Tuesday 30 August 2011

Take a letter...

There are often quirky displays at Brittany's farming festivals. On Sunday at Plouguenast, there was a collection of old phonographs including an early Dictaphone. A far cry from today's tiny voice recorders, this hefty device included a long tube down which to speak.

The groundwork for dictation machines had been laid by Edison, who invented a method of recording voices onto tinfoil discs. He saw business dictation as its main application (rather than the music recordings which would soon dominate the industry). However, tinfoil cylinders were difficult to use: the move to recording on wax made such devices much more practicable. Patents for the new wax technology were granted to Alexander Graham Bell's Volta Laboratory in 1886.

Dictaphone was originally part of the Columbia Gramophone Company, known today as Columbia Records, although it separated from them in 1923. From the Dictaphone's launch in 1907 until the introduction of new technology in 1947, the device recorded voices onto wax cylinders - long after discs became more popular for reproducing music.

The bulk and expense of Dictaphone's early equipment perhaps explains why many business people preferred to dictate to a shorthand secretary for some decades to come. Only with the much later development of light, inexpensive equipment which allowed easy dictation both inside and outside the office did the shorthand notebook begin to gather dust.

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