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Dictaphone wax cylinder dictation machine
A Dictaphone advertisement from 1917
Dictaphone on display in a museum

Dictaphone was an American company, a producer of dictation machinessound recording devices most commonly used to record speech for later playback or to be typed into print. The name "Dictaphone" is a trademark, but in some places it has also become a common way to refer to all such devices, and is used as a genericized trademark. At present, Dictaphone is a division of Boston-based Nuance Communications.


The Dictaphone's earliest development occurred at the Volta Laboratory established by Alexander Graham Bell in Washington, D.C. in 1881. When the Laboratory's sound recording inventions were sufficiently developed, Bell and his associates created the Volta Graphophone Company, which later merged with the American Graphophone Company, which itself later evolved into Columbia Records.[1]

The name "Dictaphone" was trademarked by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1907, which soon became the leading manufacturer of such devices. This perpetuated the use of wax cylinders for voice recording. They had fallen out of favor for music recordings, in favor of disc technology. Dictaphone was spun off into a separate company in 1923 under the leadership of C. King Woodbridge.

After relying on wax cylinder recording through the end of World War II, in 1947 Dictaphone introduced their Dictabelt technology, which cut a mechanical groove into a plastic belt instead of into a wax cylinder. This was later replaced by magnetic tape recording and eventually hard-drive recording.

In 1979, Dictaphone was purchased by Pitney Bowes but was kept as a wholly owned but autonomous subsidiary.

In 1995, Pitney Bowes sold Dictaphone to the investment group Stonington Partners of Connecticut for a reported $462 million.

During the following years, Dictaphone sold a range of products, including voice recognition and voicemail software.

In 2000, Dictaphone was acquired by the then-leading Belgian voice recognition and translation company Lernout & Hauspie for nearly $1 billion. Lernout & Hauspie provided the voice recognition technology for Dictaphone's voice recognition enhanced transcription system.

Soon after the purchase and triggered by an increased ownership of U.S. companies—following the purchase of Dictaphone, within a month Lernout & Hauspie purchased its main voice-recognition competitor in the U.S., Dragon Systems, who has since been acquired by Nuance Communications, Inc.—the SEC raised questions about Lernout & Hauspie’s finances, focusing on reported income from its East Asian endeavors which seemed to sky-rocket during these times. Subsequently the company and all its subsidiaries were forced into bankruptcy protection (Chapter 11 for U.S. assets such as Dictaphone).

In early 2002, Dictaphone emerged from Chapter 11 as a privately held organization with Rob Schwager as its Chairman and CEO, while the remaining assets were broken-up and sold individually with ScanSoft, now known as Nuance Communications, Inc., acquiring core businesses such as Dragon Systems and voice recognition research personnel in the U.S.

In 2004, Dictaphone was split into three divisions:

  • IHS— Healthcare division which focuses on dictation for the medical industry
  • IVS— dictation for law offices and police stations
  • CRS— Communications Recording Solutions. Focuses on recording phones and radios in public safety organizations and quality monitoring solutions for call centers.

In June 2005, Dictaphone sold its Communications Recording Solutions to NICE Systems for $38.5 million, which was considered a great bargain in the industry. It has since focused its goals in speech recognition for the healthcare industry with only limited success, mainly building on its well established brand name.

In September 2005, Dictaphone sold the IVS Business outside USA to a Swiss company, Dictaphone IVS AG, in Urdorf, Switzerland (later called Calison AG), who developed the first hardware independent dictation management software solution ("FRISBEE") with integrated speech recognition and workflow management. This company was closed on 10.11.2008 after bankruptcy.

In February and March 2006, the remainder of Dictaphone was sold for $357 million to Nuance Communications, formerly known as ScanSoft, ending its short tenure as an independent company it started in early 2002, and effectively closing a circle of events it started in early 2000 by being sold to Lernout & Hauspie (assets of which were sold to ScanSoft/Nuance in the events of early 2002).

In March 2007, Nuance acquired Focus Infomatics and linked it with the Dictaphone Division to further expand in the health-care transcription business with some initial success.

Overall, speech recognition in conjunction with professional transcription services remains a tough terrain for any involved company.


  1. ^ Bruce, Robert V. Bell: Alexander Bell and the Conquest of Solitude. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-80149691-8.

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