The Dictaphone's earliest development occurred 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.
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.
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 Japan, JVC was licenced 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 recording medium did not need to be moved from where the dictation took place to the location such as a typing pool where the typists were located. This was normally operated via a dedicated in house telephone system enabling dictation to be made from a variety of locations within the hospital or other organizations with typing pools. One version calculated each typists' turnaround time and allocated the next piece of dictation accordingly.
Dictaphone was prominent in the provision of 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. In 1995, Pitney Bowes sold Dictaphone to the investment group Stonington Partners of Connecticut for a reported $462 million. 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. 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.
- 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 voice logging and radios for use by public-safety organizations and 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 and came after NICE was ordered to pay Dictaphone $10 million in settlements related to a patent infringement suit in late 2003.
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.
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.
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