Not long after the typewriter was invented in the 1860s, some bright spark at the Columbia Type-Writer company decided to try applying its mechanical prongs and ink presses to musical symbols and notes instead of letters and punctuation. The Columbia Music Type-Writer, released in 1885, apparently made it easier for musicians to produce or reproduce sheet music, and was soon followed by the likes of the extremely bulky Nocoblic (1910, pictured below, left), and the Melotyp (1931, pictured below, right).
One of the most eye-catching and interesting of these devices was Robert H. Keaton’s Music Typewriter, which looks more like an amalgamation of every tool known to the field of architecture than it does a typewriter.
The inventor’s initial 1936 patent included a relatively meager 14 keys, though it laid the foundation for what would go on to be an intriguing – and far more sophisticated – machine. (Keaton himself eventually improved on his original with his 1953 patent, which featured a whopping 33 keys.)
The history of music typewriters didn’t end there. In fact, they continued clacking away until the late 1980s with the , before suffering a similar fate to that of the typewriter itself, when it was superseded by personal computers. Today, the intriguing history of these contraptions lives on in great details over at Music Printing History, and you can see exactly how Keaton’s apparatus worked in this video, should the mood strike you.