The Inventor of the New York Point System
for the Blind
From: IN MEMORIAM-William B. Wait;
for the Blind,
Autumn, 1916, Vol. X, No. 3, Pages 66-71
Bell Wait, educator and inventor, was born at Amsterdam, N.Y., March 25,
1839, son of Christopher Brown Wait, 1811-1886, and Betsy Grinnell (Bell)
Wait, 1800-1880. His first paternal American ancestor was Thomas Wait,
1601-1677, who came to this country from England, landed at Boston, Mass.,
in 1634, removed to Rhode Island five years later, where he received a
grant of land, and in 1641, was made a freeman at Newport, RI. From him
and his wife, the line of descent is traced to Christopher Brown Wait,
1780-1855, and his wife, Polly Van Buren, 1779-1841, who were the grandparents
of the subject of this sketch.
The subject of this sketch received his preliminary education at the
public schools of Albany, N. Y., at the Albany Academy and was graduated
from the Albany Normal College in 1859. The same year he became a teacher
in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, remaining two
years, with the exception of three months' service in the Seventy-first
Regiment, New York Volunteers, under the first call for troops, at the
beginning, of the Civil War. Subsequently he studied law in the office
of Tremain and Peckham in Albany and was admitted to the bar in 1863.
In 1863, while acting as first superintendent of the Schools of the City
of Kingston, N. Y., a vacancy occurred in the office of Principal of the
Institute above named, and in October of that year, he was appointed to
fill the place which he retained until March, 1905, when he was appointed
Emeritus Principal, which position he held until his death in 1916. Through
the efforts of Samuel Ackerly and Samuel Wood, this Institute was founded
in 1831, for the education of blind children. From the inauguration of
the great work of educating the blind in 1784, by Valentin Hauy, to the
present time, the subject of embossed writing and printing as applied
to literature and music, has occupied a most important position. The first
book in raised letters was published by Valentin Hauy in Paris, 1784-86.
Script letters were made in relief slightly raised above the surface of
Mr. Wait became an earnest advocate of his points as the true basis
of tangible printing and writing. He concluded that the number of points
to be assigned to represent sounds or letters, should be governed by the
relative frequency of the sounds or letters respectively as they occurred
in general use. In applying the principle to the vertical rectangle of
six points, it became apparent that while a small economy in the number
of points might be secured, still no saving of space was affected inasmuch
as the type body used for a letter of one point must be as large vertically
as that containing six points.
This led Mr. Wait to adopt four base forms, the type bodies having two
points vertically and one, two, three and four horizontally, as here shown:
: : : : : : : : : : . After much experiment he devised the New York Point
System comprising twenty-six capitals, twenty-six small letters, numerals,
punctuation marks and short forms for diphthongs, triphthongs, syllables
and for words and parts of words in common use.
This he followed by the development of a system of tangible musical
notation, which was brought out by Mr. Wait in 1872. It received the approval
of the American Association of Instructors of the Blind, and wide recognition
throughout the United States. The structure of the System he sets forth
in "A System of Tangible Musical Notation and Point Writing and Printing
for the Use of the Blind."
In 1894, after three years of effort, Mr. Wait invented the Kleidograph,
a machine for embossing the New York Point system on paper, a practical
typewriter for the blind now in general use.
Later he invented the Stereograph, a machine for embossing metal plates,
to be used in printing books for the blind. The inventions were so highly
esteemed that in 1900 the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia awarded to
Mr. Wait the John Scott Medal inscribed "To the Most Deserving."
advances he took up the problem of embossing the New York Point
system on both sides of the leaf, instead of on one side, as had
hitherto been the general practice in printing embossed books (in
N. Y. Point), and, after a long period of experiment, he produced
a printing press of entirely novel construction by which the desired
object of two-side printing for embossed plates was fully attained.
