Elmhurst's Stenograph dominates shorthand industry for 80 years

 
 
Updated 9/17/2018 11:15 AM
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  • Star Levandowski, vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Stenograph LLC, shows some of the company's current shorthand writers.

    Star Levandowski, vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Stenograph LLC, shows some of the company's current shorthand writers.

  • One of the historic machines on display at Stenograph LLC in Elmhurst.

      One of the historic machines on display at Stenograph LLC in Elmhurst. Photos by Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comA display of historic machines at Stenograph LLC in Elmhurst.

    Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comA display of historic machines at Stenograph LLC in Elmhurst.

  • Mario Ficarella, service representative, repairs a machine at Stenograph LLC

    Mario Ficarella, service representative, repairs a machine at Stenograph LLC

  • Assembler Macaria Buschnyj assembles a sensor board at Stenograph LLC.

      Assembler Macaria Buschnyj assembles a sensor board at Stenograph LLC. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comSales representative Lori Disanti of Stenograph LLC, helps a customer. The Elmhurst company is the maker of stenography equipment and software.

    Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comSales representative Lori Disanti of Stenograph LLC, helps a customer. The Elmhurst company is the maker of stenography equipment and software.

  • Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comStar Levandowski, vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Stenograph LLC.

    Brian Hill/bhill@dailyherald.comStar Levandowski, vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Stenograph LLC.

The name Stenograph has long been synonymous with legal transcription.

Court and legal reporters, for example, are referred to as stenographers. The craft they practice is known as stenography.

While the people who run Elmhurst-based Stenograph LLC are happy with the widespread recognition, they point out that the shorthand transcription machines they've manufactured here since 1938 carry a name that is a registered trademark.

"It is our trademark, but people use the term interchangeably with the machine in general," said Star Levandowski, vice president of corporate strategy and business development for Stenograph. "People refer to it as the Stenograph machine, but the true common, non-branded term would be the shorthand machine."

Nonetheless, Stenograph could very well be considered the Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the niche industry of shorthand machines. Since the first Stenograph machine was sold 80 years ago, the company's reputation for quality, accuracy and customer service has commanded almost 90 percent share among the half-dozen companies in the market, according to Levandowski.

Stenograph did not invent the shorthand typewriter -- that was done in 1877 by court reporter Miles Bartholomew, who created a 10-key device in East St. Louis. His company, United States Stenograph Corporation, was the first to successfully sell a shorthand typewriter, according to Stenograph's website. The current Stenotype 22-key shorthand system was developed in the early 20th Century by Universal Stenotype Company, owned by Ward Stone Ireland. Ireland's company went bankrupt, but the company and patents were later acquired by Robert Wright, who modified Ireland's keyboard system and began the Stenograph company, marketing its first machine in 1938.

Unlike conventional QWERTY keyboards, the Stenotype 22-character keyboard allows users to type multiple keys at once, creating a phonetic representation of the spoken word. A certified court reporter must be able to type 225 words a minute with at least 95 percent accuracy, Levandowski said.

Technology has made many changes to the company's machines and capabilities over the decades, but Levandowski notes the core of the industry hasn't changed that much in that time.

"When it comes down to it, the needs are still the same," she said. "Courts still need a verbatim transcript.

"Although other technologies exists, the human shorthand reporter is really the best solution," she added.

Instead, technology has made it the shorthand reporter's job more efficient, Levandowski said. Reporters used to spend hours translating rolls of shorthand-notated paper into a verbatim transcript. Today, computer software like Stenograph's Catalyst does that translation automatically. Reporters today plug their machines into a laptop or tablet and monitor the transcript in real time, she said, giving them the ability to edit or read the document quickly.

"In the old days, you had a typewriter, and making changes and going back through it was a really big deal," Levandowski said. "Now we have computers and editing's much easier, transmission is a lot easier and storage is easier, too."

Recently, Stenograph developed cloud-based transcript storage, which allows a court reporter to upload the transcript to the cloud, which can be accessed by a judge or attorneys, allowing them to read the transcript in real time.

Levandowski notes Stenograph's market dominance not only comes from the quality of its products, but also from the support it provides for its customers. The company has 14 support specialist who can handle questions from customers, as well as a network of independent training agents who provide help and tips for reporters in using the company's software.

"It's a complex system," she said, noting its capabilities are expansive, much like Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program, and many customers may not be aware of everything it can do.

"There are hundreds of different tools out there, so it helps to get some tips and trick from and experienced trainer," she said.

The company also works with schools to provide opportunities for students to enter the profession, from providing equipment rentals to being a part of the A-Z Discover Steno program, which Levandowski said gives students who are thinking about the profession a chance to try out the writers and see if it they are interested.

"It is a very specialized skill set ... it's not for everybody," she said. "But it is something we want people to be exposed to because it is something that they may know about, but don't see it too often."

While court/legal transcription is still the company's biggest market, Levandowski said Stenograph has also grown into new markets, like TV closed captioning and computer-aided real time transcriptions -- both of which grew out of requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act adopted in 1990.

Levandowski said the company grew into those markets as court reporters were being hired to provide real-time captioning or transcriptions.

"Any type of live TV is done with closed captioning, and that is being done by one of our customers," she said.

While technology has made life easier and more efficient for shorthand reporters, Levandowski doesn't see it replacing them. Voice recognition systems have not been able to reach the accuracy rate of human reporters, she notes, and court systems that use audio recordings in place of reporters have encountered problems with translating the recordings into accurate transcripts.

"So far we remain strong, and the courts and justice system understands the value of transcripts that our customers create," she said. "We've been able to remain prosperous and strong despite those challenges from technology."

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