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Steam Writing in the Urli Daiz: William Orr, the Canadian Phonetic Pioneer, and the Cause of Phonographic Reform (pp 57-92)

Heather Murray, Yannick Portebois


In the early 1850s, a young and reform-minded phonographer named William Orr , based in Oshawa C.W., devised an ambitious plan to promote phonography and reformed spelling throughout Canada West and the British North American colonies. A promoter of Pitman shorthand,  the editor and publisher of the journal the Canadian Phonetic Pioneer (1859-1861), and in all probability the country's first phonotypographer, Orr was considered in his own day to be a "fonetic pioneer" and even today can be considered an innovator in the fields of media and communications. This essay reconstructs the life and work of William Orr and the publishing history of the Canadian Phonetic Pioner, traces his involvement in the politics of the international phonographic community, and looks at related mid-century efforts to promote the "art phonographic"  (through platform demonstrations, new associations, and Mechanics' Institute classes). "Spelling reform" is placed here, as it was for its practitioners, in the context of other mid-century social reform movements.

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