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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Typewriter Cushion Keys

All I wanted to do was find out about these keytops that had been left on my typewriters.  If oz.typewriter has taught us anything, however, it’s that no story is simple and that there are always numerous characters, and that the story is never really over.  I still can’t believe that with the collectability of ephemera surrounding typewriters, these have not become a category with some research behind them.
So I was on my own.  One of the early searches led to the clipping reproduced below.  In this note from 1907, we learn that there was a new invention of a “…pneumatic thimble of rubber – a tiny cushion for whatever finger or fingers are most strained by the machine.”  I clipped a lot more because the music typewriter and the “Tears of a Typist” clippings were amusing as well.  I can’t tell for certain if the fingers wear the cushions or if this refers to the key covers.  In use, they would be more hindrance than help if not installed as a full set.

Pitman's journal of commercial education, Volume 66

By Sir Isaac Pitman

Moving on, I looked specifically for “Peerless Rubber Keys” as the first brand name by which I knew this product.  They were patented in 1935 by Otto Kretchmer.

I was reasonably certain they were older than that but the record showed no references.  I kept trying word combinations until I hit on Munson’s Speed Keys, and traced it by his name to patent 793462.

This patent is still being referenced.  Suddenly this topic has relevance?  shrug.  It is interesting, at least to me. 
Referenced by
Aug 1, 1979
Jul 14, 1981
Casio Computer Co., Ltd.
Key button structure for electronic devices
May 20, 1982
Feb 19, 1985
Toho-Polymer Kabushika Kaisha
Keyboard key with embedded top character
Feb 18, 1997
Aug 3, 1999
Low-impact keyboard
Dec 17, 1999
Dec 24, 2002
No-impact keyboard
Dec 4, 1998
Sep 14, 2004
Method of preventing and/or alleviating repetitive use injury to electronic computer keyboard operator

Munson’s improvement here appears to be to the method of affixing them to the machine, by means of a collar, or as he refers to it, a “thimble” – now where have we seen that before?
This provides some clues that the Munson keys were not the first either.  In fact Munson refers to another patent of his own, jointly with Thomas Hodgkiss:

Which led me to  patent 832617

Which is also still being referenced. 
Referenced by
Sep 17, 1990
Mar 1, 1994
Cushioning means for keyboard keys
Oct 21, 1997
May 4, 1999
Impact absorbing keyboard, contoured to the natural shape of the hand and method of using
Jan 13, 1999
Feb 6, 2001
Prosper Street Technologies, L.L.C.
Impact absorbing keyboard, contoured to the natural shape of the hand
Aug 7, 2000
Dec 18, 2001
Individual key covers for computer keyboards
May 3, 2000
Feb 27, 2007
Prosper Street Technologies, LLC
Keyboard contoured to the natural shape of the hand
What is of interest is that this improvement was to make them more rigid.  Munson claimed that the earlier versions were collapsing with use.  this one applied some bracing internally.

This is where I am right now.  I have yet to find an advertisement for Speed Keys, or Peerless Rubber Keys, or any other brand (though rarely a boxed set of one or another will come up for sale online).  I want to know if typing competitors were allowed to use them, and if so, were there any endorsements?  I am also looking for other references such as the Pittman’s Journal above.  Most of all I want to know if any typospherians have these and what you think of them.


  1. Good research!

    I have a loose set of these but haven't tried them in practice.

    It's neat that the century-old patents are still considered relevant today, in the post-typewriter age.

  2. Very interesting. I never heard of these until your first post on them. I wonder would a cushion key actually make the feel of the key spongy and slow typing speed? Those patent excerpts are very good and it is amazing they are from so long ago and there could still be applications for them (the keys) today.

  3. Olympia SM3 has "cushioned" keys. Maybe that's why it seems to be so well liked..


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