A typewriter is a mechanical or electromechanical machine for writing characters similar to those produced by a printer's movable type. Typically, a typewriter has an array of keys, and each one causes a different single character to be produced on the paper, by means of a ribbon with dried ink struck against the paper by a type element similar to the sorts used in movable type letterpress printing. On some typewriters, a separate type element corresponds to each key; others use a single type element (such as a typeball or disc) with a different portion of it used for each character. At the end of the nineteenth century, the term typewriter was also applied to a person who used a typing machine.
The first commercial typewriters were introduced in 1874, but did not become common in offices until after the mid-1880s. The typewriter quickly became an indispensable tool for practically all writing other than personal handwritten correspondence. It was widely used by professional writers, in offices, and for business correspondence in private homes.
Although many modern typewriters have one of several similar designs, their invention was incremental, developed by numerous inventors working independently or in competition with each other over a series of decades. As with the automobile, telephone, and telegraph, a number of people contributed insights and inventions that eventually resulted in ever more commercially successful instruments. Historians have estimated that some form of typewriter was invented 52 times as thinkers tried to come up with a workable design.