Did Mavis Beacon Really Teach Typing?

By | November 17, 2019

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Mavis Beacon. Source: (Mental Floss)

With the rise of personal computers in the final quarter of the twentieth century also arose the need for many people with limited familiarity with the QWERTY keyboard to learn how to type. A lot of those people owed their new typing skills to a woman named Mavis Beacon. What many of them didn’t know was that no such woman existed and the smiling face gracing the cover of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing! was a salesperson who had been paid to model for the fictional typing instructor.

Mavis Beacon’s story begins with the formation of a software company named Software Toolworks, founded by Walt Bilofsky in 1980. At the time, Bilofsky catered to a very niche clientele and had very little need for marketing. In fact, many of his software programs were sold in Ziploc bags. Around the mid-1980s, Bilofsky began working alongside his cousin, Joe Abrams, to create software for the general public. They merged with another company, Software Country, owned by Les Crane, to create Chessmaster 2000. Chess programs were popular at that time, but this was the first to give the computerized opponent a face, in this case, an old man hailed as a chess wizard.  

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Chessmaster 2000. Source: (YouTube)

Chessmaster 2000 was a hit, but it paled in comparison to the success of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!. When Mavis Beacon went into development, there was no shortage of typing tutorials already on the market. However, like the chess programs, they were all faceless programs with no aesthetic appeal. Companies like IBM and Tandy were often endorsed by celebrities but none of the software featured human faces on their packaging. Abrams and Crane capitalized on this opportunity.