Isaac Pitman

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Sir Isaac Pitman
Isaac Pitman.jpg
Born (1813-01-04)4 January 1813
Died 22 January 1897(1897-01-22) (aged 84)
Nationality England
Known for Pitman shorthand
Religion Christian
Children Ernest Pitman, Alfred Pitman
Memorial plaque of Isaac Pitman in Bath Abbey
Stamp issued to mark the centenary of Pitman's birth.

Sir Isaac Pitman (4 January 1813 – 22 January 1897),[1] was an English teacher who developed the most widely used system of shorthand, known now as Pitman shorthand. He first proposed this in Stenographic Soundhand in 1837. Pitman was a qualified teacher and taught at a private school he founded in Wotton-under-Edge - The British School, Wotton-under-Edge. He was also the vice president of the Vegetarian Society. Pitman was knighted in 1894.


Pitman was born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire in England. One of his cousins was Abraham Laverton. In the 1851 census he appears in Bath aged 38, living with his wife, Mary, aged 58, born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. He married Isabella Masters in 1861, and he appears in the 1871 census, aged 58, with his new wife Isabella, aged 46.

Spelling reform and shorthand[edit]

Isaac Pitman was a lifelong advocate of spelling reform for the English language, producing many pamphlets during his lifetime on spelling reform. His motto was 'time saved is life gained'.[2]

One of the outcomes of his interest in spelling reform was the creation of his system of phonetic shorthand which he first published in 1837, in a pamphlet entitled Sound-Hand. Among the examples in this pamphlet, were the Psalm 100, the Lord's Prayer, and Swedenborg's Rules of Life. In 1844 he published Phonotypy, his major work on spelling reform. In 1845 he published the first version of the English Phonotypic Alphabet. In the 1881 census his name is spelt phonetically as Eisak Pitman. In the 1891 census he is again listed as Isaac, but his birthplace has moved to Bath.

Personal life[edit]

Isaac Pitman was fervently Swedenborgian. Not only did he read The Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg daily, he also devoted much time and energy to educating the world about them. He published and distributed books and tracts by and about Swedenborg. Among the authors he encouraged was Thomas Child.[3]

Pitman was active in the local New Church congregation in Bath while living on Royal Crescent.[4] He was one of the founding members, when this congregation was formed in 1841. He served as president of this society from 1887 to his death in 1897. His contribution to this church was honoured by the congregation with a stained glass window depicting the golden cherub in the temple of wisdom described in Swedenborg's True Christian Religion No. 508.[5] The window was dedicated on 5 September 1909.

His memorial plaque on the north wall of Bath Abbey reads, "His aims were steadfast, his mind original, his work prodigious, the achievement world-wide. His life was ordered in service to God and duty to man."

In about 1837 Pitman discontinued the use of all alcoholic beverages, and in about 1838 he became a vegetarian – both lifelong practices to which, in a famous[citation needed] letter to The Times (London), he attributed his lifelong excellent health and his ability to work long hours.

Isaac Pitman is the grandfather of Sir James Pitman, who developed the Initial Teaching Alphabet.

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ "Pitman, Sir Isaac (1813–1897)" by Tony D. Triggs in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, online edition. Retrieved 12 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Anniversaries of 2013". Daily Telegraph. 28 December 2012. 
  3. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Child, Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement​ 1. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  4. ^ Lowndes, William (1981). The Royal Crescent in Bath. Redcliffe Press. ISBN 978-0-905459-34-9. 
  5. ^ Bath Herrold, 6 September 1909
  • Pitman, Sir Isaac (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 12 February 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online