Biographical Sketch of William Bell Wait,
The Inventor of the New York Point System of Writing for the Blind
From: IN MEMORIAM-William B. Wait; Outlook for the Blind,
Autumn, 1916, Vol. X, No. 3, Pages 66-71
Bell Wait, educator and inventor, was born at Amsterdam, N.Y., March 25,
1839, son of Christopher Brown Wait, 1811-1886, and Betsy Grinnell
(Bell) Wait, 1800-1880. His first paternal American ancestor was Thomas
Wait, 1601-1677, who came to this country from England, landed at
Boston, Mass., in 1634, removed to Rhode Island five years later, where
he received a grant of land, and in 1641, was made a freeman at Newport,
RI. From him and his wife, the line of descent is traced to Christopher
Brown Wait, 1780-1855, and his wife, Polly Van Buren, 1779-1841, who
were the grandparents of the subject of this sketch.
The subject of this sketch received his preliminary education at the
public schools of Albany, N. Y., at the Albany Academy and was graduated
from the Albany Normal College in 1859. The same year he became a
teacher in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind,
remaining two years, with the exception of three months' service in the
Seventy-first Regiment, New York Volunteers, under the first call for
troops, at the beginning, of the Civil War. Subsequently he studied law
in the office of Tremain and Peckham in Albany and was admitted to the
bar in 1863. In 1863, while acting as first superintendent of the
Schools of the City of Kingston, N. Y., a vacancy occurred in the office
of Principal of the Institute above named, and in October of that year,
he was appointed to fill the place which he retained until March, 1905,
when he was appointed Emeritus Principal, which position he held until
his death in 1916. Through the efforts of Samuel Ackerly and Samuel
Wood, this Institute was founded in 1831, for the education of blind
children. From the inauguration of the great work of educating the blind
in 1784, by Valentin Hauy, to the present time, the subject of embossed
writing and printing as applied to literature and music, has occupied a
most important position. The first book in raised letters was published
by Valentin Hauy in Paris, 1784-86. Script letters were made in relief
slightly raised above the surface of the pages.
Mr. Wait became an earnest advocate of his points as the true basis of
tangible printing and writing. He concluded that the number of points to
be assigned to represent sounds or letters, should be governed by the
relative frequency of the sounds or letters respectively as they
occurred in general use. In applying the principle to the vertical
rectangle of six points, it became apparent that while a small economy
in the number of points might be secured, still no saving of space was
affected inasmuch as the type body used for a letter of one point must
be as large vertically as that containing six points.
This led Mr. Wait to adopt four base forms, the type bodies having two
points vertically and one, two, three and four horizontally, as here
shown: : : : : : : : : : : . After much experiment he devised the New
York Point System comprising twenty-six capitals, twenty-six small
letters, numerals, punctuation marks and short forms for diphthongs,
triphthongs, syllables and for words and parts of words in common use.
This he followed by the development of a system of tangible musical
notation, which was brought out by Mr. Wait in 1872. It received the
approval of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind, and
wide recognition throughout the United States. The structure of the
System he sets forth in "A System of Tangible Musical Notation and Point
Writing and Printing for the Use of the Blind."
In 1894, after three years of effort, Mr. Wait invented the
Kleidograph, a machine for embossing the New York Point system on paper,
a practical typewriter for the blind now in general use.
Later he invented the Stereograph, a machine for embossing metal
plates, to be used in printing books for the blind. The inventions were
so highly esteemed that in 1900 the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia
awarded to Mr. Wait the John Scott Medal inscribed "To the Most
these advances he took up the problem of embossing the New York
Point system on both sides of the leaf, instead of on one side, as
had hitherto been the general practice in printing embossed books
(in N. Y. Point), and, after a long period of experiment, he
produced a printing press of entirely novel construction by which
the desired object of two-side printing for embossed plates was
NYISE has a
website on the various writing
machines used at the school including the Kleidograph.
He has also devised and patented an improved method of binding whereby
the weight of books and cost of materials and labor are much reduced,
and the durability and life of embossed books greatly increased. By
these improved methods more than fifty percent is saved in the cost of
Mr. Wait is the author of "The Normal Course of Piano Technique"
(1887) and "Harmonic Notation" (1888), both of which were prepared with
special reference to the instruction of the blind, but which are
entirely applicable in the instruction of others. He has published many
pamphlets on subjects relative to the education of the blind. Of these
probably none were more valuable in this line of literature than his
three latest: Phases of Punctography (1913), The Uniform Type Question
(1915), New Aspects of the Uniform Type Folly (1916). The last work of
Mr. Wait was the adaptation of his point system to more than twenty
different languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, Japanese and Chinese.
was one of the founders of the American Association of Instructors of
the Blind, in 1871, and for, about forty years took a leading part in
its affairs. He was one of the organizers of the Society for providing
Evangelical Religious Literature for the Blind, in 1874, and until his
death was one of its most active supporters.
In 1879, he was one of a committee of five who secured from the
Congress of United States the grant of $10,000 annually for the
publication of embossed books for the blind. Mr. Wait had charge of the
bill when it was pending in the Senate and his brief but cogent argument
before the Committee on Education was adopted by that body as its report
in recommending the passage of the measure.
Mr. Wait was a member of the New York Bar; the New York Geographical
Society; the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia and of the Sons of the
Revolution. In religion he was a Baptist, and in politics an
Independent. He was an ardent advocate of Equal Franchise for Women, and
believed in State and National Prohibition and universal Free Trade.
He was a man who, having carefully weighed the right and wrong of
every question coming before him, determined upon his course and with
untiring and unflinching energy went forward unmindful of all
This characteristic was bound to give him the unqualified success
which ever met his efforts. Toward his friends he bestowed unlimited
generosity and brotherly kindness; and toward those who honestly
differed from him he was ever tolerant.
On December 5, 1894, the Board of Managers of the New York Institute
for the Education of the Blind unanimously adopted, the following:
"The Managers of this Institute desire to express and to record their
appreciation of the character of Mr. William B. Wait, and of the
brilliant work done by him for the benefit of the blind. He has been for
thirty-four years a teacher in and Superintendent of this Institute, and
during all that time his interest, zeal and industry have been
unflagging and his unselfishness most pronounced."
"The New York Point print devised by him some years ago marked a great
advance in processes for the use and education of the blind. Had he
desired to have the system known by his own name it would have been only
natural, but he called it the New York Point." "His recent inventions,
the Kleidograph and the Stereograph, promise great usefulness. He alone
has produced them but he transfers all his proprietary rights to this
Institute to be used for the blind, here and elsewhere, without one
penny of pecuniary advantage to himself and the name of the Institute
and not that of William B. Wait will appear upon the instruments."
skill, unselfishness and devotion to duty are rare, and not to be had
for price in the market place. This Board hereby tenders to Mr. Wait its
thanks for the very great benefit which he has bestowed upon the
unfortunate class to whose service he has chosen to devote his life; and
places this Minute upon the records of the Institute as a mark of
respect and esteem for him as a man, an educator, and a philanthropist."