Historic Discovery: 1951 SoundScriber Disk from Russ Williams to Warren Bledsoe Regarding The Long Cane

photograph of the mailer that contained Russ Williams' SoundScriber disc photograph of a SoundScriber

In the days of email and handheld digital player/recorders such as APH's new Bookport Plus, we think nothing of dashing off written and audio messages to colleagues around the world. Prior to the perfection of the cassette recorder in the 1960s, however, audio messaging involved the use of tricky machinery originally designed for office dictation. The original Dictaphone, for example, recorded on wax cylinders. In the AER Division IX Bledsoe O&M Archives in the APH Museum, an interesting brown envelope was discovered the other day. It held four blue, six-inch, flexible vinyl disks. Sent from Russ Williams, head of the Blindness Rehabilitation Center at Hines, Illinois, it was addressed to Warren Bledsoe at the Veterans Administration in Washington.

The disks were originally recorded on a SoundScriber, another office dictation machine introduced in the 1940s. We have several in the museum because they were used by folks with visual impairments to record and mail letters, but unfortunately these museum pieces are no longer functional. A few experiments, however, on the museum turntable, and presto, the scratchy, thready voice of Williams--a long cane pioneer who lost his sight at Normandy--began to roll from the speakers. Turns out a SoundScriber disk plays inside out, i.e. you start the tone arm on the inside of the record. And the speed changes as it plays, so you need a variable speed control. But there on the disk was a letter from Williams to Bledsoe, from August 1951, musing about possible uses for the VA's new documentary, "The Long Cane." The museum will open a new exhibit on the origins of orientation and mobility based on the Bledsoe Archives in October 2010. The collection is an incredible resource. For more information, contact Mike Hudson at 502-859-2365.

Listen to side one of Russ Williams' letter to Warren Bledsoe (.mp3/10 minutes/9.3MB).


anna j said…
I work for the University of Texas at Austin Audiovisual Digitization unit and have been asked to transfer several SoundScriber Discs. Your recording is one of the best I've heard from this medium and I'm curious what size stylus you used. Also, if you have any other recommendations for creating the best capture possible, I would greatly appreciate them.
Thank you,
Anna Lamphear

Audiovisual Digitization Coordinator
The University of Texas at Austin

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