TOWARDS TWILIGHT

Sir Issac Pitman

from a few minor, local celebrities, Trowbridge has few famous figures. The one major exception is Sir Isaac Pitman, born here in 1813.

In 1837, Pitman published his "Stenographic Shorthand", later known as "Phonography", finally known, simply, as Pitman's shorthand. It wasn't the only system of shorthand on offer in the nineteenth century, but it was quickly perceived as the best.

Pitman's shorthand was the word processor of the nineteenth century - and most of the twentieth as well. Indeed, it probably had more effect on the conduct of business than the entire IT explosion has had so far.

In mill offices, lawyers' chambers, government departments, military establishments - a boss could deal with his correspondence at speed, and then have his words rendered accurately into immaculate copperplate by his secretary. Previously, the boss would have to deal with correspondence himself, or trust his secretary to compose appropriate letters.

Of course, for many decades, these shorthand secretaries were male. It wasn't until the First World War that women began to take on these jobs.

It could be argued that shorthand allowed executives to produce a lot more words than were strictly necessary, but it's doubtful whether late-nineteenth century prosperity could have been achieved without it.

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