History

The Braille Alphabet

Louis Simon Braille (1809 – 1852) was born in Coupvray, France, the fourth child and only son of Simon-René Braille, a saddle and horse tack maker, and his wife Monique.

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When Braille was three years old, he injured one of his eyes while playing with his father’s leather making tools. This resulted in both his eyes becoming infected, and by the time Braille was five, he was completely blind. Although there were few options for blind children his parents wanted Braille to be educated, first at the local village school then via a scholarship to attend the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris.

This was the first school of its kind to educate blind students using a combination of oral instruction and raised-print books developed by the school’s founder. Braille did well at his studies and became an accomplished musician. And the crude raised-print books gave Braille the idea that a tactile alphabet would allow blind people to read and write.

In 1821, a retired soldier named Charles Barbier visited the school to share his invention called sonography. This was a complicated code used by soldiers to write and decode messages at night, using a system of twelve raised dots, without having to use a light. The army decided the system was too complicated, however Barbier thought the system might assist blind people.

Braille and some of the other students recognised the possibilities of sonography and over the next three years Braille worked to develop a much simpler system using six dots lined up in two columns of three dots each.

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Braille became an apprentice teacher at the school when he was 19 and in 1837 the school published the first book in braille. However, the school did not adopt the system. Nonetheless, by 1850, when tuberculosis forced Louis Braille to retire from teaching, his six-dot method was on its way to widespread acceptance.

Louis Braille died of his illness on January 6, 1852, in Paris, at the age of 43. Today, in most languages, braille is the standard form of communication used by blind people.

“Access to communication in the widest sense is access to knowledge, and that is vitally important for us if we are not to go on being despised or patronised by condescending sighted people. We do not need pity, nor do we need to be reminded that we are vulnerable. We must be treated as equals – and communication is the way we can bring this about.” Louis Braille 1841.

See the EZiD braille label here.

The Blind Benefactor – Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer was an American newspaper editor and publisher who helped establish the design of contemporary newspapers. However, he is probably better known for posthumously establishing the Pulitzer Prizes (along with William Randolph Hearst). He is also one of the most historic figures to have detached retinas, which eventually lead to him becoming blind at the age of 42.

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Joseph Pulitzer, detail of a portrait by C. de Grimm from The Curio, November 1887.Copyright the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Joseph was born in Hungary then moved to Budapest with his family when his father retired. He tried to join the army at age 17 and was rejected because of his bad eyesight and frail health by the Austrian and British armies and the French Foreign Legion. He then moved to the United States in 1864 as a recruit for the Union Army in the American Civil War. After the war, he moved to New York then to St. Louis where he worked as a deckhand, a hack driver, a grave digger and briefly as a waiter.

His big break came when he joined a railroad company to record land entitlements. This led him to law school and he was admitted to the bar in 1868. He also became an American citizen in 1867. Pulitzer married Kate Davis in 1878 and they had seven children.

Pulitzer’s newspaper publishing efforts combined investigative journalism with publicity stunts which were very popular with his readers. He also introduced entertainment innovations such as comics, sports coverage and women’s fashion coverage into his newspapers which created the journalistic style that is still in use today.

In 1887 failing eyesight and his other illnesses forced Pulitzer to abandon the management of his newspapers. In 1890 he gave up his editorship of them as well however he continued to monitor their editorial policies.

Pulitzer died of heart failure in 1911 at the age of 64 and was buried in New York. in his will Pulitzer endowed the Columbia University School of Journalism which opened 1912. The school now oversees the Pulitzer Prize, an award given to those who excel in journalism, literature, and music. This has been awarded annually since 1917.

Joseph Pulitzer suffered from poor health and bad eyesight most of his life. His eyesight problems were caused by detached retinas in both his eyes. The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. When the retina detaches, it is lifted or pulled from its normal position, see diagram below. It is caused by inflammation, abnormal blood vessels, diseases such as diabetes or injury. If not promptly treated by surgery, retinal detachment can cause blindness.

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A Short History of Contact Lenses

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Some believe that the sketches made by the artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci about 1508 were intended to indicate contact lenses. He experimented by dissecting eyes and developing his own theories about eyes and how they work. His ideas were at odds with his peers when he correctly concluded that vision is a result of the eye receiving rays of light.  

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Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

In 1636 Frenchman René Descartes (1596 – 1650) arrived at the innovative idea of corneal lenses by placing a tube full of water over the cornea to correct a person’s vision. His idea was that this would theoretically lengthen the eye’s axis and therefore increase the size of the image. The practical problem with this idea was that the tube would have been too thick to allow blinking.

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Drawing by René Descartes

The first contact lenses to have been worn were invented by the German Ophthalmologist Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick (1852 – 1937) around 1888. Fick was one of the first to actually experiment with contact lenses. They were made from heavy brown glass and he tested them on rabbits first, then himself and a group of volunteers. Fick’s lens was large, unwieldy, and could only be worn for a couple of hours at a time.

The others experimenting with contact lenses at the same time were German glassblower F.A. Muller, an optician from Paris called Edouard Kalt, and August Müller (1864 – 1949), a medical student from Germany who corrected his own severe myopia with a more convenient glass-blown scleral contact lens of his own manufacture in 1888. However his lenses were difficult to fit, painful to wear, and the eye had to be anaesthetised before fitting the lens.

The lenses developed by these men were called Glass Scleral lenses as they were designed to cover the entire corneal surface and rest on the white, or sclera, of the eye. They were the standard form of contact lens until the invention of Perspex and Plexiglass in the 1930s. These plastics made it possible to produce lightweight, transparent contact lenses that were easy to manufacture, unbreakable and scratch resistant which quickly made glass contact lenses obsolete. However they were still scleral lenses covering the entire eye and could only be worn for a few hours per day.

