Melville Dewey, the Systematiser

Day 233 of Colourisation Project – December 26

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Most of you will be familiar with the Dewey Decimal Classification system used in libraries?  The mastermind behind this library cataloging system was New York born Melville (Melvil) Dewey, an American librarian, educator and today’s subject for colourisation.

Melvil Dewey

Photographer Unknown – Melville Dewey – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Dewey was a pioneer in American librarianship and an influential figure in the development of libraries in America in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dewey’s Decimal Classification (DDC) system forever changed the cataloging of books and library materials, making it easy to find any particular book and return it to its proper place on library shelves.  He was only 21 and working as a student assistant in the library of Amherst College, Massachusetts when he invented this system. Dewey copyrighted the system in 1876 and it still remains in widespread use today.

Another reform that Dewey tried to implement was in the spelling system of the English language.  In 1876 Dewey founded the Spelling Reform Association, a group that advocated abandoning traditional English spellings for a strictly phonetic-based system. He even went as far as changing the spelling of his own name to “Melvil Dui” on his 28th birthday. This only lasted seven years before reverting to his original name in 1883 when he became the librarian of Columbia College (now Columbia University) in New York City.  He also founded the world’s first library school there in 1887.

In 1876 Dewey wrote, “Speling Skolars agree that we hav the most unsyentifik, unskolarli, illojikal & wasteful speling ani languaj ever ataind.”

Dewey died after suffering a stroke on this day, December 26 in 1931 at age 80.


“For months I dreamed night and day that there must be somewhere a satisfactory solution…One Sunday during a long sermon the solution flasht over me so that I jumpt in my seat and came very near shouting “Eureka.” Use decimals to number a classification of all human knowledge in print.”  Melville Dewey

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