keyboards produced by IBM. It featured a capacitive buckling spring key switch mechanism. This innovative switch design provided a tactile feel and an audible click sound when keys were pressed. The Model F gained popularity among typists and computer users, setting a standard for high-quality, durable keyboards.
IBM Model M (1984): Following the success of the Model F, IBM introduced the Model M, which became one of the most iconic mechanical keyboards in history. The Model M utilized a similar buckling spring key switch mechanism, offering a tactile and audible typing experience. The Model M was known for its robust construction and continued the legacy of the Model F in terms of durability and typing comfort.
These IBM keyboards were widely used in offices and became the preferred choice for many computer users during the 1980s and 1990s. The buckling spring mechanism used in these models contributed to the distinctive feel and sound of IBM mechanical keyboards.
While IBM is no longer a major player in the consumer keyboard market, the legacy of their mechanical keyboards continues to influence the design and preferences of mechanical keyboard enthusiasts to this day.
Influential People in the History of Mechanical Keyboard
Let's explore the lives of key individuals who played significant roles in shaping the mechanical keyboard.
Christopher Latham Sholes, Frank Haven Hall, Carlos Glidden, and Samuel W. Soule: Inventors of the first typewriter Christopher Latham Sholes: Introduced the QWERTY layout that's still widely used today. Thomas Edison: Contributed to the development of the mechanical keyboard with his Universal Stock Ticker, which laid the foundation for the first electric typewriter. Henry Mill: His 1714 patent provided the groundwork for the Remington typewriter, which later capitalized on his ideas.
These innovators and their inventions have greatly influenced the way we type, game, and communicate. They've given us control, customization, and a unique typing experience that only mechanical keyboards can offer.
Groundbreaking Companies in the Mechanical Keyboard Industry
The invention of the mechanical computer keyboard and the industry that stemmed from it is not attributed to a single person or a few key people. In fact, several companies have played pivotal roles in shaping the mechanical keyboard industry. Some of the groundbreaking companies include:
IBM: IBM introduced the IBM Model F and Model M keyboards, which are considered iconic and played a crucial role in popularizing mechanical keyboards in the early days of personal computing.
Cherry GmbH: Cherry GmbH, a German company, is renowned for developing the Cherry MX switch, one of the most popular and widely used mechanical key switches. The Cherry switches come in various variants, offering different tactile feedback and actuation force options. These types of switches have become a standard in the mechanical keyboard industry.
Das Keyboard: Das Keyboard, a company founded in the early 2000s, contributed to the resurgence of mechanical keyboards in the consumer market. Their keyboards, known for their minimalist design, gained popularity among both typists and gamers.
Razer: Razer is a gaming peripherals company that has been influential in bringing mechanical keyboards into the gaming scene. They introduced their line of mechanical switches such as the Razer Green and Razer Orange, specifically designed for gaming performance.
Corsair: Corsair, a company known for gaming peripherals and hardware, has made significant contributions to the mechanical keyboard industry. Their keyboards often feature high-quality construction, customizable RGB lighting, and a variety of Cherry MX switches.
Logitech: Logitech, a major player in the computer peripherals industry, has also made an impact with its mechanical keyboards. The Logitech Romer-G switches, developed in collaboration with Omron, offer a unique feel and are featured in many Logitech gaming keyboards.
Ducky Channel: Ducky Channel is a Taiwanese company that gained prominence in the mechanical keyboard community for producing high-quality keyboards with customizable keycap designs and various switch options.
Keychron: Keychron is known for producing wireless mechanical keyboards, catering to users who prioritize portability and flexibility. They have gained popularity in the market for providing Bluetooth-enabled mechanical keyboards.
Custom/Small Manufacturers: A growing number of small and custom keyboard manufacturers, often driven by enthusiast communities, have had a significant impact. Companies like Drop (formerly Massdrop), Varmilo, and Input Club are known for producing unique and customizable mechanical keyboards.
Popular Events in the Mechanical Keyboard Community
The mechanical keyboard community is vibrant and active. Several popular events bring together keyboard fans, manufacturers, and designers. These events often serve as platforms for product launches, community engagement, and the celebration of keyboard craftsmanship. They provide a sense of community within the mechanical keyboard scene, fostering collaboration, innovation, and a shared passion for unique and high-quality keyboards.
Mechanical keyboard meetups: Local and regional meetups are common in the mechanical keyboard community. Enthusiasts gather to showcase their custom keyboards, share knowledge, and often participate in trading or selling keyboard-related items. These events are an excellent opportunity for community members to connect in person.
KeyCon: KeyCon is an annual mechanical keyboard fandom meetup and conference held in various locations. It provides a platform for keyboard enthusiasts to showcase their custom builds, discuss innovations, and learn from one another. KeyCon often features keynote speakers, workshops, and a marketplace.
NorCal Mechanical Keyboard Meetup: Hosted in Northern California, this meetup has gained popularity for its large attendance and the opportunity for enthusiasts to try out a wide variety of keyboards and switches. It often includes workshops, giveaways, and a marketplace.
Mechanical Keyboard Subreddit's Keyboard Giveaways: The Mechanical Keyboards subreddit (r/MechanicalKeyboards) frequently hosts keyboard giveaways where community members have the chance to win custom or unique keyboards. These giveaways are often sponsored by vendors, enthusiasts, or manufacturers.
Custom keyboard design competitions: Various online platforms host custom keyboard design competitions, encouraging enthusiasts to showcase their creativity and design skills. These competitions often result in the production of unique and innovative keyboard designs.
Maker Faires and Tech Conventions: Maker Faires and Technology conventions sometimes feature mechanical keyboard exhibits or dedicated spaces for enthusiasts to showcase their creations.
Discord and Online Community Events: Many mechanical keyboard communities organize events on Discord and other online platforms. These may include virtual meetups, giveaways, and collaborative projects.
Local computer expos: Some events are specifically organized to showcase computers and related products, including mechanical keyboards. These expos provide a space for vendors to display their latest products and for enthusiasts to explore new developments in the industry.
The inventors and entities behind the technology of the mechanical keyboard have collectively shaped a thriving industry. The journey from the typewriter to today's sophisticated mechanical keyboards reflects not only technological advancements but also the enduring brilliance and creativity of the human mind.
The shared enthusiasm for mechanical keyboards continues to connect a global computer community, driving innovation and pushing the boundaries of what a keyboard can be.
Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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