Typewriter of the moment: July 23, 1829 William A. Burt’s typographer patented

William Austin Burt received a patent on a typographer on July 23, 1829 — signed personally by President Andrew Jackson.

First patent issued for a typewriter, July 23, 1829, to William Austin Burt -- signed by Andrew Jackson

Image of the first patent issued for a typewriter, July 23, 1829, to William Austin Burt, a Michigan surveyor and inventor. It was signed personally by President Andrew Jackson.

The typographer is considered the forerunner to the typewriter.

Burt’s chief reputation came from his work as a surveyor in Michigan.  He discovered the massive iron ore deposits for which Michigan became famous, the iron that fueled much of American industrialization in the 19th and 20th centuries.  He discovered one of the world’s largest deposits of copper, the Calumet and Hecla Mine.  He invented the solar compass, to survey areas where iron deposits made magnetic compasses inaccurate.

Drawing of W. A. Burt's typographer, the first patented typewriter - Wikimedia image

Patent drawing of W. A. Burt’s typographer, the first patented typewriter – Wikimedia image

Some of Burt’s biographies do not mention his invention of the typewriter.

Burt was born in an era of great technological development and invention.  People in all walks of life invented devices to aid their work, or just for the joy of invention.  Even future president Abraham Lincoln invented a device to float cargo boats in shallow water, hoping to increase river commerce to his home county, Sangamon County, Illinois.

Burt invented devices to aid his work in surveying, a very important service industry in frontier America.   Because surveyors often worked on the frontier, they were famous for discovering natural resources in the course of their work. So it was that Burt, working in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, found his magnetic compasses spinning wildly.  Suspecting a natural phenomenon, Burt ordered his crew to look for ferrous rocks, and they quickly determined they were in an area rife with iron deposits.

It was to further surverying in such areas that Burt invented the solar compass.

Even uninteresting frontiersmen could lead lives that fascinate us today.  Was it Burt’s inventiveness that led him to such a life as a surveyor, or was it his work that pushed him to invent?

First typewritten letter, 1829 - Wikimedia Image

First letter ever written on a typewriter, in 1829 — to Martin Van Buren, then Vice President Secretary of State of the U.S., and future Vice President and President. Notice the letter was written nearly two months prior to the patent being issued on the device upon which it was written. Wikimedia image

5 Responses to Typewriter of the moment: July 23, 1829 William A. Burt’s typographer patented

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Good catch. Thanks.


  2. Jeffrey Hall says:

    Martin Van Buren was Sec. of State when that letter was written. He didn’t become VP until 1833.


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Here’s website page that features technology from this era, in timeline form, for students to study:



  4. […] With a keyboard a lot like a piano, this 1868 invention looks a lot more like the typewriters we know and love than William Burt’s 1829 “typographer.” […]


  5. […] anniversary: July 23, 1829, William Austin Burt’s “typographer” An encore post, history we need to […]


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