In its various guises, Cherry has been manufacturing computer keyboards since as far back as 1971 (the oldest confirmed product literature). Cherry may not be the oldest extant keyboard manufacturer in the world, but there will be few if any contenders to that claim. Cherry’s DIN-compliant MX series has been in continuous production since 1983 (the same age as Topre’s electrostatic capacitive switches), and has evolved to meet the changing demands of the market.
Although Cherry is now thought of as a German company, Cherry Electrical Products was founded in the US in 1953 by the late Walter Lorraine Cherry (1917–1996). Cherry’s own information in this regard is contradicctory and confusing; Günter Murmann (formerly the VP of Engineering in Germany) explains that Walter Cherry was born in Iowa to a family of English ancestry, not German. The company expanded out around the world, setting up office and factories in numerous countries. The product range included switches, thumbwheels, displays and semiconductors, but they are known best for their switches. Although Alps Electric in Japan are another famous switch manufacturer, the Alps-made Key Tronic Professional Series Mouse uses Cherry microswitches under the buttons; this Alps model was also badged as IBM. Ironically, the microswitch was introduced by the namesake manufacturer Micro Switch, at the time a hugely successful keyboard manufacturer.
Historically, Cherry keyswitches were produced in at least three factories (in the United States, Germany and—via a joint venture—in Japan), and keyboards were also produced in the United Kingdom. The joint venture with Hirose ended, and the American and British factories closed. Cherry products are now produced in Europe and the Far East, with keyswitch production remaining in Germany.
Cherry’s historical product knowledge suffered greatly following a buyout from ZF (whose interest was in Cherry’s automotive products), but Cherry has since separated back out as a dedicated input device manufacturer, leaving the rest of their product range with ZF. The US office has retained a number of old charts and drawings—some relating to the adoption of German products following the closure of the American plants—that have proved invaluable for research. The US office also retained a number of M8 and MX types, which they have graciously donated: this too has allowed understanding of their product range and history to grow significantly.
The oldest Cherry switch type suitable for keyboard use that anyone has encountered is the low energy version of their miniature open design. These may have existed in the late 60s, but the oldest documented evidence for them is 1973. By 1971 they had introduced reed switches (types 201 and 202) and mechanical switches (types 262 and 262). Within two years, the reed switches had vanished, and 261 and 262 had become M61 and M62 (single and double pole respectively). Around 1974, the US and German factories each conceived their own M6-derived illuminated switch: Cherry Electrical Products with the single and dual corner-lit M4 series, and Cherry Mikroschalter with the centre-lit M71 series. Cherry in Germany would follow M71 with their own version of M5/M6 (M73 single pole and M74 double pole), which they grouped with the illuminated types M7 series. When the US switch and keyboard production ended at the close of the 1980s, they started importing the German-made switches as substitutes, leading to a prior misconception that M7 series was simply a follow-on from M6. In reality, the two series ran in parallel.
Around 1979, Cherry Electrical Products introduced their own “foam and foil” design, which they termed “solid state capacitive”; this was soon retooled for DIN compliance, and possibly remained in production until the factory closed. Over in Germany, Cherry Mikroschalter introduced two new ranges of mechanical switches, the ultra-low-profile M8, and the M9 range created for Triumph-Adler for use in their typewriters. M9 saw limited use in keyboards, with M8 widely preferred until that itself was superseded by the then-new MX design, that has remained in production ever since. MX was introduced by the Hirose Cherry Precision factory in Japan in October 1983, a month before the series was introduced in Germany. Günter Murmann reports that the switch is a German design, while Hirose claim that the design is Japanese. The only patents for MX are from Germany. The success of MX in Germany led the American factory to rapidly adopt the design, making them the third Cherry factory to produce MX switches; each of the three factories made the switches to a different design. Hirose MX switches followed their custom M8 types in accepting their own keycaps.
The German and British offices collaborated on a low-cost keyboard type known as Full-Travel Sealed Contact, also known as Cherry MY. The plunger assemblies were likely produced in Germany (to what appears to be a German revision of a British design from a few years prior), while the membranes were produced in the UK. FTSC was introduced to the market in the late 1980s. The last design from the final vestiges of the vintage era was Cherry ML, a low-profile tactile switch that also remains available.
Innovation in the switch range came to an end as the market need for such products faded away with the widespread move to cheap rubber dome keyboards—which Cherry also offered and continues to produce—but the rise in popularity of mechanical switches in the gaming market has seen Cherry revisit the MX design to introduce provisions for RGB illumination and silencing, as well as shorter pretravel for greater responsiveness. These changes were then followed by Cherry’s first entirely-new keyswitch design in over two decades: a low-profile switch inspired by MX, referred to as “MX Low Profile”.
- Reed switches
- M4/M5/M6 Series (‘gold “crosspoint” contact’) and Serie M7
- Solid state capacitive
- M8/MD/MJ series
- FTSC (MY)
- M1 (or M11)
- M85 series
- Common part number schema (M8/M9/MD/MJ/MX/MY/ML)
- Part number schema summaries for M8, M9, MD, MJ, MX, MY and ML