The first “corneal” lenses were developed in 1948 by an English optical technician called Kevin Touhy. Apparently in the process of sanding down a plastic lens the lens broke leaving only the portion that covered the cornea intact. So he sanded off the sharp edges and fitted the lens to his own eye. He discovered that the lens still worked and stayed in place even if he blinked. His ‘invention’ was the forerunner of the lens technologies that exist today.

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by John Owens – john@ezidlabels.com   www.ezidlabels.com

Who are the real Three Blind Mice? – part 2

 

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EZiD’s version of the Three Blind Mice

The rhyme as we know it was published in 1842 by James Orchard Halliwell. Some years later (maybe around 1900) an illustrated children’s book by John W. Ivimey with the title The Complete Version of Ye Three Blind Mice was also published, here is the link to the book. And the famous words are:

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?

This version turns the mice into mischievous characters who seek adventure, eventually being taken in by a farmer whose wife chases them from the house and into a bramble bush, which blinds them. Soon after, their tails are removed by the farmers’ wife using a modern translation of lines from the original verse. The story ends with them using a tonic to grow new tails and recover their eyesight, learning a trade (making wood chips, according to one illustration in Ivimey’s book), buying a house and living happily ever after.

While the words to the rhyme have not been changed since Halliwell’s book was published, the tune has been used and adapted by a number of composers. Even James Bond has had an impact on the rhyme as the soundtrack for the 1962 film Dr. No features “Kingston Calypso”, a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice” with new lyrics that reference the three villainous characters in the film. And the Three Stooges used a jazz interpretation of Three Blind Mice as the theme song for their comedic short films.
The rhyme has even found its way into sport. Basketball and hockey have three referees and the term “Three Blind Mice” is sometimes used as a derogatory expression for their poor performance.

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John Owens – john@ezidlabels.com   www.ezidlabels.com

A Short History of Spectacles, Eyeglasses and Glasses

The Wikipedia definition is: “Glasses, also known as eyeglasses or spectacles, are devices consisting of lenses mounted in a frame that holds them in front of a person’s eyes.” The French called early versions pince-nez which literally means ‘pinch the nose.’ The term spectacles was the name given when arms were added to the lenses so that the ears could provide more comfortable support than a squashed nose. 

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The word spectacle may have been adapted from the Latin words specere (to look at) or spectare (to observe). The word glasses may have evolved from the word spyglass, the name often given to telescopes.

Magnifying glasses had been around for a very long time. However the relationship between the shape of a lens and its magnifying qualities was a more recent discovery. The scientist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher Ibn al-Haitham (965-1039) was the first to recognise the correlation between the curved surface of a semi-spherical lens and its powers of magnification when he published his seven volume thesis The Book of Optics.

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Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175-1253) the English statesman, scientist, theologian and philosopher became interested in experiments with magnifying lenses, and passed this interest onto his most famous pupil, Roger Bacon (1213 – 1292). Bacon made the first recorded reference to the magnifying properties of lenses in 1262. He was a young lecturer at Oxford University where he carried out experiments with lenses and mirrors. In 1268 he suggested that properly shaped lenses might assist people with low vison.

Glasses appeared first in Florence about 1280 and their use spread rapidly across Europe. Credit for the invention is usually given to a monk called Alessandro di Spina who died in the Italian city of Pisa in 1313. Salvino degli Armati, is also credited as having some involvement. Although I have read several accounts that suggest his involvement was a hoax.

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It took another three hundred years before anyone was able to explain why glasses actually worked. In 1604 the work of the German astronomer, mathematician and astrologer Johannes Kepler (1571 – 1630) was published. In the course of his astronomical investigations Keppler provided a correct explanation of vision and the functions of the pupil, cornea and retina.

In 1784 Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) invented bifocals. Benjamin suffered from both myopia (short-sightedness) and presbyopia (reduced ability with age to clearly focus on close objects). In his invention the two lens sections were held by the frame; the middle and lower portion of the lens having different focal lengths.

John Owens – November 2016  john@ezidlabels.com   www.ezidlabels.com

Who are the real Three Blind Mice? – part 1

Where they simply three hapless rodents who managed to upset a cranky farmer’s wife, were they the Oxford Martyrs or were they someone or something else?

The nursery rhyme we all know is not the original, the first version was supposedly published in 1609, together with accompanying music, by composer and author Thomas Ravenscroft. He was a teenager at the time and the name of the book was Deuteromelia or The Seconde part of Musicks melodie. The words in this version were:

Three Blinde Mice, three Blinde Mice,
Dame Iulian, Dame Iulian,
The Miller and his merry olde Wife,
she scrapte her tripe; licke thou the knife.
Three Blinde Mice, three Blinde Mice.

“Dame Iulian” is the Dame Julian also known as Julian of Norwich who lived from 1342 to 1416. She is best known for her book, Revelations of Divine Love (or Showings). No one seems to know why she is mentioned in the rhyme.

The historical speculation is that the music and words were written earlier and refer to Queen Mary I of England blinding and executing three Protestant bishops, known as the Oxford Martyrs. They were the Anglican Bishops, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although all three were burned at the stake for their religious beliefs and teachings, not blinded.

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This shows the burning of Bishop Latimer and Bishop Ridley on the 16th of October 1555 from a book by John Foxe. Bishop Cranmer was burnt five months later on 21 March 1556
However “blindness” could refer to the Bishop’s Protestant faith, a movement against what its followers considered to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church.

The work attributed to Thomas Ravenscroft was written a few years after Queen Mary had died, so maybe it was written about the beliefs of Julian of Norwich instead as she was mentioned in the original lyrics.

John Owens – November 2016 john@ezidlabels.com www.ezidlabels.com.au