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January 23, 2006

Historical Perspective: Pimento native K. Monroe Turner invented dictograph at beginning of 20th century

When K. Monroe Turner returned to Terre Haute in January 1908 to visit with family and friends, he seemed to walk a little bit differently.

Turner lost some hair and gained several pounds after his father — the Rev. James M. Turner — died July 25, 1904. However, those subtle changes did not seem to affect his gait.

Perhaps it was just the way friends envisioned him. Though he was down to earth, Turner had become famous. Since he last visited his widowed mother Louisa and sister Ida May Hedges, Turner had become the toast of the scientific community and feted by kings and queens.

The founder and president of General Acoustics Co. with headquarters at 1255 Broadway in New York City, Turner had invented a device called the “dictograph.”

“It is quite simple in design and construction,” Turner explained to a curious newspaper reporter before rushing out for a dinner engagement at the Terre Haute House.

“There is one ‘Master Station’ and any number of ‘substations.’ The sound of a voice enters the master station, which contains an extremely sensitive disk called ‘the metrophone.’ It concentrates the sound waves and transmits them to the substations at the other end of the line.

“The speaker at the master station does not have to speak into anything, or hold anything, and can speak in an ordinary tone of voice within any distance, from three to 15 feet,” Turner elaborated.

“The sound-concentrating receiving instrument is as sensitive as the human ear,” he proudly added. “The master station is connected with the substations by wiring.”

In 1908, businesses could lease the dictograph for a minimum sum of $5.50 per month, which included a master station and up to five substations. Additional master stations cost a minimum of $3 a month. The modern dictograph is popularly referred to as the “Dictophone,” though that is a brand name.

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