William Bell Wait and the War of the Dots
Our artifact this week is an incomplete—but still very cool—example of William Bell Wait’s Kleidograph Point Writer. Wait invented the New York Point system, a competitor with line letter and braille in the controversy over a uniform system of reading and writing for blind students. He introduced his mechanical pointwriter and a point stereograph machine in 1894. Both were a response to the invention of similar machines for the braille system in 1892 by Frank Hall, superintendent at the Illinois School for the Blind.
APH purchased six New York Point stereographs from the New York Institute in 1898. Production of new titles in New York Point immediately doubled as the machines dramatically decreased the time and cost of preparing embossing plates. We didn't buy one of Hall's braille stereographs until 1906, after it became obvious that braille had growing support in the U.S. as well.
Competition between the systems took decades to resolve. Wait’s Kleidograph was balky and complicated and its keyboard suggests how difficult it was to mechanize his code, which prioritized overall space savings over uniformity.