Few professions are as old and time-honored as shorthand reporting, for it is the act of writing which has provided  to all civilizations the knowledge of earlier thoughts and utterances.

Continuing the tradition followed by important shorthand historians,  The Gallery of Shorthand uses ten Epochs, or pivotal historical segments,  to recount momentous events which helped define the origin and evolution of this timeless profession.

The Gallery’s website presents this comprehensive, yet abridged, version of its Ten Epochs.

Scroll Down and Click into Each of the Ten Epochs for More Details

Ancient Sumerian Scribes

To the Sumerian mind, if it was not written it did not exist.

The earliest form of written expression began in 3500 BC in Southeastern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) by one of the earliest civilizations. To preserve important thought, the Sumerians invented cuneiform script.

Ancient Egyptian Scribes

At a similar time and with parallel reasoning, by 3200 BC the Egyptians devised  Hieratic Script and Demotic Script as cursive alternatives to their complex hieroglyphs.

Chinese Shorthand

Caoshu and Xigshu

Chinese Grass Script (caoshu) and Running Script (xigshu) first appeared during the Han Dynasty of Imperial China.

One imperative of Imperial China was that all confessions had to be acknowledged by the accused’s signature, personal seal, or thumbprint.  This necessitated fast forms of writing.

Roman Shorthand Scribes 

The power of preserving the spoken word did not escape Ancient Rome.

Cicero, great orator and statesman of Rome, invented the world’s first system of short writing.  He called it Tironian Notes, Notae Tironianae, named for his slave, Marcus Tillius Tiro.

Abolition of Shorthand

In the Middle Ages, shorthand was seen as secret writing, and its practitioners often were persecuted. Its use was forbidden after 534 AD.

Renewed Interest

Renewed interest in shorthand began in 1180 AD when Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, prompted by an interest in preserving pulpit preachings, encouraged renewed research into Tironian shorthand.

Additional efforts would lay dormant for another 400 years.

Revival of Shorthand

The Vital 250 Years

Timothe Bright’s 1588 invention of the first useable English-language method triggered a flurry of writing systems during an era that came to be known as The Vital 250 Years.

Two hundred years after Timothe Bright, Samuel Taylor – perhaps the greatest of the early masters – invented a system which became the most extensively used for the ensuing 60 years.

Revolutionary Shorthand Systems

In 1819 Phinehas Bailey, of Chelsea, Vermont, invented the first complete shorthand system based on phonetics.  Using phonetics was a departure from earlier inventions.

Two inventors stand above all others as the most pivotal in shaping the profession of shorthand reporting.  Sir Isaac Pitman, in 1837, and Dr. John Robert Gregg, in 1888, created the world’s most revolutionary systems of shorthand.  Based on phonetics, each endured for decades, led to enormous followings, and demonstrated the ability to achieve unparalleled records of speed and accuracy.

Proliferation of Shorthand in Europe

16th Century Europeans saw shorthand as a way of spreading the word of God by preserving sermons.

In 18th Century England, the demand to read actual debates of Parliamentary sessions was triggered by slanted summary newspaper accounts.

The Industrial Revolution, of the late 19th Century, required stenographers to ease the paperwork.

By 1883 the shorthand population of Europe grew to 3,000.

Proliferation of Shorthand in America

America had few original shorthand inventors.  The growth of US shorthand systems consisted of adaptations of, and improvements to, European systems.

As the Industrial Revolution swept America, the business world had overwhelming need for clerical help.

By 1865 shorthand was seen in US courtrooms.  By 1873 the US Congress and Senate hired reporters.  And by 1882 there were more than 12,000 shorthand students.

Evolution of Shorthand Machines

View Pictorial History of Machines

The earliest known attempts to mechanize shorthand are 1827 (France), 1829 (Germany), and 1830 (Italy).

The  first practical reporting machine was invented in 1863 by Italy’s Antonio Michela-Zucco.

The first verbatim shorthand writing machine in America was the 1879 Stenograph, invented by Miles Bartholomew, which used codes of dashes.

In 1886 George Kerr Anderson invented the Anderson Shorthand Typewriter, which used alphabetic letters.

In 1911 Ward Stone Ireland forever defined the keyboard in the Ireland Stenotype.

Shorthand in the 21st Century

Using sophisticated shorthand machines, specially-designed computer software, and state-of-the-art wireless and internet technology, today’s skilled reporters can instantly produce text from speech and simultaneously transmit it across the room and around the world.

Depending upon the application, this is known as Realtime Reporting or CART Captioning (Closed Captioning/Communications Access Realtime Translation).