At age 3, Louis Braille, born in France in 1809, was an inquisitive, perhaps precocious, kid who loved to work in his father’s horse tack workshop.
One day he was using an awl, a sharp pointed instrument for making holes, to punch through leather. The awl bounced off the hard leather and the point struck him in the eye. The local doctor did everything possible to heal the eye, but without antibiotics, painful infection soon spread to both eyes rendering him blind.
Nonetheless, a diligent child, Braille was a good student and by age 10, he earned the chance to study at the first school for the blind in Paris. There he learned to read by touching raised letters, formed in the shape of ordinary letters. But the few books written in this way were huge and difficult to handle.
In 1821, he heard of a system of raised dots developed for the military so that soldiers on the battlefield could read notes without light. Inspired by the system, at age 15, Braille completed a new system that halved the number of dots required for a letter and made the dot cells small enough to be read with one finger.
Best yet, the system enabled Braille users to easily write.
His system did encounter resistance, but by 1882 blind people throughout the world were using it. Finally, in 1912, it was adopted in North America and a formal English alphabet was formalized by 1932.
Braille, whose health was always fragile, died at age 43. Besides being an inventor, he was an accomplished musician and professor of algebra, history and geometry.