On this day in British history : 4th January 1813 – The birth of Sir Isaac Pitman – who developed the first major shorthand system…. At one time, Pitman shorthand was the most used system in the entire English-speaking world….

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Nowadays Teeline is the most commonly used system – taking just a few months to learn as opposed to the typical year that Pitman takes…. There are those who believe that shorthand is becoming obsolete – there has been a steady decline in numbers of people taking shorthand courses over the last decade – in this digital age audio memos are cited as being one of the main reasons for its decline. However, others argue that shorthand still has its place; it is an invaluable tool in business and for students when taking notes, it is also still used in the Courtroom and among journalists….

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Image credit: T via Flickr

Pitman popularised shorthand at a time when the Press and business were advancing at a rate that made it a commercial necessity….

Sir Isaac Pitman’s motto in life was “time saved is life gained’…. Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire he was educated at the local grammar school. After a spell as a clerk in a textile mill he became an English teacher – and started teaching in Lincolnshire….

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Cope, Arthur Stockdale; Sir Isaac Pitman; National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-isaac-pitman-155405

In 1835 he married Mary, a widow and twenty years his senior – and they moved to Gloucestershire. Pitman was dismissed by the authorities from the public education system when he became a Swedenborgian – a religious movement based upon the writings of scientist, theologist and Swedish Lutheran, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772)…. In 1837 Pitman became teetotal and a vegetarian in 1838….two practices he attributed for his excellent health throughout life – and his ability to work exceptionally long hours…. The Pitmans moved to Bath in 1839 and he opened a small private school….

Pitman was a great advocate of ‘the spelling reform for the English language’…. Modern spelling started to develop from about AD 1350 onwards – and so many influences meant many variations in spelling. The aim of the reform being to create more consistency….

At around the same time Pitman learned Samuel Taylor’s shorthand system – and became interested in creating his own system, using sound. In his phonetic system symbols do not represent letters but sounds – resulting in a quick way to write down information. He published his first pamphlet ‘Sound-Hand’ in 1837….

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By 1843 his publishing business had become successful enough for him to give up teaching. In 1844 he published ‘Phonotypy’ – which was to become his major publication on the spelling reform….and in 1845 the first version of the ‘English Phonotypic Alphabet’ was published….

Pitman’s wife died in 1857 but he remarried in 1861, this time to a woman eight years younger than himself, Isabella Masters…. Then in 1886 he went into partnership with his sons, Alfred and Ernest and together they formed Isaac Pitman & Sons…. It was to become one of the World’s leading educational publishers – having offices in London, Bath, New York, Toronto, Melbourne, Tokyo and Johannesburg….

Sir Isaac Pitman received his knighthood in 1894….he died in 1897….

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Image credit: The Pitman Collection, University of Bath

 

 

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