Antique Typewriters

The Martin Howard Collection



The New York Institution for the Blind
1894 - serial no.10 - view patent

To quote Paul Lippman, former editor of “The Type Writer” Journal and one of the pioneers in early typewriter collecting, “One of the best-documented yet least familiar writing machines for the blind is the Kleidograph.

Mr. William Bell Wait

The Kleidograph was invented by William Bell Wait (1829-1916), when he was the Director of the New York Institution for the Blind.

The Kleidograph was designed to type with the 'New York Point System', a system of eight dots - a horizontal row of four dots on top of another row of four dots. Mr. Wait had developed this eight dot alphabet and presented it to the public in 1868, a number of years before the Kleidograph was manufactured.

The Garvin Machine Company of New York first manufactured the Kleidograph in 1894. The order was for 100 machines at a cost of $1250 plus $1575 for tools and dies. Very few of these machines survive today. The Garvin Machine Company also made the Crary typewriter and other index machines such as the Peoples.

Students using Kleidographs at the NYIB

An important design advantage of the Kleidograph, over other contemporary typewriters for the blind, was the ability to operate the keyboard with one hand (the right hand), allowing the other hand to read the raised dots as the paper passed over the wooden platform behind the platen. This was achieved by having the four lower keys each activating the two keys above, enabling one to emboss as many as eight dots at once while pushing the four bottom keys. The two left keys are for punctuation.

The New York Point System was widely used by American schools for the blind and was the standard for typing and reading during the last quarter of the 1800s. Eventually though, Louis Braille’s six dot system became the international standard and the New York Point System became obsolete but not before a much-publicized battle by Mr. Waite, his supporters and the advocates of the more globally accepted Louis Braille system, which included Helen Keller. The Louis Braille system became to be known, somewhat ironically, as American Braille.

Please visit this interesting Biographical Sketch of William Bell Wait.

Below is a letter written by Helen Keller about the New York Point System.

My Dear Sir:

I regret that I cannot appear at the hearing before the Board of Education of New York City on March the 24th. I have been deeply interested these many years in the question of raised types, not so much for my own advantage (I read all the systems) as for that of the large number of blind persons who may not share my good fortune. I understand that you are to consider the relative merits of American braille and New York Point. Between these two systems, it seems to me, there can be no question when the facts are all properly presented to you.
I have always found New York Point a difficult, unsatisfactory system. I object to it as it appears in most books which I have seen because it does not use capitals, apostrophes and hyphens. This sometimes spoils the sense for the reader. But it has a worse effect upon the young pupil. He is liable to get an imperfect idea of capitalization and punctuation. I have received letters written on the ordinary ink typewriter from blind persons which contained errors significantly like the defects of New York Point, and I cannot but believe that this illiteracy is traceable to their habitual use of a defective mode of punctographic writing during school years.

It is true, the makers of New York Point have devised capitals; but it is noteworthy that this very winter the State Library at Albany was trying to decide upon a suitable capital sign. Forty years after this system was supposed to be "perfected," it is still in an undecided state! The capitals, when they are used, are not always unequivocal. I have often mistaken D for j, I for b and Y for double o in signatures, and I waste time looking at initial letters over and over again. I am not satisfied with the signs for hyphen and apostrophe that I have found because they are cumbersome. It is possible to mistake the apostrophe for ou, especially in proper names.

New York Point is much harder for me to read than American braille. It wears my reading finger more to travel over letters three dots wide and two high as they are in New York Point than over letters two dots wide and three high as they are in American braille. Also, it is a most trying task to decipher many letters which I get in New York Point. The writers evidently have trouble either with the system or the machine. Of the letters I receive in the two systems, a far larger proportion are well written in American braille.
I note, too, that in the great world of the blind New York Point is a provincialism. The machines for it are made only in New York, and write only New York Point. On the other hand, machines for braille are made in Germany, France, England and America. I have owned American and German braillewriters which place me in communication with people all over the world.

I am sure that in all important respects American braille is superior to New York Point because it meets completely the needs of capitalization, punctuation, legibility and physical ease of reading.

With high regards, I am Respectfully yours, (signed) Helen Keller

Detailed Typewriter Image

Kleidograph Kleidograph Kleidograph Kleidograph