Theodor Herzl and the Invention of the Arabic Typewriter


You can find old typewriters in lots of different languages, but the most surprising origin story of all of them is probably that the first Arabic typewriter was created for none other than the father of modern political Zionism, Dr. Theodor Herzl. But not for his own use.

In 1901, Herzl ordered an Arabic-Ottoman typewriter to be made in America as a gift for Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Turkey. The order came in the midst of a heated negotiation between Herzl and the Sultan over whether Jews could have Ottoman-controlled Palestine as their homeland. In exchange, the Sultan asked Herzl to agree to place Jews in charge of consolidating Turkey’s foreign debt and straightening out its finances.

But the Sultan wouldn’t budge on the Palestine question. He offered to let Jews settle anywhere else in his realm, including Anatolia, Syria or Mesopotamia. Herzl refused, and the Sultan rejected the typewriter, much to Herzl’s annoyance. Sensing his own slipping power, the Sultan banned all typewriters from the empire to quash political dissent. The ban was only reversed by Atatürk in 1929 as part of his modernization efforts. Herzl’s typewriter was found amid the Sultan’s belongings in 1909, the year he was dethroned by the Young Turks.

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