Birdie Reeve Kay (January 16, 1907 – May 31st, 1996) was an American child prodigy who was billed at the age of 16 as the “World’s Fastest Typist”, reaching speeds of over 200 words, or 800 letters, per minute. She was also famous for her exceptional command of English, with a 64,000 word vocabulary, and faultless spelling ability.
As a speed typist Birdie used only two fingers of each hand, spread out in a V-formation. This typing system was reportedly invented by her father Thomas Reeve. She claimed that she achieved her speed by “studying words and not the typewriter”, classifying words by their endings. During the 1920s Birdie toured the country dazzling audiences with her speed typing vaudeville act, and her unusual skill brought her fame with other vaudeville performers, such as the late George Burns.
In 1989 George Burns published a book titled All My Best Friends. In his book he mentioned Birdie’s vaudeville act, stating: “If you could do anything better, faster, longer, more often, higher, worse or differently than anyone else, you could work in vaudeville. For example, ‘The World’s Fastest Typist’ had a great act. She’d type 200 words a minute, then pass the perfectly typed pages out to the audience to be inspected. For her finish she’d put a piece of tin in her typewriter and imitate a drum roll or the clackety-clack of a train picking up speed.”
Later in life Birdie owned and operated a stenography business in Hyde Park, Chicago, and typed theses for students at the University of Chicago. Speed typing became her lifelong profession.
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