05 February 2012

The Foundation Brailler by L. C. Smith & Corona

EDIT 2013-08-21: New Post on this Brailler with photos!

This blog post contains the text of the brief history of Braille and the Foundation Brailler made by L. C. Smith & Corona, then a video of me using and a scan of its output.

Braillers are the typewriters used to type Braille. Braille is, in the traditional form, a two by three matrix of dots. There is a pattern to them, but in general, the pattern does not resemble what they mean. As a writing system, it can replace the alphabet and be used to emboss text in Braille, although things such as capital letters and numbers and a few other things require a mark before that character. As a tactile method of reading, the Braille cell itself cannot easily be altered, such as making the dots bigger for bold text, or making them taller for capital letters. They have to keep they basic two by three array in the same size with the same spacing otherwise it would be hard to feel.

The original system was taller, and used for night reading and invented by a Frenchman named Charles Barbier for the military. One had to feel down each cell to get the full cell. It did not catch on as it was very difficult to use (especially by sighted soldiers). That system was brought to the National Institute for the Blind in Paris France. Louis Braille altered it to be better suited for general use for reading French. The original night reading system was rather complicated and a military code more than anything. The revised system was a complete tactile writing system.

As a writing system, it is as simple as the alphabet as written. But printing it is harder. It has to be embossed. The simplest manner of doing this is to do it manually with a stylus. A guide with holes in it for each cell is placed over the paper and one presses the stylus into the slots. Since one is printing it from behind, it must be written backwards. This is a slow method of writing, but it works. Ideally though, some sort of device would be used to emboss. These devices are Braillers.

Modern manual Braillers use a chorded keyboard. That is, one presses a bunch of keys at once (one key for each of the dots) and then the system advances after they are released. There are more accessible Braillers made for those with limited mobility, one hand, etc of course, but this six key chorded keyboard with a space bar is the QWERTY of the Brailler world. I am slow at it and I have not practiced Braille much yet. But, I have two Braillers. One is a Perkins Brailler in functional condition except for the backspace which does not always catch. I like it, but I prefer my older one. This older one is the Foundation Brailler and I got it on Ebay through luck. It was misspelled in the listing and I happened to see it a few pages back in an unrelated search for Smith-Corona typewriters. I recognised it for what it was and bid on it and I was the only one. The Perkins Brailler was a "buy it now" listing. The Perkins Brailler is also up for sale now that I plan on using the Foundation Brailler. It should be cleaned according to the videos provided by Perkins at http://www.perkins.org/store/brailler-repair-videos/ but the cleaning I did has made it functional. It is the design which replaced the earlier designs and is the basis for modern Braillers.

The earlier design from the American Foundation for the Blind, Inc was made by L. C. Smith and Corona. Like most Braillers, it doesn't much in the way of intentional visual embellishments, but its metal body is quite attractive. I plan on cleaning the body of mine up and polishing it a bit later, but as it is, it is a very attractive design. It is designed quite like a typewriter. It has most parts in similar except for those directly related to the embossing mechanism. Because it must go between through an embosser, one has to feed paper into it first and its rollers are quite different from a typewriter. Its production ceased when the Perkins Brailler was made as the Perkins was a superior machine.

This Foundation Brailler is a favourite machine of mine and it has nothing to do with it being made by Smith-Corona (although, that is a bonus). Since I wanted to post a video of me typing on my machines, I started making some videos and decided to post the video of me using the Foundation Brailler. The output is unremarkable. It is Braille. There isn't much diversity in that except for the size of the cell. But the machine itself is what I wanted to show. Also, the scan of what I actually typed in that video is present. I didn't know if it would work, but the Braille did actually scan well. If I had known that before making the video, I'd probably have just posted the scan, but now you get both. You can see the Perkins Brailler in the background on top of the Foundation Brailler's case.

Video removed.

Here is a scan of what I was typing. It is the English alphabet. If you can't see it well, tough luck. It is meant to be felt and I can't really post that on this blog.

The Braille Alphabet


  1. Very interesting post. I did not know much about the brailler except one of my friends in High School (blind) used one and could out type the best typest in our class too.

  2. Very interesting. I sometimes spotted those machines on eBay, but I wasn't interested... This might've changed my opinion. Maybe I'll get one sometime.

  3. Thanks for this information. These have always struck me as interesting machines but I don't have one yet. I see from the video they are larger than I thought.

  4. The Foundation Brailler, and other Braillers with moving carriages, are large in the carriage, but the body of the machine is compact. As you can see, it is narrower than most typewriters.

    The Perkins Brailler, visible in the background, is quite compact (and has an integrated handle on top). With that, the embosser moves inside the machine although, it does actually function very similarly to the Foundation Brailler. Instead of a direct connection to the embossing pins, there are rails over which the embosser moves, so it can be actuated at any position when the rails tilt from a key press. When I hopefully sell it, it should be easy to pack.

  5. maschinengeschrieben, I do not see many Foundation Braillers available, but I see Hall Braille Writers available more. They are smaller than the Foundation Brailler, but function similarly.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.