Evolution of Shorthand Machines

Sketchy details exist about early attempts to invent shorthand machines and keyboards, and uncertainty surrounds whether only prototypes were constructed.

Early Attempts


1827 – Gonod (Clermont-Ferrand, France)
Designed a working model to produce signs on paper by which words might be represented with “fidelity, precision, with the speed of speech, and with perfect regularity in the writing.”

1829 – Baron Karl de Drais de Sauerbrun (Germany)

Invented a shorthand machine that punched holes in a paper strip.

1830 – Celestino Galli (Italy)

His Potenografo device contained two concentric circles of keys (one for consonants, one for vowels), one for each hand, and printed on a paper strip.

Machines were also designed by Italy’s Luigi Lamonica (1867) and Isidore Maggi (1871).  It is uncertain whether either was viable.

Fast Typewriters or Mechanized Shorthand?

As early practical fast-writing devices in the US were being created, several inventors believed they were simply creating faster ways of writing, and thus were uncertain whether their devices should be considered faster typewriters or shorthand machines.

First Shorthand Machine

The first practical shorthand machine was not invented in America.  The Michela machine has been used continuously in the Italian Senate since 1863.  Its theory was completely revamped in the 1970s when modifications to the keyboard were made.

The Important Three


The 1879 Stenograph Machine

Invented by Miles M. Bartholomew, this was the first practical English-language shorthand machine. It used combination of dashes as codes to form one letter at a time.  Speed was achieved by reducing each word to its phonetic minimum and eliminating most vowels.  Top writing speed was about 150 words per minute.

The 1886 Anderson Shorthand Typewriter

Invented by George Kerr Anderson, it was the first word-at-a-stroke shorthand machine.  It printed letters instead of codes and was capable of verbatim writing speeds.

The 1911 Ireland Stenotype Shorthand Machine

Ward Stone Ireland forever defined the keyboard with his 1911 Ireland Stenotype Shorthand Machine.  Ireland spent six years analyzing the arrangement of letters and sounds in the English language. creating a keyboard so remarkable that it is still the industry standard.   He applied Anderson’s chorded keyboard method to a two-row, tripartite key arrangement of initial consonants, final consonants, and middle vowels, allowing the greatest output with the fewest strokes.

View The Gallery of Shorthand’s comprehensive collection of machines here.