Who was Louis Braille?

Louis Braille (4 January 1809 to 6 January 1852) was from a small town called Coupvray in France. 

He and his three siblings lived with their parents, Monique Braille and Simon-Rene Braille. His father worked as a village saddler and Louis often spent time playing in his father’s workshop.  When Louis was three, he was playing with some tools trying to make holes in a piece of leather with an awl. While pressing down to drive the point in, the tool slipped and struck him in one eye.

Louis Braille picture

No treatment could have saved the damaged eye and the wound became infected, spreading to the other eye.  By the time Louis was five, he was completely blind in both eyes.

Louis Braille attended one of the first blind schools in the world, the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris.

In 1821, Braille learned of a communication system devised by Captain Charles Barbier of the French Army.  Barbier shared his invention of “night writing” which was a code of dots and dashes into thick paper.  These impressions could be interpreted by the touch of a finger and letting soldiers communicate on the battlefield without needing to speak or have light.  

The Captain’s system was a little too complicated but Braille was inspired to come up with a system of his own.  By the time Braille was 15 years old, he had trimmed Barbier’s 12 dots into six and had found 63 ways to use a six-dot cell in an area no larger than a fingertip.

Braille published his own system in 1829 and added symbols for both mathematics and music.  He had a number of publications about Braille and by 1833 he was offered a full professorship where he taught history, geometry and algebra.  Braille’s ear for music enabled him to become an accomplished cellist and organist.  Between 1834 and 1839 he held the position of organist in Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and later at the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.

The public were sceptical and therefore blind students had to study Braille on their own.  Even at the Royal Institution where Louis taught, Braille was still not on the curriculum.  At the age of 40, Louis was forced to move back to Coupvray due to a persistent respiratory illness.  In 1852 Louis Braille died, just two days after his 43rd Birthday.  In 1854, through the overwhelming insistence of blind pupils, Braille’s system was implemented in the Royal Institute.

In 1952, Louis Braille’s accomplishments were finally recognised by the French Government and his body was exhumed from the village cemetery in his home town of Coupvray and reburied in the Pantheon in Paris, with other French national heroes.  However, the Mayor of Coupvray insisted on having Braille’s hands removed and buried in the village cemetery.

Read more about Louis Braille in our resources section