Future Reflections         Special Issue: A Celebration of Braille

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“The War of the Dots”
A Brief History of Braille

Reprinted from Braille Is Beautiful Teacher’s Guide, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

Early attempts to find a usable system of reading and writing for blind children included a system of tying knots on a rope, writing on wax tablets, and the use of carved wooden Roman letters.

1786    Valentin Haüy noticed that letters printed on wet paper were tactually legible on the reverse sides of paper. He devised a system of writing slightly modified letters in reverse on the back of heavy paper, using a metal pen with a rounded tip.

1829    Louis Braille devised and published a code based on a series of embossed dots. The code was based on a raised dot code invented in 1821 by Charles Barbier, an Army artillery officer, who created it because he needed a way to read by touch during night maneuvers. Other systems were simultaneously being developed, and this became known as “The War of the Dots,” which lasted in the United States of America and Great Britain for almost 80 years.

1853    Samuel Howe developed Boston Line Type, an embossed angular modification of Roman letters. Books at the Perkins School used this system for 50 years. Howe remained opposed to the Braille code all his life.

1860    William Wait, Principal of the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, tried to get schools in Boston and Philadelphia to join him in accepting Braille’s code. They refused, so he developed his own system--New York Point, which resembles Braille characters turned on their side.

1871    New York Point was endorsed and recommended by an association of teachers of the blind, mostly sighted people, for use in the education of blind children.

1900    By this time Boston Line Type started to fade as American schools were using either New York Point or Braille’s code. Joel Smith developed yet another method, known as American Braille.

1909    Helen Keller advocated for the adoption of Braille, distraught by the fact that she had to learn four different embossed codes to have access to printed material, since there was no uniformity in its production.

1932    Standard English Braille was adopted by the United States of America and Great Britain as the uniform method of reproducing printed material--a century after Louis Braille presented his code.

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