For more than 60 years American politicians have read their speeches from slowly moving devices; however, the newer versions joined the digital hi-tech world. Teleprompters evolved physically into very thin nearly invisible slanted plates of glass placed at 45-degree angels on opposite sides of podiums.
After World War II, in 1948, a new media called Television became very popular and Actor Fred Barton Jr., a Broadway veteran, had to memorize new lines on a weekly or even daily basis for live TV.
“For those who were either in theater or the movies, the transition to television was difficult, because of a greater need for memorizing lines,” says Christopher Sterling, a media historian at George Washington University.
Barton went to Irving Kahn, a vice president at 20th Century Fox studios, with an idea to inset cue cards into a motorized scroll; therefore, he could rely on prompts without risking an on-screen blunder with cue cards. Kahn brought in his employee Hubert Schlafly, an electrical engineer to check if it were viable.
“I said it was a piece of cake,” Mr. Schlafly, quoted the ‘Stamford Advocate’ in 2008. Using half of a suitcase as an outer shell for his roller new device, he rigged up a series of belts, pulleys and a motor to turn a scroll of butcher paper displaying an actor’s lines in half-inch letters. The roll turned gradually, by a stagehand, and the actor read aloud.
On April 21, 1949, Schlalfly submitted a copyright application for a “teleprompter,” and to the tradition of offstage “prompters” who had held cue cards for actors, he called his device the TelePrompTer.
Conceivably, it seemed unlikely at the time, but almost immediately a new political age was born after the merger of the new visual medium of television with the teleprompter.
Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of “I Love Lucy,” was granted a patent for the first in-camera teleprompter, which used a system of mirrors and glass to scroll the script directly in front of the lens.
Perhaps more than any other hi-tech apparatus used for political campaigning—more than the touch-screen voting booth, the automated campaign telephone caller or even the sly TV attack ad; the teleprompter continues to reveal the personalities of candidates’ to the public from both parties.
The teleprompter, after President Johnson’s campaign, became a staple of political campaigning and speechmaking, and recently, voice-recognition software programed its systems to scroll text automatically based upon the speaker’s actual rate of speech.