Frank Haven Hall

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Frank Haven Hall
Born 9 February 1841
Mechanic Falls, Maine, USA
Died 1911 (aged 70)
Aurora, Illinois, USA
Nationality American Flag of the United States.svg
Occupation Primary school administrator
Known for Inventor of the first successful mechanical point writer: Hall Braille Writer

Frank Haven Hall, (9 February 1841 – 1911) was the superintendent of the Illinois Institution for the Blind [1] and inventor of the first successful mechanical point writer. Known as the Hall Braille Writer, it revolutionized Braille communication by dramatically speeding up the rate by which one could produce Braille characters. He was also an author, soldier, politician, and businessman.[2][3][4]


Hall was born in Mechanic Falls, Maine (9 February 1841). He married Sybil Hall and with her had three children. During the American Civil War Hall served in the Union Army's Twenty-Third Maine Volunteers, as a hospital steward at Edward's Ferry. After the service, Hall attended Bates College for a short time, and graduated in 1862 from the Seminary (by which the college was known until 1863).[5][4]

He began teaching primary school in 1864. Two years later he moved his family from Maine to Earlville, Illinois so Hall could advance his career in school administration. While working for the Sugar Grove public schools, Hall owned and ran a general store, a lumberyard, a creamery, and held the political offices of postmaster, township treasurer, and clerk. Hall and his wife also remained active in their local church until his death.[6]

In the spring of 1910 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lungs and diabetes. He died the following January.[4] Hall's final resting place is in Aurora, Illinois (1911).[7]

School administrator and educator[edit]

Hall's first school administration post was as principal of Towle Academy in Maine. In 1866 he moved to Illinois, where he served as principal and teacher at public schools in Earlville, Aurora, Sugar Grove, Petersburg, Jacksonville and Waukegan. Hall spent a few years in Earlville before moving to Aurora. After seven successful years in Aurora, he was asked to head the Sugar Grove Industrial School, a work-and-learn agricultural school nearby. Hall spent twelve years as head of the school. From his work around Aurora and Sugar Grove he learned the value of experiential learning and began to lecture at teachers' institutes around the country, challenging the "learning by rote" forms of education dominant at the time. For a short time he became superintendent of schools in Petersburg, Menard County before moving back to Aurora.[4]

Hall's most distinguished post began in 1890 as superintendent of the School for the Blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, despite his lack of training or experience with education for the blind.[7] He was a quick study, visiting several schools for the blind on the east coast, and quickly decided that blind students required vocational and experiential learning much the same as any student.[4] Hall's work led him to advocacy, most importantly persuading Chicago school administrators to create the first public school day class for blind students in 1900. This created an alternative to segregated boarding schools for the blind.

A political power shift in Illinois from the Republican party to the Democratic party caused Hall to lose his post. From 1893 to 1897, during the governorship of Democrat John Peter Altgeld, Hall served as superintendent of the Waukegan schools. When the Republicans returned to power in 1897, Hall was reappointed to his post at the School for the Blind. He remained at the school until 1902.[4]

In the last ten years of Hull's life he served as superintendent of the Farmers' Institute of Illinois, where he became an advocate for agricultural education.[8]

In addition to Hall's work as a school administrator, he published several textbooks on mathematics. He served as the official Illinois state delegate to the Farmers' National Congress (1908) and the National Farm Land Congress (1909), and was a member of the National Conservation Commission.[4]

Hull's legacy is honored through the names of a few Illinois area schools. The main administrative building at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired is named the Frank Haven Hall Building.[9] Also, in the West Auroral School District 129, where Hull served as Superintendent, the Hall Elementary School is named for him.[7]

Artist Rudulph Evans commissioned a sculpture of Hull's likeness in 1912. It stood for many years at Hull Elementary, and is now on permanent loan to the Smithsonian Institution.[10]


On May 27, 1892, while working as superintendent for the Illinois Institution for the Blind, Hall unveiled the Hall Braille Writer. The typewriter is recognized as the first successful mechanical point writer. Modeled on typewriters of the time, his invention revolutionized Braille communication.[2] Prior to his invention, Braille was not widely taught by teachers of the blind,[7] because teaching Braille involved writing boards on which a student had to push one or more of six Braille character points in reverse.[11] The Hall Braille Writer, along with Hall's advocacy, helped make Braille the dominant form of written communication for the blind. He never patented the machine because he thought profit would sully his work with the blind.[3][4] The Hall Braille Writer was manufactured by the Harrison & Seifried company in Chicago, Illinois.[12] It was manufactured for 10 dollars and sold for 11 dollars.[11] Distribution of the machine has been found in library collections as far away as Australia and China.[4]

Hall invented several other tools used for Braille communication, most notably a stereotyper used to make typeset plates for printing Braille books. He unveiled this device at the Chicago World Fair.[3] Other inventions include an early electric clock and co-invention of the stereo typewriter.[2] A Jacksonville gunmaker named Gustav A. Sieber often helped Hull with the engineering of his inventions.[4]

Meeting Helen Keller[edit]

In the book Devil in the White City, Erick Larson retells the emotional story of Hall meeting Helen Keller at the Chicago World Fair (1893). Hall had a booth at the fair displaying his latest invention, a stereotyper. According to Larson, when Helen Keller learned that Hall was the inventor of the Braille typewriter she used, she hugged and kissed him. Larson added that retelling the story always brought Hall to tears.[3][4]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ Illinois Institution for the Blind
  2. ^ a b c Anonymous (24 April 2011). "Hall Braille Writer". American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d Larson, Erik. A Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. p. 291 (Adobe epub book). 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hendrickson, Walter B. (1956). "The Three Lives of Frank H. Hall" (PDF). Journal of Illinois State Historical Society (University of Illinois Press) 49 (3). 
  5. ^ Maine State Seminary Catalog, 1856-1863
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d Anonymous (n.d.). "About Our Schools: Hall". West Aurora School District 129. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  8. ^ Reynolds, Cecil R.; Fletcher-Janzen, Elaine, eds. (2002). Concise Encyclopedia of Special Education: A Reference for the Education of the Handicapped and Other Exceptional Children and Adults. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 452. 
  9. ^ Anonymous (n.d.). "ISVI Campus Tour". Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  10. ^ Anonymous (n.d.). "Frank Haven Hall (1841-1911), (sculpture)". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  11. ^ a b Wim Van Rompuy (n.d.). "Hall Braille Writer". Retrieved 29 February 2012. 
  12. ^ Anonymous (n.d.). "Zoom Inventors and Inventions:Communication-Related Inventors and Inventions". Retrieved 29 February 2012.