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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Key Dates

1877 Thomas A. Edison discovers a way to record sound on cylinders made out of tin foil.
1904 Free mailing privileges are provided to libraries mailing brailled materials to blind persons.
1921 The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is founded.
1924 Robert B. Irwin, AFB Executive Director, writes to George F. Meyer at the Board of Education, Minneapolis, Minnesota about the news of a new phonograph patent.
1926 A patent is taken out by inventor Frank L. Dyer for an improved phonograph disc.
1931 The Pratt-Smoot Act takes effect. This law mandates that literature in braille be provided to adults who are blind through designated libraries nationwide.
  An annual appropriation of $100,000 is given to the Library of Congress to establish a Division for the Blind.
1932 The Carnegie Corporation and Mrs. William H. Moore, a private benefactor, provide funding to AFB for a two-year research program in sound recording.
  AFB begins work on sound recordings for the blind in cooperation with organizations including RCA Victor. First test recordings include the book Midstream by Helen Keller and the poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.
1933 Pratt-Smoot law amended to set aside $10,000 for Talking Books out of the $100,000 budgeted for the Library of Congress Books for the Blind program.
1934 The Library of Congress receives its first shipment of Talking Books from AFB. Titles include the Book of Psalms and the Declaration of Independence.
  The Authors' League of America and the National Association of Book Publishers grant permission to use authors' works without royalty fees as long as the records are sold to non-profit organizations for the sole use of the blind.
  The cornerstone of a new AFB headquarters at 15 West 16th Street is laid and items are sealed into the building. Among these items is a recording called Earview from 1934, which contains the voices of several AFB officials and Talking Book readers who discuss life in New York City in the 1930s.
1935 Congress authorizes the first annual appropriation of $75,000 for sound reproduction recordings.
  President Franklin D. Roosevelt creates the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
  Roosevelt signs an executive order transferring $211,500 to the Library of Congress through the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act for construction of 5,000 Talking Book Machines for the Blind as a WPA project.
  The manufacture of Talking Book machines begins at a WPA workshop in NYC. It is managed by AFB.
  AFB and the American Printing House for the Blind in Kentucky share knowledge and equipment to make Talking Book records.
  AFB publishes the first issue of Talking Books Bulletin, later changed to Talking Book Topics. This continues until 1974 when the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped assumes editorial control.
1939 Non profit organizations whose activities are primarily concerned with serving individuals who are blind, are given preference over commercial companies to manufacture Talking Books.
1940 AFB decides to do its own manufacturing; approximately one year later, a plating and pressing plant is installed in the basement of AFB's headquarters.
1948 AFB ceases to manufacture Talking Book machines and continues to record and manufacture Talking Book records.
  Peter Goldmark at Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) introduces the 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm LP record to the general public.
1950 Research is undertaken to manufacture Talking Books on tape.
1952 The word "adult" is struck from the law providing books to the blind; as a result, children with visual impairments are now eligible for Talking Books and braille book service.
1953 Contract signed between the Library of Congress and AFB's new Department of Technical Research and Development to continue research on Talking Book machines and records.
1959 Library of Congress records books on open-reel magnetic tape as well as on records.
1962 Pratt-Smoot Act amended to include "a library of musical scores, instructional texts, and other specialized materials."
1963 All record-format Talking Books produced on 10" discs at 16 2/3 rpm.
1966 Library Services and Construction Act provides funds for state library agencies to "establish or improve services for physically handicapped persons, including blind or visually handicapped individuals."
  U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs a bill amending Pratt-Smoot Act to extend service to physically handicapped persons who cannot use conventional printed material.
1969 The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped distributes cassette tapes and tape players throughout the regional library system.
1972 Recording studio opens at the Library of Congress.
1978 The Division for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is renamed the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
1987 Last rigid disc book produced.
1997 National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and other blindness organizations meet to discuss a standard for digital Talking Books.
2000 AFB begins digital recordings of non-National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped titles.
2002 Standard for Digital Talking Books (DTBs) is approved.
2003 AFB begins producing all its Talking Books digitally for the Library of Congress.

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The Unseen MinorityA Social History of Blindness in the United States

The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness

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