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Oct 1, 2022
Manuscripts – The Harry G. Lang Collection on Early TTY History, 1947-1999
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
Lang, Harry G., 1947-
The Harry G. Lang Collection on Early TTY History, 1947-1999
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 201
Creator: Lang, Harry G., 1947-
Title: The Harry G. Lang Collection on Early TTY History, 1947-1999
Quantity: 5.5 linear feet (11 document cases)
Abstract: Collection of correspondence, news clippings, technical data, and other materials documenting the invention and first 15 years of the phone teletypewriter for the deaf.
Note: This document last updated March 2015.
Acquisition Information: Collected by Dr. Lang and donated to the Gallaudet University Archives in 2003. A significant portion of the papers was originally collected by Dr. James C. Marsters.
Processed By: Christopher Shea, March 2015.
Processing Note: Collector requested that files be kept in chronological order.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in the Archives:
This collection was assembled by Dr. Harry G. Lang (1947- ), a deaf mathematician, physicist, and biographer, while researching his 2000 book A Phone of Our Own: The Deaf Insurrection Against Ma Bell. Formerly a professor at NTID, Dr. Lang retired in 2011.
Lang’s book tells the story of the original creators of telephone communication for the deaf. The concept originated with Dr. James C. Marsters (1924-2009), a deaf orthodontist who thought that teletype machines could be used by the deaf to communicate. At that time, teletype machines (also known as teletypewriters or TTYs) required a special and expensive dedicated line, making them impractical for individuals.
In 1963, Marsters approached Dr. Robert Weitbrecht (1920-1983), a physicist and ham radio teletype (RTTY) enthusiast, to design an adapter that would allow TTYs to communicate over ordinary phone lines. Using old, discarded TTY machines, Weitbrecht was able to design an “acoustic coupler,” later known as a modem, and in 1964 Weitbrecht and Marsters made the first successful long-distance telephone call between deaf people using TTYs.
Weitbrecht and Marsters joined with deaf engineer Andrew Saks (1917-1989) to create Applied Communications Inc., or APCOM, which marketed Weitbrecht’s invention under the name Phonetype. Marsters was the primary booster of the device, traveling the country to promote the Phonetype and assisting deaf clubs and organizations in acquiring old TTY machines to adapt for telephone use.
Other significant figures in Dr. Lang’s book and this collection include:
With the help of groups such as TDI and similar local groups promoting the use of TTYs, Weitbrecht’s invention helped open a new world of communication to the deaf. This collection covers a period up to early 1980s and the introduction of relay services, which allowed TTY users to communicate with non-users.
Scope and Content
There is a small amount of Dr. Lang’s own correspondence included in this collection, mostly correspondence with other researchers, librarians, and archivists on research requests for the book. But the bulk of the material covers the mid-1960s through 1980 and was created by the subjects of Dr. Lang’s book, particularly Robert Weitbrecht, James C. Marsters, and Andrew Saks.
Most of the collection consists of business correspondence and printed tapes of TTY conversations. Early TTY machines printed each exchange on a continuous roll of paper; TTYs with electronic display screens were only starting to come into use in the 1980s. There is also a large amount of technical memoranda written by Weitbrecht, which includes information on the use, repair, and upgrading of the TTY machines and the acoustic coupler. In the late 1970s, this also includes information on the Phonetype V, an improved version of the original Phonetype created by Weitbrecht.
Also present is a variety of manuals and training instructions for the old teletype machines that were originally used for TTY calls, dating from the 1940s through early 1960s.
The collection includes a variety of news clippings, mostly articles from mainstream newspapers and magazines on how TTYs opened telephone service for the deaf. There is a small amount of advertising material (e.g. fliers, brochures, catalogs) for APCOM, Essco, and other TTY manufacturers. Also present are some TTY number directories and a limited amount of other materials produced by TDI and other groups founded to promote TTY use in the deaf community.
Of interest is correspondence covering Andrea Saks’ work promoting TTY use in Britain in the mid-1970s, including articles and correspondence on the first transatlantic TTY call in 1975. The collection also includes some material on the competition between APCOM and I. Lee Brody’s Essco, particularly on Weitbrecht’s claims that Essco was infringing his patents for the Phonetype.
This collection is not arranged by series. The collector requested that the papers be kept in chronological order, and the years can be found as follows. Within each year, the papers are arranged by document type.
Pre-1964 Box 1
1964-1966 Box 1
1967-1968 Box 2
1969 Boxes 2-4
1970 Boxes 4-5
1971 Boxes 5-6
1972 Boxes 6-7
1973 Boxes 7-8
1974 Boxes 8-9
1975-1976 Box 9
1977 Boxes 9-10
1978-1979 Box 10
1980-1999 and undated Box 11
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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