NYISE has a website
on the various writing machines used at the school including
He has also devised and patented an improved method of binding whereby
the weight of books and cost of materials and labor are much reduced,
and the durability and life of embossed books greatly increased. By these
improved methods more than fifty percent is saved in the cost of embossed
Mr. Wait is the author of "The Normal Course of Piano Technique" (1887)
and "Harmonic Notation" (1888), both of which were prepared with special
reference to the instruction of the blind, but which are entirely applicable
in the instruction of others. He has published many pamphlets on subjects
relative to the education of the blind. Of these probably none were more
valuable in this line of literature than his three latest: Phases of Punctography
(1913), The Uniform Type Question (1915), New Aspects of the Uniform Type
Folly (1916). The last work of Mr. Wait was the adaptation of his point
system to more than twenty different languages, including Hebrew, Arabic,
Japanese and Chinese.
was one of the founders of the American Association of Instructors of
the Blind, in 1871, and for, about forty years took a leading part in
its affairs. He was one of the organizers of the Society for providing
Evangelical Religious Literature for the Blind, in 1874, and until his
death was one of its most active supporters.
In 1879, he was one of a committee of five who secured from the Congress
of United States the grant of $10,000 annually for the publication of
embossed books for the blind. Mr. Wait had charge of the bill when it
was pending in the Senate and his brief but cogent argument before the
Committee on Education was adopted by that body as its report in recommending
the passage of the measure.
Mr. Wait was a member of the New York Bar; the New York Geographical
Society; the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia and of the Sons of the
Revolution. In religion he was a Baptist, and in politics an Independent.
He was an ardent advocate of Equal Franchise for Women, and believed in
State and National Prohibition and universal Free Trade.
He was a man who, having carefully weighed the right and wrong of every
question coming before him, determined upon his course and with untiring
and unflinching energy went forward unmindful of all opposition.
This characteristic was bound to give him the unqualified success which
ever met his efforts. Toward his friends he bestowed unlimited generosity
and brotherly kindness; and toward those who honestly differed from him
he was ever tolerant.
On December 5, 1894, the Board of Managers of the New York Institute
for the Education of the Blind unanimously adopted, the following:
"The Managers of this Institute desire to express and to record their
appreciation of the character of Mr. William B. Wait, and of the brilliant
work done by him for the benefit of the blind. He has been for thirty-four
years a teacher in and Superintendent of this Institute, and during all
that time his interest, zeal and industry have been unflagging and his
unselfishness most pronounced."
"The New York Point print devised by him some years ago marked a great
advance in processes for the use and education of the blind. Had he desired
to have the system known by his own name it would have been only natural,
but he called it the New York Point." "His recent inventions, the Kleidograph
and the Stereograph, promise great usefulness. He alone has produced them
but he transfers all his proprietary rights to this Institute to be used
for the blind, here and elsewhere, without one penny of pecuniary advantage
to himself and the name of the Institute and not that of William B. Wait
will appear upon the instruments."
modesty, skill, unselfishness and devotion to duty are rare, and not to
be had for price in the market place. This Board hereby tenders to Mr.
Wait its thanks for the very great benefit which he has bestowed upon
the unfortunate class to whose service he has chosen to devote his life;
and places this Minute upon the records of the Institute as a mark of
respect and esteem for him as a man, an educator, and a philanthropist."
Note: Mr. Wait married Phebe Jane Babcock M. D on October 27, 1863 in Hopkinton, Washington Co., Rhode Island.
Note: Mr. Wait was very passionate in his belief that New York Point was a better code for writing that the Braille used in his time. He fought to maintain what would of been his historical legacy and contribution to the field of the education of the blind. In 1916, in what was probably his last publication's title sums up his feelings as it relates to the United States adopting Braille:
"New aspects of the uniform type folly: an analysis of the scheme to destroy New York point, American Braille, Roman line and Moon type, together with their vast accumulated resources of every kind; secure the adoption of British Braille; and create a type trust under the control of an International committee composed of only English-speaking members, with headquarters in a foreigh country".
Google Books has scanned several of the publications of NYI written by Mr. Wait. Our archives has many of these and other original documents on New York Point code. These are a few of the items available through Google Books.
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