On a typical keyboard, why is the 0 in the number row next to the 9 instead of the 1?

This seems like a question which should have a straight-forward answer, but the only one I could find is this yahoo question which has two instances of entirely unsourced speculation as answers. (0 as 10, and because 0 is rarely at the start of a number)

To complicate things, the wikipedia article adds that

0 and 1 were omitted to simplify the design and reduce the manufacturing and maintenance costs; they were chosen specifically because they were "redundant" and could be recreated using other keys. Typists who learned on these machines learned the habit of using the uppercase letter I (or lowercase letter L) for the digit one, and the uppercase O for the zero.

One might speculate that the 0 is placed where it is because of it's proximity to the O, but since the 1 was added down at the other end (nowhere near the I), it would have made just as much sense to put 0 down there too.

Almost every keyboard layout I've seen listed on wikipedia is this way, even the ones which don't use latin script at all. Only the Hungarian one (thanks, Gildas) puts 0 before the 1. This may be due to inheriting from latin-alphabet keyboards, though.

Anyone have an explanation for this oddity? Or specific sources backing up the yahoo theories?

Edit: Based on everyone's answers, I've done more research and come up with what I think is the logical explanation. I don't have specific sources to cite, though, so I'm still open to an "official" answer, if anyone has one.

  • 1
    possible duplicate of Why do numpads on keyboards and phones have reversed layouts?
    – rk.
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:35
  • 5
    @rk. - Not at all a duplicate. I'm not asking about the keypad, I'm discussing the number row on top of the main section of they keyboard.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:52
  • The answer discusses the history of the layout of the numbers on the keyboard, which is related to your question.
    – rk.
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:56
  • @rk. - Nothing in that answer has anything to do with the keyboard itself. It's entirely devoted to the history of the number pad, which (barring any contrary sources) has nothing to do with the history of the main portion of the keyboard, since it was a later development. However, the article it links to does have an interesting image of a keypunch machine which might be relevant.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


Via further research, I've discovered that I was acting under a bad assumption. I had assumed that 0 and 1 became standard around the same time, but the very next section in the wikipedia article says:

The 0 key was added and standardized in its modern position early in the history of the typewriter, but the 1 and exclamation point were left off some typewriter keyboards into the 1970s.

It appears to be the IBM Selectric which really popularized the 1 in the '70s,

Given this 60+ year discrepancy between each key's appearance, I think I can come to a logical conclusion:

The 0 was placed next to the 9 either because of the proximity to the O (it would be easy for people already used to typing an O to type a 0 instead) or because it could be seen as 8-9-10 (and 0-2-3 doesn't make sense). Later, when the 1 was introduced, the only logical place for it was next to the 2, since it would make no sense to have 8-9-0-1 at the end of the row. And by that time, the 0 was fully established, so it couldn't be moved next to the new 1.

  • 1
    I think this makes great sense once its all pieced together. Not sure how UX it is, but it is a good read! Commented May 13, 2013 at 20:36
  • 1
    @AthomSfere - Yeah, in retrospect, the only UX aspect is the logic of shifting from O to 0. I expected more thought to have gone into it than I really should have been. Although, it doesn't explain things like this, which predate typewriters altogether...
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 20:42
  • Except, the only keyboards at the beginning were from actual keyboards. It makes some sense. And it was rapidly outgrown as it was inefficient. So that evolution was UX design I suppose. Commented May 13, 2013 at 20:51
  • 1
    Do you have a source for the whole proximity argument for putting it beside the 9? Seems to me more likely that it's just plain weird to have 0, 2, 3… (at least compared to …8, 9, 0), but I'd love to be proven wrong.
    – Kit Grose
    Commented Jun 27, 2013 at 6:10
  • 1
    @KitGrose - An interesting point. I hadn't considered that possibility. I've (belatedly) edited that in.
    – Bobson
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 17:24

I too want to add an image:

My thought is (Speculation also) is that it has to do with QWERTY,

Most of the QWERTY layout was to prevent keybinding.

enter image description here

I have to wonder if having it in 0``1``2 cause binding issues and was thus moved to the end where one could not cause a binding issue. 1011 comes to mind as a touchy combo.

  • 1
    Is that key next to the 2 a 1 missing the key, or does it do something else? If it's something else, this is really interesting, since it's got the 0 but not the 1.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:31
  • Remington (The gun maker) bought the design from Sholes. Sholes and Glidden invented the QWERTY and there was not a 1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:40
  • 2
    Interesting. You've made me realize that the two keys were added at different times, as opposed to around the same time, as I was thinking.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:47

It's only really programmers that think of counting starting from 0. The vast majority of the world counts from 1.

And so considering that keyboards were designed from typewriters, which were designed for secretaries mostly in the early days, it makes sense that you show the numbering in an order that they would find normal.

  • 1
    I would say programmers and mathematicians. But that doesn't make the 0 make any more sense. It should be a 10, in that case. And since a 10 key makes no sense, it can become a 0 key... But regardless of where you start counting, everyone would agree that 0 is less than 1, and 10 is less than 11, so the 0 belongs before the 1 on the number line (or keyboard row).
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:15
  • @Bobson You're thinking about it from a technical perspective, and it's not a technical reason.
    – JohnGB
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:30
  • You may be right. I don't think I can break out of my own mindset on this. On the other hand, I consider leaving out the 1 and 0 altogether weird as well, and early typewriters did that too... But wouldn't that be equally abnormal to secretaries as having the 0 first?
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:35
  • Except on paper, the only keys were CAPS, so 1I were interchangeable, so were 0 and O. This was also bleeding edge technology. So getting the same effect with less engineering and cost meant more sales. Commented May 13, 2013 at 19:56
  • That the majority counts from 1 is irrelevant to the topic, as we're talking about arranging the 10 digits (0, 1, …, 9), not counts (1, 2, …, 9, 10, 11, 12, …, and so on, if counting from 1). Except for the current convention that is being questioned here, in no natural/logical/technical/etc. perspective does the ordering 1, 2, …, 9, 0 make sense.
    – musiphil
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 21:28


  • It may have something to do with some coding needs on the early years of computing, 0 and 1 could not be very close because of their use in binary language hence the distance to have an ergonomic typing with the use of two hands.

I found that the Hungarian keyboard does have Zero in its natural order.

 │    │    │    │    │    │    ║    │    │    │    │    │    │    ║         ║
 │0   │1   │2   │3   │4   │5   ║6   │7   │8   │9   │    │    │    ║ <--     ║
 ║  |<-  ║    │    │    │    │    ║    │    │    │    │    │    │    ║   |  ║
 ║  ->|  ║    │    │    │    │    ║    │    │    │    │    │    │    ║ <-'  ║
 ╠═══════╩╗───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───┴┬───╚╗     ║

And yes I did answer just to post some ascii art.

The Hungarian keyboard does exist though.

  • +1 for the art and for having spotted what I missed when I looked at all the keyboards on wikipedia. I guess I went through the international ones a bit too quickly. Doesn't answer the question, but still more than worth an upvote.
    – Bobson
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 18:21

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