Research Spotlight – Sir Isaac Pitman

Sir Isaac Pitman (4 January 1813 – 22 January 1897) was a teacher of the English language who developed the most widely used system of shorthand, known now as Pitman shorthand. He first proposed this in Stenographic Soundhand in 1837. He was also the vice-president of the Vegetarian Society.

Pitman was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1894. Pitman was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire in England. In 1831 he had five months’ training at the Training College of the British and Foreign School Society, which was sufficient to qualify him as a teacher. He started teaching at Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. In 1835 he married a widow, and moved in 1836 to Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, where he started his own school. In 1839 he moved to Bath, where he opened a small school. Pitman was a lifelong advocate of spelling reform for the English language, this led to the creation of his system of phonetic shorthand which he first published in 1837, in a pamphlet titled Sound-Hand.

By 1843 his business of preparing and publishing had expanded sufficiently for him to give up teaching and to set up his own printing press, as well as compositing and binding. In 1844 he published Phonotypy, his major work on spelling reform. In 1845 he published the first version of the English Phonotypic Alphabet. At one time, Pitman was the most commonly used shorthand system in the entire English-speaking world. Part of its popularity was due to the fact that it was the first subject taught by correspondence course.

Example of Pitman Shorthand


Copy of Shorthand Instructors book
Research Spotlight
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