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The Desk Test

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What would you find in an office 100 years ago (and may still find updated versions of today)?

1. Inventors say the more this item is "picked," the more complicated one must make it. But the safer it gets, too. The most elaborate ones were first designed for church doors, document chests, and city gates. King Henry VIII of England had one that was more than a foot long. He used it on his bedroom door wherever he traveled. What did the king never leave home without?

2. This writing implement was a bother. You needed an eyedropper to fill it. It was messy. But in 1884, New York stationer L.E. Waterman added a vacuum device that worked with a plunger-like lever. The innovation also reduced clotting. Grateful users of the improved device said that now their words flowed like water from a fountain. What was the item's name?

3. The early European models were called "marking sticks" or "marking stones," and they left as much a mark on the user's hand as on the paper. In the 1500s, they were wrapped tightly with string that could be slowly unwound to expose more "stick," or graphite. Finally, the stick was given a wooden outer coating.

It wasn't until centuries later that the device received a significant improvement, much to the relief of writers: A small metal band with a blob of latex rubber. It's the most common writing utensil in the world. What is it?

4. Mark Twain was the first author to submit a manuscript using one. He sent "Life on the Mississippi" to a publisher after he had mastered 12 words per minute. (He also confessed that he "only worked the machine to astonish inquisitive visitors.") Twain had a shift-key Remington model that only later introduced lower-case letters. (The first machines COULD ONLY PRINT IN UPPER CASE.)

What was the machine called?

ANSWERS:

(1) The lock. Early locksmiths made the key first, then constructed a lock to fit it, rather than the other way around; (2) The fountain pen; (3) The pencil; (4) The typewriter. The inventor of the first practical machine, Christopher Latham, established the layout of the keyboard by placing the most frequently used keys farthest from each other, to prevent jamming. His QWERTY layout is still used on modern computers today.


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