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The humble whiteboard

Where did it come from?

Author: Sharon Ensbury/24 June 2015/Categories: PRODUCT GUIDANCE, Site improvements

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My daughter came home from school the other day looking a bit put out.


     ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

     ‘Oh, the whiteboard didn’t work so we had to do something else today,’ she huffed, before going off to do one of the myriad things she does after school.

She was referring to the digital whiteboard used in most classrooms, where interactive videos, lessons and images all enhance the learning experience, a far cry from the dusty chalkboards of my youth. Digital displays and presentations are also the norm in businesses today, and have been for some time. PowerPoint is an old stalwart of the scene, while multimedia presentations incorporating web graphics and YouTube clips push boundaries and delight the audience. But my daughter’s comment made me consider how dependent we’ve become on the digital version and that, when the power goes out or the system malfunctions, a good old-fashioned whiteboard will never let you down.

According to my friend Wikipedia, there are two separate accounts of the origin of the whiteboard, one from the US and one from the UK. According to the US version, a war veteran and photographer named Martin Heit wanted a board next to a wall phone on which to write down messages. His work with film led him to the realisation that film negatives could be written on then wiped off, so he made an early prototype board using film laminate, selling the rights to a company called Dri-Mark.

The other version concerns a British employee of Alliance Steel, who commented during a board meeting that the white enamelled steel they produced would be a good alternative writing surface to chalk boards. The company, however, did not take his suggestion seriously so he left the business to start his own, under the name MagiBoards.

Whichever version you believe, whiteboards first appeared on the market in the mid 1960’s, though initial versions were wet-wipe, as dry erase markers had not been invented at the time. In their current incarnation, whiteboards come in four different types of surfaces: melamine, painted steel or aluminium, hardcoat laminate and porcelain (considered the hardest wearing of the four). Action Handling supply three different kinds of whiteboards - an eco-friendly version made with a large proportion of recycled materials, a revolving version for greater flexibility and an aluminium coated version, which comes with a 25 year surface guarantee (on the Vitreous enamel steel option).

So by all means embrace the latest technology - after all, staying competitive in a fast-moving world means it’s almost imperative to do so. But remember that sometimes, all you need is a whiteboard and marker to get your point across, and that keeping it simple sometimes can be better.


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