In 1867, a Milwaukee inventor Christopher Latham Sholes showed a prototype of the first true typewriter to an outside investor, James Densmore. Sholes labored over the machine for almost a year at this point, taking it from a crude one-key prototype to a full typewriter.
The investor looked at and said “It’s a great proof of concept.” It stung, this backhanded compliment, this casual dismissal of all the effort made so far. But Densmore was right, and they both got to work. They solved many technical problems. They came up with the QWERTY layout and invented the spacebar. They filed for various patents. They enlisted other people. They built dozens of prototypes, and saw half of them destroyed in use by eager beta testers. They attempted real production a few times – failing, failing, and failing again.
It took them six years to improve the typewriter to the point they were happy with it. Only then they landed a coveted meeting with one rare company that could mass-produce their artifact while keeping the precision necessary for it to function – the arms maker Remington. And so they took the typewriter from the shop in Milwaukee to Ilion, NY. They walked into Remington offices, and they showed off the machine they spent their years and their fortune on, describing all the challenges it took them so long to enumerate and conquer.
Then, the Remington’s Powers That Be nodded, looked at the typewriter, and said “It’s a great proof of concept.”
* * *
I finished the first draft of the book a few days ago, and I feel the same way I imagine Sholes and Densmore did that day in Ilion. The book is written; the book needs so much more work. Now I get to editing, rewriting, production, and publishing. Some of these things I’m familiar with. Many I’m not.
My first draft is still a proof of concept, but I’m also already really proud of it – there are so many stories here, unexpected connections, personal moments, interesting and illuminating facts… and they all connect into an epic story, starting in 1867 and ending just around the corner.
The Remington people improved the machine; after one more year of focused work, they eventually brought it to market. What I’m typing on right now, and what you usually type on, started then and there.