A Portrait of Louis Braille
Miniature portrait on ivory by Lucienne Filippi.
Louis Braille is the inventor of the braille code. He was born on January 4, 1809, in Coupvray, France. At the age of 3, while playing in his father's shop, Louis injured his eye on a sharp tool. Despite the best care available at the time, infection set in and soon spread to the other eye, leaving him completely blind.
Barely 16, Braille, then a student at the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris in 1825, spent every waking moment outside class poking holes in paper, trying to come up with a more efficient way to represent print letters and numbers tactually. Until then, he and his fellow blind students read by tracing raised print letters with their fingers. It was painfully slow and few blind students mastered the technique. Writing required memorization of the shapes of letters and then an attempt to reproduce them on paper, without being able to see or read the results.
Louis got his inspiration to use embossed dots to represent letters after he watched Charles Barbier, a retired artillery officer in Napoleon's army, demonstrate a note-taking system he invented of embossed dots to represent sounds (most of the soldiers were illiterate) that would allow notes to be passed among the ranks without striking a light, which might alert the enemy to their position. The army was not impressed, so Barbier brought his system to the school for the blind. Louis immediately recognized its merits and spent the next three years improving upon Barbier's idea.
By 1824, Louis had in place the code that bears his name and is used today in almost every country in the world, adapted to almost every known language from Albanian to Zulu. Louis Braille died on January 6, 1852 at the age of 43, having lived a successful life as teacher, musician, researcher, and inventor. In 2009, the world celebrated Braille's Bicentennial.
For a hardcover illustrated biography of Braille's life with over 100 archival images from France, see Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius,
our landmark biography and winner Best of Category New England Book Show 2007.
Also check out the Louis Braille Bicentennial Traveling Exhibit.
Image above: The Institute in Paris where Louis was a student and teacher, courtesy Maison Natale de Louis Braille, France