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 had a huge effect on the conduct of business, pre-internet.

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, aided by the new invention of the typrewriter.

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.

The invention of the typwriter, combined with the lower wages of the women who operated them, created a special aspect of commercial life - the typing pool. Here, ranks of women, in orderly straight lines, hammered away at typewriters all day (dreadful noise!), converting secretaries' Pitman into typed pages. These 'girls' harboured hopes of being plucked out of the typing pool, to serve as personal secretaries to the (male) managers - or to persuade one of them to make her his wife (or mistress).

This whole institution seems outrageous today, but was seen as perfectly normal, in its day. And it wasn't concern for the welfare of typists that closed the typing pool. It was the emergence of cheap, desktop PCs, which allowed managers to compose and print their own letters, that put typists out of a job.

(Luckily, many of them proved to be perfectly capable of doing those managerial jobs, as well as the men.)
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