ON THIS DATE in 1867, shorthand creator John Robert Gregg was born. At eighteen in 1885, he introduced a shorthand system that used flowing loops and curves to represent letters and syllables. By 1937, 18 million people were using the Gregg system, and its creator foresaw an even rosier future. “I believe the day is in sight when shorthand will supplant the written word,” he told the Associated Press. “It will become the universal method of written and printed communication.”

Actually, the opposite has happened. In 1995, AP reported that “shorthand is nearing extinction.” Once an essential skill for secretaries and stenographers, shorthand has been largely replaced by mechanical stenography. But before technology reduced its importance, Gregg’s system thrived. Three years after creating his shorthand method he described it in a 28-page pamphlet titled Light-Line Phonography.

A resident of Ireland and then Scotland, Gregg moved to the U.S. in 1893 and vigorously promoted what became known as Gregg shorthand. The Associated Press in 1937 reported that Gregg had by then turned his initial capital of $50 into a million-dollar-a-year business.

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