The manufacture of machines began in December 1935 at the WPA's workshop at 475 Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. AFB
manufactured and distributed Talking Book machines under a WPA contract on behalf of the Library of Congress
until June 1942. At a time of soaring unemployment, AFB's Talking Book program succeeded in securing jobs for people with vision loss.
This was in large measure due to the determination of AFB's Executive Director, Robert B. Irwin, who
constantly cajoled and solicited the WPA to retain workers who were disabled. In January 1937, Robert B.
Irwin wrote the following in a report about the Talking Book program:
If Portia could step from Shakespeare's pages into the Works Progress Administration's workshop at 475 Tenth Avenue, New
York City, which makes the electric reading machines for the Talking Books for the blind, she would discover that more than
the quality of mercy was twice-blessed. She would find there forty sightless citizens, taken off relief, busily and happily
employed along with 160 sighted workers, in the manufacture of these special phonographs, devised to bring a new interest and
a new zest to the lives of their fellow blind throughout the country. The employment gives these blind workers both
self-respect and a sense of independence; the machines they make open up to the nation's needy blind the inspiration and the
entertainment of over a hundred worthwhile books ...
Irwin continues to explain how workers who are blind came to be employed in assembling machines:
... One part of the assembly work called for adjustment of a diminutive screw. This could be done only by hand. One man after another felt sure that he could do it, and yet one man after another found his fingers all thumbs when he tired to manipulate the tiny part. It then occured to Mr. Kleber ... that many who are without sight come to develop an unusual sense of touch. He called in a blind man from the relief rolls, and - "Presto!" - the sensitive fingers went at once to work ...
This page includes an audio clip from the first Talking Book Topic audio recording in March 1939.