The Different Systems of Gregg
Over the years, language changes. Students change. Teaching methods evolve. Improvements on office practices and procedures of the past are inevitable. (When was the last time you used carbon paper?) It is for these reasons that new books in all shorthand systems must be produced. McGraw-Hill, the company which owned Gregg, came out with new versions of the Gregg system about every 15 years. That cycle allowed for two sets of texts to be produced for each system (one set of college texts, one set of high school texts, and so on).
Original Gregg was first published in 1888. In those days, shorthand systems were mainly concerned with high-speed writing; they had to be fast enough for use in courtrooms. For business purposes, slower but easier-to-learn versions of the same system were more appropriate. Business dictation doesn't frequently get faster than 150 words per minute; average speech is around 140. One major reason businesses embraced shorthand so widely just before the start of the 20th Century was the development of the typewriter as a business tool. The typewriter produced output faster than handwriting, was more legible, and could produce multiple copies with one writing (either through carbon paper, mimeograph, or other “messy” processes of the day). Shorthand—combined with rapid transcription—permitted busy executives to put their words into writing quickly. One executive could have multiple secretaries taking dictation, transcribing letters as more were dictated, and thus produce much more work—at a reasonable cost—than if he worked alone.
Gregg, like all shorthand systems, evolved. It wasn’t until 1929, with the introduction of Anniversary Gregg (for the 50th anniversary), that a version of Gregg got a name. Prior to 1929, if you wrote Gregg, you simply wrote Gregg. Your notes might have been different depending upon which text you learned from, but you wrote Gregg. McGraw-Hill acquired the rights to Gregg Shorthand after Gregg's death in 1948. Their version of Gregg, known as Simplified Gregg, was, obviously, a simplification of the Anniversary system. Those books were put on the market in 1949. Simplified was easier to learn, took less time to learn, had students achieving greater speeds in less time, but was not intended to be a court-reporting system (as Anniversary and pre-Anniversary editions of Gregg were). McGraw-Hill saw the future demise of pen stenography in courts; by 1949, the shorthand machine had begun to take over. While there were still some court reporters who used pad and pen as late as the early 1980s, they were rare indeed. Being the first Gregg system intended for business purposes, Simplified Gregg discarded some of the esoteric rules which covered just a few words or sounds. It greatly reduced the memory load by having students write out many words which had, in Anniversary, been brief forms, special forms, and words written according to the abbreviating principle. As an aside, by the time Simplified was being introduced, male secretaries were becoming rare.
Simplified Gregg was supplanted by Diamond Jubilee in 1963, the diamond being the stone associated with a 75th anniversary. Again, the system was made easier and was made faster to learn. It was becoming longer to write and hence a bit slower, but it still worked wonderfully well for business purposes. At this time in business, dictation machines, using tapes or belts or even old-fashioned wax, were becoming more and more popular. While they had been around since Edison first came out with them in the 1880s, the market was surging. After all, if your secretary didn’t have the skill of shorthand, she could certainly use one of these newer machines—and probably you could pay her less since she lacked the skill of shorthand.
In 1978, the 90th anniversary of "original" Gregg, Diamond Jubilee gave way to Series 90. Series 90 was the system in book production when I worked for McGraw-Hill. It was even easier to learn but even longer to write than Diamond Jubilee. As we found out, it was SLOW; students had trouble breaking 100 w.p.m. Business colleges dumped shorthand in favor of Speedwriting or one of its associates. It no longer made sense to spend time learning shorthand symbols if already-learned alphabetic letters could be used to take dictation just as quickly. McGraw-Hill came out with its own alphabetic system to compete, but it was too late; Series 90 had wounded symbol shorthand in the business world. Without fresh students coming out of business schools taking dictation quickly enough, businesses flocked to dictation machines and other alternatives.
By the late 1980s, with Series 90 being such a problem, the Centennial system was brought out, well ahead of schedule. While I do own a few Centennial books, I can’t comment on it as a business tool since I know of no one who writes it and know of no schools teaching it.
To find out which version of Gregg you write, click here.
Pitman went through similar changes since its inception. In 1978, the Pitman people came out with a non-court-based system called Pitman 2000 (although it was originally called "Shorterhand"). Pitman 2000 was designed with ease of learning at the cost of some speed but with more than adequate speed for business purposes. Pitman 2000 was just another of the many prior changes to the Pitman system since its inception. Speedwriting, originally developed in 1923 as an alternative to symbol shorthand for business use, has also evolved over the years. Most shorthand systems, if they've been around long enough, have been modified, improved, updated, and changed. After all, time marches on!