Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Back in 1997, writing in Discover Magazine, Jared Diamond repeated a story he heard somewhere;

When the U.S. Navy faced a shortage of trained typists in World War II, it experimented with retraining QWERTY typists to use Dvorak. The retraining quickly enabled the Navy’s test typists to increase their typing accuracy by 68 percent and their speed by 74 percent. Faced with these convincing results, the Navy ordered thousands of Dvorak typewriters.
They never got them. The Treasury Department vetoed the Navy purchase order, probably for the same reason that has blocked acceptance of all improved, non-QWERTY keyboards for the last 80 years: the commitment to QWERTY of tens of millions of typists, teachers, salespeople, office managers, and manufacturers. 
Pardon our skepticism, but the above World War II era training video made by the   US Navy seems to show some interest in typing efficiencies.  Almost obsessive in detail.  Diamond gives no source for his claim that the Treasury, 'vetoed the Navy purchase order', but it strains credulity to think that the Navy would be denied the opportunity to implement the claimed productivity improvement.

It's hard to think of an organization that was better situated to overcome settled ways of doing things than the wartime US military.  The Navy, among other things, had adapted the non-written Navajo language into a code used quite effectively by Marines at Guadacanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and several other island campaigns.

In Europe General Omar Bradley famously had suggestion boxes placed with every army unit which he collected and read, always on the alert for ways to improve the ability of his men to kill Germans.

All the branches of the military had been on crash training courses since December 7, 1941 to convert civilians to soldiers, sailors and airmen.  Why would 'the Treasury' draw the line at typist training?

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