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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Sholes, Christopher Latham 1819 - 1890


newspaperman, politician, inventor, b. near Mooresburg, Pa. He learned the printer's trade in Danville, Pa., and in 1837 moved to Wisconsin, settling in Green Bay, where he joined his brothers, Henry and Charles Clark Sholes (q.v.), in the publication of the Green Bay Wisconsin Democrat. In 1839 he became manager of the Madison Wisconsin Enquirer, and in 1840 established the Southport (now Kenosha) Telegraph, which, with various partners and brief interruptions, he published for 17 years. He was afterwards associated briefly with various Milwaukee newspapers, such as the Wisconsin Free Democrat, the News, and the Sentinel. Originally a Jacksonian Democrat, Sholes helped to organize the Free Soil and Republican parties in Wisconsin, supporting, successively, Lincoln, Johnson, and then the Liberal Republicans, and eventually joined the Greenback party. He was state senator (1848-1849, 1856-1857) and state assemblyman (1852-1853). During the Civil War, Sholes also served for a time as Milwaukee postmaster, and was later port collector and commissioner of public works. A practical and active inventor, Sholes developed several devices in the course of his newspaper career, including a paging or numbering device (1864) and a newspaper addressing machine. In 1867, with various partners, he produced a crude writing machine, gained some promotional aid and financial backing, and by 1872 had developed a model that became the prototype of all modern standard typewriters, although it lacked a shift and a front stroke. For the remainder of his life, Sholes continued to work at typewriter inventions, but made no basic improvements, and eventually sold his interest in the original machine piecemeal during the years from 1872 to 1880. He spent his later years in retirement in Milwaukee. Dict. Amer. Biog.; R. N. Current, Typewriter (Urbana, 1954); Wis. Mag. Hist., 32; Milwaukee Sentinel, Feb. 18, 1890; WPA MS.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Christopher Latham Sholes Letters for details.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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