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  AFB Talking Book Exhibit

Letter from Robert B. Irwin, AFB Executive Director to Walter Clark at the RCA Victor Company suggesting they use a chapter from Helen Keller's book Midstream for a test recording, May 4, 1932.

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Early History
The Making of a Talking Book

In the late 1920s AFB approached commercial recording companies that were developing better methods of recording the spoken word. AFB wanted a commercial firm to manufacture books on records for blind individuals. However, it was unprofitable for commercial companies to produce such a small quantity of records. Therefore AFB decided to manufacture the records itself, although it had never initially intended to do so.

In 1932, as a result of funding from the Carnegie Corporation and a benefactor, Mrs. William H. Moore, AFB launched a two-year research program in sound recording for the express purpose of providing Talking Books and Talking Book machines to men and women with vision loss.

In that same year, AFB hired Jackson O. Kleber, a former electrical engineer at the recording laboratories of RCA Victor. Kleber's expertise was needed to solve two major obstacles in the path towards making Talking Books available. Could a record be manufactured that would be affordable to the average person who was blind? And if so, what material would produce records durable enough to be shipped repeatedly?

The outcome of this research and development effort was a 12-inch 33 1/3 rpm disc made out of a synthetic material called Vinylite. The disc was both durable and flexible and therefore suitable for transporting. It had many more grooves per inch than the traditional 78 rpm record and rotated at a far slower speed, allowing for larger amounts of material to be stored on a single side. Regarding the development of a "reproducer" as the Talking Book machines were called, AFB devised two — one electric, the other spring-driven. The former cost approximately thirty dollars and the latter, designed for those without access to electricity, cost twenty dollars.

Although commercial recording firms were not directly involved in the manufacture of records for blind individuals, their knowledge and technological expertise were invaluable to the production of Talking Books. RCA produced test recordings for AFB, including a chapter from Helen Keller's book Midstream (1932) and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (1933).


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Why Talking Books?
Two Men with a Vision
The Making of  a Talking Book


AFB Talking Book Galleries:
Early History
Early History
Partnerships
Partnerships
Helen Keller
Helen Keller
Operations Begin
Operations Begin
Technology
Technology
Narrators
Narrators

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75 Years of AFB and Talking Books

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