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Title: Dictaphone  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Volta Laboratory and Bureau, Phonograph cylinder, Audio typist, IHS, Dictation
Collection: 1907 Introductions, Audio Storage, Office Equipment, Sound Recording Technology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Dictaphone wax cylinder dictation machine
Dictaphone on display in a museum

Dictaphone was an American company founded by Alexander Graham Bell that produced dictation machines. It is now a division of Nuance Communications based in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Although the name "Dictaphone" is a trademark, it has become genericized as a means to refer to any dictation machine.


The at the Volta Laboratory established by Alexander Graham Bell in Washington, D.C. in 1881. When the Laboratory's sound recording inventions were sufficiently developed, Bell and his associates created the Volta Graphophone Company, which later merged with the American Graphophone Company, which itself later evolved into Columbia Records.[1]

The name "Dictaphone" was trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907, which soon became the leading manufacturer of such devices. This perpetuated the use of wax cylinders for voice recording, which had otherwise been eclipsed by disc-based technology. Dictaphone was spun off into a separate company in 1923 under the leadership of C. King Woodbridge.[2]

In 1947, having relied on wax-cylinder recording to the end of World War II, Dictaphone introduced their Dictabelt technology. This cut a mechanical groove into a Lexan plastic belt instead of a wax cylinder. The advantage of the Lexan belt was that recordings were permanent and admissible in court. Eventually IBM introduced a dictating machine using an erasable belt made of magnetic tape which enabled the user to correct dictation errors rather than marking errors on a paper tab. Dictaphone in turn added magnetic recording models while still selling the models recording on the Lexan belts. Machines based on magnetic tape recording were introduced in the late seventies, initially using the standard compact (or "C") cassette, but soon, in dictation machines, using mini-cassettes or microcassettes instead. The size of the cassette was important as it enabled the manufacturer to reduce the size of portable recorders.

In 1952 Walter D. Fuller became the director of the company.[3] In 1969 he was appointed as chairman.[4]

In Japan, JVC was licensed to produce machines designed and developed by Dictaphone. Dictaphone and JVC later developed the picocassette, released in 1985, which was even smaller than a microcassette but retained a good recording quality and duration.

Dictaphone also developed "endless loop" recording using magnetic tape, introduced in the mid-seventies as the "Thought Tank". As the multi-channel recorders, used extensively in the emergency services to record emergency telephone calls (to numbers such as 911, 999, 112) and subsequent conversations. In the 1980s, these recorders also started to be used in the financial industry to record conversations in dealing rooms. The recordings were made on reel-to-reel tape and could be located and replayed by date and time. By the late 1980s, digital recording began to be offered as an alternative and soon became the medium of choice.

Additionally, Dictaphone at one point expanded their product line to market a line of electronic (desktop and portable) calculators.

In 1979, Dictaphone was purchased by Pitney Bowes and kept as a wholly owned but independent subsidiary.

Dictaphone bought Dual Display Word Processor, a competitor to Wang Laboratories, the industry leader.

In 1982 they marketed a word processor from Symantec. The hardware sold for $5,950 in 1982. The software was an additional $600.[5] The advent of the personal computer, MS-DOS, and general-purpose word-processing software saw the demise of the dedicated word-processor, and the division was closed.

In 1995, Pitney Bowes sold Dictaphone to the investment group Stonington Partners of Connecticut for a reported $462 million.[6] Dictaphone thereafter sold a range of products that included speech recognition and voicemail software.

In 2000, Dictaphone was acquired by the then-leading Belgian voice-recognition and translation company Lernout & Hauspie for nearly $1 billion. Lernout & Hauspie provided the voice-recognition technology for Dictaphone's enhanced voice recognition-based transcription system.[7] Soon after the purchase, however, the SEC raised questions about Lernout & Hauspie’s finances, focusing on the supposedly skyrocketing income reported from its East Asian endeavors. Subsequently, the company and all its subsidiaries, including Dictaphone, were forced into bankruptcy protection.[8]

In early 2002, Dictaphone emerged from bankruptcy as a chairman and CEO.[9][10] In 2004, it was split into three divisions:

  • IHS, focusing on dictation for the healthcare and medical industries;
  • IVS, focusing on dictation in law offices and police stations;
  • CRS (Communications Recording Solutions), focusing on quality monitoring by call centers.

In June 2005, Dictaphone sold its Communications Recording Solutions to NICE Systems for $38.5 million. This was considered a great bargain in the industry[11] and came after NICE was ordered to pay Dictaphone $10 million in settlements related to a patent infringement suit in late 2003.[12][13]

In September 2005, Dictaphone sold its IVS business outside the United States to a private Swiss group, who formed Dictaphone IVS AG (later Calison AG) in Urdorf, Switzerland and developed "FRISBEE", the first hardware-independent dictation-management software system with integrated speech recognition and workflow management. In 2008, iSpeech AG took over the activities and products of the former Calison AG.

In February and March 2006, the remainder of Dictaphone was sold for $357 million to Nuance Communications (formerly ScanSoft), ending its short tenure as an independent company that had begun in 2002. This, in effect, closed a circle of events, as Dictaphone had been sold to Lernout & Hauspie prior to L&H's bankruptcy which resulted in Dictaphone becoming an independent company.[14]

In March 2007, Nuance acquired Focus Informatics and, with the intention of further expansion in its healthcare transcription business, linked it with its Dictaphone division.[15]


  1. ^ Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8014-9691-8.
  2. ^ "Dictaphone". Online Etymolgy Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  3. ^ "Dictaphone Corporation Elects a New Director".  
  4. ^ "Dictaphone Corporation Promotes Executive".  
  5. ^ "Dictaphone".  
  6. ^ "Pitney Bowes Selling Dictaphone". 
  7. ^ "Dictaphone Corporation acquisition offers L&H resources to establish stronghold in health care solutions". 
  8. ^ "Around-The-Globe: L&H Files Chapter 11". 
  9. ^ "Dictaphone emerges from bankruptcy". 
  10. ^ "Dictaphone Announces Confirmation of Chapter 11 Plan of Reorganization; Expected to Emerge as Independent Company by End of Month.". 
  11. ^ "Dictaphone Selling Call Recording Business To Nice Systems". 
  12. ^ "NICE Systems and Dictaphone Corporation Settle Patent Litigation". 
  13. ^ "Settlement Agreement with Dictaphone". 
  14. ^ "Speech vendor Nuance buys Dictaphone". 
  15. ^ "Nuance Closes Acquisition of Focus Infomatics". 

External links

  • Official website
  • Photos of early 20th century Dictaphone & Ediphone equipment on
  • L&H buys Dictaphone for close to $1billion
  • NICE acquires Dictaphone unit for $38.5mln in cash
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