A Brief History of the Stenograph Machine

The history of the stenograph machine is interwoven with the history of shorthand and the typewriter.  Effectively, the typewriter made writing faster and the stenograph machine made recording shorthand faster.

The history of shorthand can be traced back to Ancient Greece in the mid 4th Century BCE.  However, modern English shorthand was introduced in 1837 by Isaac Pitman.  His shorthand was a phonetic system using light and heavy lines to distinguish sounds.  In 1888, John Gregg introduces his shorthand which was also  a phonetic system but used used line length to distinguish sound.  Gregg’s shorthand became mainly popular in the USA.

The history of the typewriter can be traced back to 1808 when Pellegrino Turri of Italy made the first typewriter.  No one knows what it looked like or how it operated but a sample of the typing still exists.  In 1873,  E. Remington & Sons produce the first widespread American typewriter.  It featured one of the first QWERTY keyboards.  In 1895,  the Underwood typewriter is produced in America.  It featured a frontstroke, type bar design,  a QWERTY (4 rows) keyboard, and used an inked ribbon.  The design became the standard “look” for the typewriter.

The Father of the stenograph machine is considered to be Miles Bartholomew of Illinois.  In 1877, Bartholomew invents his Stenograph machine.  It created one "letter" at a time, represented by a series of dashes, by pressing one or more keys simultaneously in alternating right and left hand movements.  His machine was used as late as 1937 by official courters.

Bartholomew's Stenograph

In 1889, George Kerr Anderson of Tennessee invents the shorthand typewriter which prints the Roman Alphabet (english letters).  The letters on his machine were arrange by frequency and into 3 sections (controlled by shift keys).  Using a combination of the printing (letter) keys and shift keys, any word or syllable could be printed.  In fact, no shorthand was needed.

Anderson's Shorthand Typewriter

Ward Stone Ireland was born in 1883 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  He learned typing and shorthand in his teens.  After college, Ireland work as a court report in Texas and then as a reporter for the Panama Canal Commission.  He returned to Texas in 1900 and began work on a shorthand machine.  In 1911 after three previous prototype models, the Universal Stenotype Company was founded and Ireland produced the stenograph machine, the Stenotype.  His machine printed the Roman alphabet (english letters) and allowed one or more keys to be pressed at the same time, so that a word or a syllable can be typed in one stroke.  

Ireland's Stenotype

The popularity of the Ireland Stenotypy spread because it won competitions between pencil-and-pad stenographers and his Stenotype. (Plus Ireland only sold the Stenotype through business schools).  For example, in 1912 two experienced pencil-and-pad stenographers of the Miller School of Business in New York could not keep up with the Stenotype operators.  And at the 1914 National Shorthand Reports Association speed contest, nine trained teenagers using the Stenotype consistently won against 30 professional pencil-and-pad stenographers.  

In mid-1914, the Stenotype Company made munitions contracts with the Russian government, but got hit with a large debt after the 1917 communist revolution.  Ireland sold off his interest and started another company.  In 1917, he produced the National Shorthand Machine which had more keys and was more difficult to operate (and never caught on).  That company folded.  He work on other inventions including the washing machine and commercial refrigeration.  Ward Stone Ireland died in 1956 in Newark, New Jersey and is buried in Cocoa, Brevard County, Florida.

The Stenotype Company--after Ireland left in 1917--was lead by two previous company employees, Wiliam Ebelhare and Clarence Arvidson.  They produced the next Stenotype machine, the “Master Model”.  However, the company also made munitions for the US government after the Country entered WWI.  The company folded in 1919, after the US government failed to pay its bills.

In 1927, the LaSalle University Extension in Illinois acquired the rights to make Stenotype machines.  They produced a smaller version of the “Master Model” and called it the “Master Model 4” (or the LaSalle Stenograph), which featured a two-spool ribbon system.  This model was manufactured until 1949.

W.H. Wright, who lead the stenograph operations at the LaSalle University Extension, left in the 1930’s and started the Stenograph Company in 1939.  The company produced the Secretarial and Reporter models in 1939.  They featured a single, endless ribbon.  W.H. Wright’s son, Robert, refined Ireland's design and took over the control of the company until his death in 2000.  The Stenograph Company is the leading producer of stenograph machines in the USA.

In the 1960's, stenographs were first connect to computers, introducing the concept of "realtime".  Twenty years later, various companies produced stenographs with "memory" (diskettes, flash memory, etc.) and realtime interfaces.  In 1992, Stenograph produced started the Stentura line with realtime functionality.  During this time, Stenograph also started purchasing rival companies (Xscribe, BaronData, etc.) and discontinued their products.  In 2001, Stenograph starts the elan Cybra, the first paperless stenograph machine.

Further Reading:
“Bartholomew and the Stenograph” (ETCetera No.16, September 1991)

“The Anderson Shorthand Typewriter” (ETCetera No.26, March 1994)

“Ward Ireland and the Stenotype” (ETCetera No.39, June 1997)

A History of the Shorthand Writing Machine